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What A Skipped Biology Chapter At 13 Did To My Understanding Of Sex And Sexuality



By: Rishita Nandagiri

At 13, I could (correctly) explain the reproductive system of a plant. I’d been rather intimate with the anatomy of a flower, drawing awful nudes of stamens and filaments and anthers. I used to think I’d get extra marks for effort – the shading took a while to get just right.

I’ve never needed nor used that information in the years since.

That same year, my classmates and I spent an entire Biology lesson on ‘not learning’ about the human reproductive system. Our teacher glumly informed us that we needed to tear pages X through to Y out of our textbooks or use markers to strike through the pages to show that we’d be skipping a chapter. The Ministry of Education had instructed schools not to teach the human reproductive system that year. The human body wasn’t a discussion that 13-year-olds needed to be a part of.

It wasn’t some cruel jape, where they wouldn’t teach us the concepts but test us on it at the end of the year anyway. It wasn’t that the texts were incorrect. It was quite simply that we didn’t need to talk about reproduction, sex, or any of the other related concepts because we were too young to have that information, our minds too innocent to be polluted by these ‘ideas’.

Nearly 16 years later, I’m still unsure of what they meant by that; what they’d hoped to achieve other than ensuring huge gaps of essential knowledge in the minds of an entire set of 13-year-olds (they did sort-of rectify their strange rule and rush through the reproductive system the next year).

Studying the human reproductive system in a biology class is not Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), it doesn’t even come anywhere near it. Yet, it was the only opportunity for a potentially positive discussion (even so specific to biology) about one’s body – I did not have any other avenues or spaces to have that conversation, or to even spark the thought of needing to.

The silencing of these conversations only adds to the echo chamber of misinformation and myths that frame our knowledge of our bodies and of our selves. The silencing only allows incorrect and inaccurate information to run rife without any checks or counter-knowledge, and affects the choices that we make – the choices we think are all that we have.

My first understanding of consent was not in relation to my body but in relation to what it means to sign a document. I did not know how to apply consent to my own body. I did not know that consent was more than just a simple ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ – that neither of these is a simple answer.

There was never a conversation about safe sexual activity because abstinence was the default expectation. We never had a conversation about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) because that too was outside the realm of possibility. Condoms were not easily accessible. You would see them at busy pharmacies behind a locked glass door, with the price tag too far away to see. And even if you did manage to get some, you wouldn’t really have the first clue of what to do with them.

Heterosexuality was the only sexuality, there were no others – nothing to see or read or experience. There was no queering here.

This was all the information I needed to know. This was all the knowledge I should have been shading into my own world, into my own identities.

It disappoints me that all these years later, the same patterns continue, that we walk the same grooves that we’ve etched into the world, that young people continue to be deprived of crucial, necessary information under the (ironic) guise of protection, that misinformation and myths and inaccuracies fester unchecked, that autonomies and identities and selves remain suppressed and unquestioned with no avenue for exploration.

But, is it enough to champion CSE alone? Will knowing change everything – will it clear the slate and let you draw new designs, explore new patterns?

I, perhaps naively, used to think it was enough – that knowledge was power, that it would cause tectonic shifts by the mere virtue of knowing. And perhaps it can, but I cannot ignore the thought that knowing something does not automatically translate into doing something or being able to do something. CSE, as with everything else, doesn’t work in a vacuum.

When I was a little bit older – nearly nineteen – I waited anxiously for my period and roundly berated myself. I should not be in this position, I knew better. And I did know better than to risk pregnancy or an STI – I’d learnt how to use a condom by then – and yet, there I was.

I was too afraid, too shy, too overcome to march into a pharmacy and ask for condoms – no matter how many ‘chattri hai?’  advertisements (Condom ads using a chattri, an umbrella, as a symbol of protection) I’d watched on television. Despite every mental argument I had with myself about how I wasn’t doing anything wrong, that I needed to protect myself, that I was young and liberated – I was too afraid of being found out, of being asked questions, of being judged, of getting into trouble, of being called names, of family and friends finding out and thinking of me differently.

My fear was inarticulate and probably without any basis in fact, but it was vast and it was overwhelming and I was consumed by it. The guilt, the constant on-edge, the secrecy, and the relief of my period finally showing up – none of that is how it should be.

Because no matter all my knowledge, I still couldn’t act on it.

A lot of this walk down memory lane is filtered through (class, caste, able-bodied, and passing) privilege – a lot of access to spaces and knowledge and books and people and power. This privilege both coddles and protects me but is not afforded to many people for any number of reasons.. And that needs to be understood within our CSE curriculum too, in our efforts at addressing the larger contexts as well.

The more I advocate for CSE programmes, and CSE language in policy documents and guidelines, the more I have to remind myself that it isn’t a magic bullet, it isn’t the one-shot answer. It forms a cornerstone, certainly, but our efforts to facilitate the choices we talk about need to align. CSE is not a blanket solution but needs to be localised and constructed to address local spaces, local needs and local realities.

