‘Saathiya’ programme: A slow accommodation of the censured? http://theindianeconomist.com/cbse-saathia-accommodation-taboo/
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India is known for its ultra-conservative attitude when it comes to matters of adolescent health and sex education. However, a recent announcement by Union Health Secretary C.K. Mishra has paved the way for change. He announced the “Sathiya” scheme, under which 1.65 lakh peer educators will be specially trained to improve awareness about issues related to mental health, adolescence and puberty. The scheme, which aims to target 26 crore adolescents across the country, is rather progressive in its outlook.
Key features of this scheme
One of the most striking features about the resource material is its radical stance towards homosexuality. It is clearly stated that it is okay for an adolescent to feel attraction to the opposite or same sex. This is in stark contrast to the legal stance taken by the government via the colonial era section 377. This is not the first time the government has taken a stance opposing its legal stance; its 1999 health policy had recognized MSMs (men-who-have-sex-with-men) as a target group. However, the explicit recognition of homosexuality as “natural” is indeed an open minded attitude.
p class=”su-pullquote su-pullquote-align-right”>This is the first time any policy has mentioned homosexuality, thereby showing sensitivity to contemporary issues of violence in relationships.
Another aspect that it focuses on is consent. It states that mutual respect between two partners in a relationship is of prime importance. This is the first time any policy has exclusively mentioned homosexuality, thereby showing sensitivity to the contemporary issues of violence in relationships. A heartfelt and encouraging part of the policy is the section debunking gender stereotypes. The following quote from the handout is reflective of the same- “A boy can cry to give vent to his feelings. Being rude and insensitive is not a sign of masculinity. It is alright for boys to like things like cooking and designing that are normally associated with girls; adopting the role of the other gender does not mean that he is not male. The same applies for girls who talk too much or like to dress like boys or play games like boys. It is wrong to label such people as ‘sissy’ or ‘tomboy’.”
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p class=”wp-caption-text”>The extensive coverage by the scheme, is certainly a commendable step towards normalizing the idea of sex among young students, and related issues. | Photo courtesy: The Indian Express
A positive approach towards sensitive issues
The handout deals with mental health in some detail, with special emphasis on conflict resolution-which is of critical importance in the adolescent phase, where there are hormonal changes. There is exhaustive information on reproductive health and contraceptives.
However the uniqueness of the policy lies in its clear stance on masturbation as a top option for “safe sex.”
The lack of a sex positive approach in India has led to spreading of misinformation and half truths through the media and pornography. The extensive coverage by the handout, along with its special guidelines on abortion for under-age women, is certainly a commendable step towards normalizing the idea of sex, and related issues.
Good initial steps for a long journey of reform
The method of peer education itself makes implementation easy as adolescents would rather interact with people their age rather than adults. The non-monetary incentives provided by the government like mobile recharges for the peer educators also helps fill out any lacunae related to the educators themselves. However, it needs to be recognized that Indian society and social systems are rigid and unwilling to change quickly.
p class=”su-pullquote su-pullquote-align-left”>The method of peer education itself makes implementation easy as adolescents would rather interact with people their age rather than adults.
The government needs to select and train the educators carefully as they have the greatest influence on the scheme. Also, health is a State subject. The Union Government thus must state clear guidelines and engage in fruitful dialogue with states. It must also create effective tracking mechanisms to trace the scheme’s progress and ensure that the funding is utilized appropriately. The Sathiya scheme is a large leap in progressive thinking. If implemented well, it could be a revolutionary policy in the convoluted history of homosexuality and health in India.
Featured image: Twitter
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