Start talk­ing to boys on what con­sti­tutes con­sent

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - COMMENT - NAMITA BHANDARE Namita Bhandare writes on gen­der The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

In 2018, Mini Sax­ena, a lawyer, moved back to In­dia from the United King­dom (UK) and learned for the first time just how tough it was to get schools to ac­cept the idea of con­sent ed­u­ca­tion.

Sax­ena had vol­un­teered with a con­sent project in mid­dle and high schools in the UK and wanted to bring the idea to In­dia. It would teach kids why they needed to re­spect bound­aries, and what their pro­tec­tions were un­der the law when these were crossed.

A 2007 Gov­ern­ment of In­dia sur­vey had found that 53% of chil­dren, boys as well as girls, had been abused. Surely, such a project would be wel­comed.

Not quite, she says: “I ap­proached many schools. No­body said ‘we can’t do this’ but they kept stalling un­der var­i­ous ex­cuses in­clud­ing, ‘we need parental ap­proval’.”

The boys’ locker room scan­dal tells us that young adults have ac­tive sex lives and fan­tasies. When these ideas come tainted with the toxic mas­culin­ity that you find in count­less films, ad­ver­tise­ments, mu­sic and pol­i­tics, you need to worry. And when they spill over into talk of rape and gan­grape, you have a cri­sis.

“Guys trash talk girls all the time. They ‘joke’ about raping or gang-raping them. They might not be called ‘locker room’ but lit­er­ally hun­dreds of such ho­mo­pho­bic, anti-women groups ex­ist across so­cial me­dia,” says J, a male sec­ond-year col­lege stu­dent.

Nav­i­gat­ing this ter­rain can be tricky. Is it wrong to want some­one to be your girl­friend? Should you post some­one’s pic­ture with­out their con­sent, even if it’s to com­pli­ment them? What do you do if you’re un­com­fort­able in such a group — leave, re­port or just play along?

Projects such as The Con­sent Project seek to cre­ate aware­ness about le­gal pro­tec­tions and pro­hi­bi­tions. They chal­lenge norms about what it means to be de­sir­able, to be a man, to be “cool”. And they open con­ver­sa­tions on per­sonal spa­ces and con­sent.

Some­times the kids will talk about their own sex­ual abuse by some­one in their fam­ily, or a neigh­bour per­haps. In other cases, anx­i­eties range from a de­sire to fit in to a fear of re­venge porn. A woman might share an in­ti­mate pho­to­graph with a boyfriend and then, if it is leaked, won­der if it was her fault, says Sax­ena who holds one­hour work­shops out­side of school.

Cus­to­di­ans of In­dia’s “cul­ture” con­tinue to ar­gue against sex ed­u­ca­tion, in­sist­ing it has no place in our glo­ri­ous civil­i­sa­tion. They, and we, need a re­al­ity check.

If sex ed­u­ca­tion is such a loaded term, call it some­thing else — value ed­u­ca­tion, life skills, con­sent ed­u­ca­tion — but we can no longer ig­nore how des­per­ately we need it in In­dia’s school cur­ricu­lums.

“We keep telling girls how to pre­vent bad things from hap­pen­ing to them. And, yes, they need to know how to pro­tect them­selves,” says Sax­ena.

“But we re­ally need to start talk­ing to the boys.”

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