As we work on ensuring access to CSE for all young people – disabled, LGBTQI, in low-resource settings – we need to also ensure that our efforts target attitudes, ensure access to services, and dismantle legal, social, cultural, economic barriers.

CSE alone is not going to dismantle the gates, turn gatekeepers into allies, or strike down discriminatory laws that contribute to an unsafe environment. CSE needs to work in an enabling environment: in one that shifts rights language from something just talked about to something one can exercise, grasp, understand, engage with and know. We need to build those enabling environments simultaneously and make sure that all that knowledge is translated into action.

This article was originally published here in the February 15, 2015 edition of In Plainspeak, an e-magazine on issues of sexual and reproductive health in the Global South.

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Amid Chorus for Federal Probe Into Kathua Rape, a Look at CBI’s Track Record in J&K



Family members of those accused in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Jammu’s Kathua have been sitting on a protest since their arrest, demanding an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Their contention is that the current probe by the state police’s Crime Branch is “biased”. Members of the lawyers’ body in Kathua too has demanded the same. As demand swells for a CBI probe, News18 takes a look at the federal agency’s track record in Jammu and Kashmir.

Shopian Double Rape and Murder

On May 30, 2009, the lifeless bodies of a 17-year-old and her 22-year-old sister-in-law were discovered near the shallow Rambi Ara stream in Shopian, south Kashmir. The two had gone to work on their small orchard across the Rambi Ara the previous day.

On the orders of the district magistrate, a three-member team of doctors was called in from nearby Pulwama district to conduct an autopsy. The team confirmed that both women had been raped. A report issued by the Forensic Science Lab Srinagar also confirmed the rape and murder on June 6, 2009. The family alleged that the women were raped and killed by Indian army men.

After a massive public outrage, the state government handed over the investigation to CBI. However, the agency gave a clean chit to five police officials who had earlier been indicted by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the state police that had probed the case earlier.

The CBI attributed the cause of the teen’s death to “asphyxia as a result of ante-mortem drowning” in a stream and said the injuries on her head were “simple in nature, not sufficient to cause death”. In the case of the 22-year-old, the charge-sheet said there were “no ante-mortem injuries” and death was a result of drowning by “asphyxia”.

Pathribal Fake Encounter

In 2003, the CBI took over investigation into the killing of five civilians by Army allegedly in a staged gunfight. The army had picked up the civilians from their homes, killed them and mutilated their bodies beyond recognition before labeling them as Pakistani militants responsible for massacre of 36 Sikhs at Chittisinghpora in 2000.

The CBI in its charge sheet stated that following the killing of Sikhs in Chittisinghpora, the army unit based in the area was under “tremendous psychological pressure” to show results. The CBI indicted personnel of 7 Rashtriya Rifles camped at Shangus in the fake encounter.

The CBI had said the army personnel entered into a criminal conspiracy to pick up some innocent persons and staged an encounter.

The Supreme Court on May 1, 2012 gave the army eight weeks to decide whether the accused should be tried by a regular criminal court or face a court-martial.

On June 29, 2012, the army opted for Court of Inquiry to try the five accused. However, on January 23, 2014, army the closed the case saying the evidence recorded couldn’t establish prima facie case against any of the accused.

The families, in April 2016, filed a writ petition in the High Court, seeking re-opening of the case and re-conducting the trial of all the accused in a criminal court. The writ was dismissed.

Later, the families filed the same writ in the Supreme Court, which on August 17 last year issued notice to the Government of India, army and the CBI, rekindling hope among the families of the victims.

The Supreme Court, however, in August 2017, gave a glimmer of hope to the kin of five villagers killed by the army by admitting a plea challenging a Jammu and Kashmir High Court verdict that upheld the Army’s decision to close proceedings against five soldiers involved.

2006 Srinagar Sex Scandal

The CBI had also investigated the infamous 2006 sex scandal in which two ministers, top police officers and several influential people were among those named as accused. They were charged under various sections of the Ranbir Penal Code, the criminal code applicable in the states, including under Section 376 for the rape of a 15-year-old girl.

The other charges included procurement of girls, intimidation of witnesses and wrongful confinement of the victims.

The trial of the 14 accused was shifted from Srinagar to a Chandigarh CBI court on orders of the Supreme Court.

The court acquitted most of the accused and the CBI drew criticism for not following the case meticulously.

In February this year, a woman who was allegedly involved in the sex scandal claimed that the CBI had forced her to change her testimony.

Interestingly, the name of then J&K CM Omar Abdullah had also surfaced in the case, which led to him resigning from the post in July 2009. The governor had eventually rejected his resignation.

Killing of 4 IAF officers in 1990

The CBI also probed the killing of four Indian Air Force personnel on the outskirts of Srinagar on January 25, 1990.

