This bit of news in this morning’s newspaper caught my eye.
“Keep boys and girls apart, not shoulder to shoulder on the same bench, in a co-education system”. These were the words of the Education Minister of Kerala-a state considered to be progressive in thinking with high literacy rates. The Minister seemed ok if the boys and girl are seated side by side but does not support them sitting on the same bench.
The surprising bit in this news is that there exists a taboo in the manner of seating inside a classroom. The two genders are kept apart, yet quite a many government schools and colleges in the state lack one of the most basic thing- a separate toilet for girls.
There are over 1200 schools and colleges in our country that still aren’t equipped with a separate toilet for girls. And the ones which exist, are either ill-maintained with poor sanitation, minimal or no water supply and probably a door that would not close. The absence of toilets for girls could have severe repercussions. It leads to an increase in dropout rate of girl students. It is associated with health-related issues arising out of spending extended periods of time with a full bladder. Urination in the open jeopardizes safety of girls and also compromises with their dignity.
We Indians often focus and raise a hue and cry on trivial matters rather on addressing issues that are essential. A few years back, a notable personality of our northern most state raised an eyebrow and criticized the government for allowing co-education in schools and colleges. He said the government was promoting ‘immoral activities’ by keeping girls and boys shoulder to shoulder. “Young boys and girls are kept together in co-education system and are shoulder to shoulder with each other. You are keeping fire and hay together and no one can save the hay from burning”, he said.
How I wish he had used his energy to get the most basic thing in place- a toilet for girls in schools.
On a personal note, I don’t really see harm in seating boys and girls together on the same bench. In a progressive society, both genders must learn to co-exist with no place for alienation or discrimination. Being in the presence of the opposite gender from the early formative years, brings about better behaviour patterns and awareness about living together.