What do you say to 12 year old girls who are extremely happy about the legal status of LGBT community because now they can marry their besties!? Well, I could only say, “That’s great but don’t be too sure that you only like women; you can like both men and women, even change your preferences as you discover them while growing up.”
I’ve never felt the thrill of a moment such as this, where the freedom we have so recently received could be served shining on silver platters to the first-time-educators. These girls belong to the Dalit Musahari community of Bihar. Nari Gunjan provides home to young girls from the impoverished community. Aavishkaar, the organization where I’m currently working, gave me an opportunity to visit one of Nari Gunjan’s hostels and engage the girls in active learning in any way I can.
During my month-long stay with them, I have broken many deadlocks that existed in my own mind. Their command over our mother tongue, Hindi, is so beautiful that it has inspired me to read and speak unadulterated Hindi every single day. It was during the Battle of Biology, in one of my sessions with the 6th graders, that I realized that I use Google translate even for the language that is my own. When the reproductive parts of plants were explained through words that I was speaking for the first time myself, lest I knew I’d have to use these terms to explain human reproduction the next day.
I was waiting right outside their classroom when Rinku* eagerly invited me for a pre-session. She said that the girls want to ask me something. My first thought was somehow that it would be about my personal life, or would they ask me the meaning of words I didn’t know myself. What if they were going to make fun of my bad Hindi vocabulary?
We had planned to teach them about the Universe today, and so 6th and 7th graders were merged in one classroom. Something about their reluctance to start asking questions, made me feel that we were moving towards the sex-talk. I geared up and called them all around one single bench with 20 seats. The girl who they had elected to ask the difficult question, stood up and said, “Didi, why do our stomachs ache during periods?” There it was, the cue to my first sex education session, where I’m not even the recipient. The other questions followed,
“We’ve heard that boys also have periods. Is that true Didi!?”
“So you still have periods? WHAT! We are going to have periods until 50-55 years of age?”
“Kinnar ke body parts kaise hote hain? What do they do?”
“To be honest Didi, I don’t like boys at all. I will have to marry a girl only.”
“I’ve decided that I will marry my best friend. That’s not going to be a problem, right?”
No, I said. “No, of course not!” I did make a million mistakes. At some point, I called sperms “Parag kosh ke daane” to relate it to the chapter on Plant reproduction that I had recently taught.
I have never felt a sense of satisfaction such as this, where I could tell someone that they really can marry whoever they want to, even if it’s their best friend of the same sex. The fact is that these girls have almost no idea about sexuality. None of them have felt it yet even though all of them have attained puberty. Their understanding of sexuality, infatuation, attachment and friendship is all same. It was so easy for them to imagine being a Lesbian and thinking about the possibility out loud. None of them laughed at the thought of boys marrying boys and girls marrying girls. They do not shy away when we talk of transgenders, and don’t frown when I mention Homosexuality.
Theirs are among the first minds of India to get a kind of sex education where it is not about marriage of a man and a woman. For the sake of their sanity, I hope I have done justice to the session on sex education with adolescent girls from the Dalit Musahari community of Bihar.
We know how in India, this topic is not as common as one would think. There are different variations of “the talk”. Either your mother gives you a ‘good touch – bad touch’ session or your friends gossip about vaginas and penises; or worse yet, your cousin introduces you to the concept by experimenting with your body. Sometimes, in schools, you must have identified teachers trying to educate their students when they ask direct questions about sex. The next step would usually be organizing a meeting of all girls and female teachers.
Sex is something I have thought of quite often. So, I can wrap my mind around it, and answer most of the questions such young girls could ask. But, what about something I don’t even understand myself? How do I talk about homosexuality? The next time I go to Bihar, I plan to include four things in my lesson plan of Biology – pictures of different genders and their pubic parts, videos of people with different sexual orientations talking about their sexuality, teachers from other classrooms and finally a non-hesitant comprehensive sex education.
*Name changed to protect identity