According to an FIR registered in Police Station Sadder, unidentified militants fired upon Air Force employees living as tenants in Rawalpora, Srinagar on January 25, 1990. In the indiscriminate firing, 40 employees, including a woman, were injured, and two died on the spot. The assailants escaped from the spot.

The CBI took up the investigation on the basis of a state government notification in 1990 and a charge-sheet was filed on August 31, 1990 under Section 120-B read with Section 302 of the RPC, Section 3 and 4 of TADA and Section 27 of Arms Act in the court of 3rd Additional Sessions Judge (TADA case Jammu) against the accused persons.

During the course of trial, a transfer application was filed by the accused, which was rejected after which they approached the High Court in Srinagar to transfer the case. The High Court stayed the proceedings of the trial court. For now, the court at Srinagar is hearing the transfer appeal.

The CBI identified JKLF leaders Mohammad Yaseen Malik, Manzoor Ahmed Sofi, Javed Ahmed Mir, Showkat Ahmed Bakshi, Javed Ahmed Zargar and Ali Muhammad Mir, as accused in the case.

Now, the CBI is seeking transfer of the case to Jammu wing of the High Court.

The Mehran Lateef Case

On May 13, 2008, Mehran Lateef Mir, a three-year-old boy, returned home from the school and in the afternoon stepped out of his home to buy sweets from a local shop. That was the last time his mother saw him.

Following High Court directions, the CBI on February 6, 2014 took over investigation in the case.

After relentless investigations that continued for over two years, the CBI found no clues about Mehran’s whereabouts. The case was closed after a city court accepted CBI’s closure report to the effect.

Ten years have passed since with no news of Mehran.

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J&K govt to probe audio clip on Kathua rape-and-murder case



The Jammu and Kashmir government has forwarded to probe agencies an audio clip in which two people are heard discussing how money was collected purportedly in the name of the eight-year-old Kathua rape-and-murder victim but never reached her family. In the audio clip, which has gone viral on social media, the two can be heard discussing that a huge sum of money was collected in the name of the victim but that her family did not get it.

The discussion in the audio clip also suggests that a fight has already begun among the people who helped collect funds in the name of the girl. “I have heard the audio clip. When this clip came to me, I forwarded it to agencies for probing it,” Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh told reporters here. He also said the “heinous and barbaric” nature of the killing of the girl that rattled entire country must be deeply probed in all its aspects.

“Those who have done it must be punished severely.” “It is sad what has happened with the girl. No human being can do such an act. It is heinous. It is unfortunate that such an incident has been given communal colour. Court has taken cognizance of it (reports by media). I condemn the attempt to polarize the incident. it should not have happened,” Singh said. He said the episode gave bad name not only to Jammu and Kashmir but to the entire country. Now the case is with the court and the government will act on the directions of the court.

A thorough investigation should be done. Action will definitely be taken, he said. The Deputy CM also said if the court directs for a CBI probe, the J&K government will act accordingly. “The girl should get justice and if anybody feels the probe has been biased they can go to the court and put forth their side,” he said. Asked about a girl from Kulgam (Kashmir) alleging sexual exploitation by a politician, he said, “it has been brought to my notice now and I will verify it. Whosoever is the girl or the politician, justice will be done”.

He said the Congress would play “disruptive politics” in Jammu and Kashmir in coming months and asked people to be cautious of its conspiracies. The way the Congress played politics (over the Kathua case), it is an example of divisive politics of the party.

A right-hand man of (Congress leader) Ghulam Nabi Azad was leading an agitation in Jammu and at the same time they were part of the candlelight march,” Singh said, alluding to Jammu High Court Bar Association President B S Salathia.

Salathia has worked as the chief electoral agent of Ghulam Nabi Azad during the 2014 general elections, which Azad lost.


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Cow Shed Scam: MLA permits used pipes instead of fresh material



An apparent scam has surfaced in Akhnoor block of Jammu district, wherein local legislator of ruling BJP has reportedly permitted ‘used and old’ pipes for the construction of cow shed, instead of fresh material, for which the funds already stand sanctioned.
According to sources, the construction work of Cow Shed was started in February this year, wherein the local MLA authorised the executing agency to get pipes from Public Health Engineering Department, which were already used by the PHE department.
“The MLA had instructed the executing agency to get used pipes from the PHE department, probably free of cost, for installation of tin roof,” said sources, adding that the pipes taken from PHE department were already used.
If sources are to be believed, some of the pipes borrowed from PHE department were rusted, but to give them new look, the executing agency under the patronage of MLA, got them painted.
“The pipes have been taken from the go down of the PHE department without any official auction of the material,” said sources, adding that same pipes are also lying in the godown of the PHE department Akhnoor.
However, a social activist also lodged a telephonic complaint in this regard with Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Akhnoor.

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