When Sukhnidh Kaur asked her 22.5K followers on Instagram about instances of homophobia they’ve experienced, more than 200 responded. She heard about horrifying incidents from school students, regarding teachers, counsellors and principals.
Kaur is a 19-year old student at St. Xavier's College in Mumbai, and besides her own Instagram account she publicised the survey on Qitaabzine, a group-curated Instagram account about “everything LGBTQ” that she runs. Students wrote to her from schools all across the country, Kaur told VICE.
Kaur told us she believes “Homophobia is widely prevalent in urban India and in Indian schools it is largely unaddressed.” Once in a while, an instance catches media’s attention, like the Kolkata school that asked ten of its students to “confess” that they were lesbians and had indulged in “indecent behaviour.”
Since the survey was informal and conducted online, many respondents requested anonymity and the results are largely anecdotal. Kaur told us that many students shared the name of their school, even the teachers and principals involved in homophobic incidents, under conditions of anonymity. Kaur said “school authorities… may knowingly or unknowingly partake in homophobic behavior, negatively impacting the lives of LGBTQ+ students.”
Many respondents said suspensions were rampant. A student from Chennai wrote, “A friend of mine was having lunch with us during the break. Since our school is conservative, they have an issue with guys sitting with girls. The coordinator of our batch pulled him out and kept yelling at him, ‘Are you gay?’ She pushed him to a breaking point, and he yelled, ‘Yes ma'am, I am!’”
The student continued, “She was furious and took him to the principal. He was suspended for a week on the basis of severe misconduct and use of obscene languages.”
One student from DAV public school in Ludhiana alleged that another was suspended because he was gay. One student wrote, “They think all short-haired people are lesbians. My principal suspends every tomboy who has got a short haircut.”
A student from a Pune school, wrote that their principal told them “that being gay is wrong.”
A student from Bishop Cotton Boys School, Bangalore wrote to Kaur saying, “I have been bullied almost every day through middle school. I have on multiple occasions been screamed at by teachers for my ‘effeminate’ body language and mannerisms.”
Another from a well-known school in Delhi said, “I was hugging one of my really good friends and one of the teachers saw us and thought we were lesbians. She started screaming at us and saying ‘this is no way to behave in a public or a private area!’ and ‘this is not our culture’.”
Kaur said, “Students find it difficult, or even impossible, to speak out about homophobia due to fear of negative retaliation from their schools.” The idea behind the survey, she said, was to see the role of school authorities in perpetuating homophobia. She wants to someday publish a research paper to help make schools more LGBTQ-friendly.
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