Saturday, 18 August 2007



Can coyness be taught in the classroom? The Centre thinks it ought to be, as part of Adolescent Education. The ministry of human resource development will be clearing a manual that would be used to teach students, from their mid to late teens, how to say no to a variety of risky proposals without actually saying no. The proposals have been thought up as vaguely sexual ones (let’s watch porn/go to a night show/ spend some time alone), or else they are invitations to smoke or drink. The manuals offer templates for classroom discussion in government schools, although the teachers who use them are advised to adapt the situations to specific social and cultural contexts. It is significant that almost all these propositions are imagined as being made by boys to girls. All of them assume that the boys are up to no good when they make these suggestions, and good girls — who naturally feel like initiating none of these forms of behaviour — ought to be taught how to resist these temptations without sounding unnaturally dour. The aim is prohibition, but achieved through lessons in evasion and indirection. The fundamental principle is one of denial.

This manual proves that, in India, before children are taught about sex, it is the adults — teachers, textbook-writers, policy-makers, ministers — who must be educated. These adults have to be taught several things. First, they must be made to confront and overcome their embarrassments and awkwardnesses about sex, things they have been taught never to put clearly into words, and hence, never to think through properly. Second, they have to be taught to remember their own adolescence so as to understand how sexuality is experienced by ‘children’ from puberty until legal adulthood. Third, they have to be persuaded about the urgent need for sex education — given the frightening reality of HIV/AIDS and of the sexual abuse of children in India. Finally, in spite of the immediate context of danger, disease and death, the educators must also accept that sex is something most people enjoy, and it is an experience often associated with pleasure, with love, with spontaneity and even a kind of innocence. The spirit of sex is therefore inimical to Thou-shalt-not grimness, although sex taps into almost every area of moral and ethical behaviour. Also, openness and candour does not mean divesting sex of its natural need for privacy and reticence.

Although sex education is, at a crucial level, about information, imparting it properly is bound to take both teacher and student well beyond mere technicalities of health and hygiene. Almost every aspect of human life — private and public, physical and metaphysical, pleasurable and painful, serious and frivolous — is implicated in thinking through sexual attitudes and behaviour. The art of saying no is perhaps the wrong way to approach something that most people enjoy imagining saying yes to.

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