About 17-18 years ago, in an English medium Delhi Public school, 10th biology class, a teacher asked everyone to open a new chapter, read the page number out loud, closed the book and then asked everyone to read it later themselves. The chapter was on human anatomy, that the teacher so surreptitiously mentioned and didn’t teach. Afterwards, we all made fun of the chapter ourselves, only grateful to the teacher for not teaching. Afterall, how could she have possibly taught something she was herself so uncomfortable to even mention?
Much later, through my work on life skills and gender issues with adolescents, I learnt that this was an extremely important chapter to know. To know not just about our bodies, but also to gain self-confidence and agency of owning our own bodies as young healthy people. As a trainer, conducting workshops in schools, this phase during my mid-twenties was a revelation about lives of new pre-teens and pubertal boys and girls. They narrated similar incidents about all that is related to body and is a taboo; something no trusted adult wanted to tell them about. Of course, girls were informed about periods and boys to an extent about semen, but mostly their healthy curiosities were curbed, termed as ‘dirty thoughts’ and ‘dirty acts’, embedding this as values in their young mind forever. Five to seven years later, in the same universe and work, I still gather similar stories from frustrated youth.
Currently, being a part of an on-going Breakthrough campaign, on adolescent empowerment #DeTaali, I’m having similar interactions with young people. They are in some way or the other connected to NGOs’ and have in fact had an opportunity to learn about their bodies at the right time through trusted and informed adults in learning spaces. Others still strongly feel that they don’t have enough knowledge or safe-platforms to discuss body-changes, hormonal changes, emotional and physical well-being etc. If they ever do get to learn something along these lines, it is about abuse and violence and how to protect oneself. But, when it comes to sexuality, nothing about pleasure and safer sexual activities like masturbation is ever talked about.
We cannot talk about gender equality (which is our universal Sustainable Development Goal number 5) with our young boys, girls & trans-people without talking to them about their bodies sans shame and taboo. There is deep hunger within our youth to know about their sexuality which they also satisfy by going through internet, pornographic websites, magazines and resort to high-risk behaviours such as unsafe-sex and non-consensual sexual behaviour.
Newspapers are overflowing with incidents of teens videotaping gang-rapes among 13-14 year-olds, whether it is an elite school they come from or a government run school. People are busy asking questions about ‘how can teenagers be capable of such cruelty to one another?’. However, such behaviours and forms of violence thrive and are intrinsically linked to lack of awareness and empathy to one’s own body and highly misogynistic social influences. It is somewhere in ‘between’ that we are not looking; indirect parental values, where they observe unequal relationship between mothers and fathers during growing up years; no parental support or correct knowledge about body while growing up; cultural influences and popular media with Honey Singh’s songs and/or even Omprakash Mishra’s controversial song “bol na aunty aau kya?” dripping with sexist and violence-laced lyrics.
Referring to the above song lyrics, recently, a teenager in my family was seen participating in an event held in Delhi, dedicated to the ‘cult Hindi rapper’. Hundreds of teenagers gathered and sang his lyrics and spoke of the act ‘sotting’ meaning suggestively ‘thrusting’, calling out a much older woman, addressed as “aunty” as per Indian culture to have sex. The song is supposed to be “so bad that it’s good”. The audience is amused by the song liking it to an extent of making it a cult favourite.
I am an aunt by relation to this teenager, not-so-shocked like his parents, but quite disturbed all the same by this young boy’s involvement in this event. More so, worried about the kind of intimate relationships he is bound to form with women in his youth and how will he ever justify his ‘sense of humour’ or rather lack of one. Especially, now that he’s in his 1st year of graduation at a top arts college in Delhi University.
Apparently, this event was slated to be organized in all the metropolitan cities, wherein, even the police have publicly slammed such an event, calling it ‘sexist’ and ‘unacceptable’. The YouTube video of the song was reportedly taken off and the journalist who critiqued the event and the song was ostracized and sent rape-threats.
This is a never-ending cycle if young minds are not mentored in spaces where meaningful friendships can thrive and free-flowing conversations can happen on subjects like body positivity, sexuality etc. We need to strive to take it upon ourselves to shape our youth for a better future.