Educational institutions in India have always attempted to create a space that encourages the curiosities and concerns of students. It has been considered one of the important criteria by many teachers to see if the student has grasped what is conveyed to them and if they are thinking differently from the textbooks.
However, a recent incident that occurred in the Bihar state shows how several institutions in the country fall behind on these lines. A video that was released from an event conducted by the Bihar government showed a schoolgirl posing a relevant question about menstrual health and the prices imposed on menstrual products. Responding to this question, a female Indian Administrative Service (IAS) Officer gave a series of controversial statements.
Comparing A Necessity To Never-Ending Demands
Senior female IAS officer Harjot Kaur Bhamra was attending the program Schoolgiri by the Bihar Government when she put herself in a tough spot through controversial responses given to a school student. During the program, a schoolgirl asked the officer, "can the government provide sanitary pads at low prices of ₹20-30?".
To this, the officer responded tauntingly, "You will eventually hope that the government will also give you condoms for family planning." Many people present during the event were taken aback by the officer's response. However, the officer continued to add to her answer and say that there is no end to the demands people pose. According to her, people would ask even for "jeans" and "beautiful shoes" because their demands keep growing.
Upon this, the student reminded the officer that as a government formed by the vote of the people, they are entitled to address the demands of the people. Rebuking the statement, Kaur said, "This is the height of stupidity. So don't vote. Become Pakistan. Do you vote for money and services?"
To this jab of asking the student to become a Pakistani, the student responded back saying, "I am an Indian. Why should I?".
"The government cannot do this for you", Says Head Of Women and Child Development Corporation
The event saw many girl students raise important concerns to Kaur and her shunning the queries. In the series of exchanges, another girl student said, "The school toilet is broken. Often boys also enter. They drink less water so that they don't have to go to the toilet".
Asking the girl if she has a separate toilet at her house, the officer said, "If you keep asking for a lot of things in different places, how will it work?". She further added that people should be able to do things themselves and that they should not expect everything from the government. Labelling the girl's concern as a "wrong" way of thinking, she asked the students to change their mindset and blatantly said that the "government cannot do this for you".
Advising the school-going students to rethink the way they see the future, she asked them "Do you want to sit where you are, or on the side I am sitting on?". This statement from a woman officer who also heads the state's Women and Child Development Corporation was concerned many. The department that was established for the welfare of l women and children saw its head downplaying the necessity of basic toilet facilities and menstrual health for girls.
As per a report by the Free Press Journal, after the video had gone viral, Kaur denied the accusations and called it "false, malicious and wrong reporting of an event."
Impressed By The Student's Bravery To Keep Going
Having watched the controversial video through a colleague, Gayathri.V, a teacher at a government school in Kerala, said how she was impressed by the students who had come ahead with such questions. She mentions how menstrual health has been a topic that has been set aside from the mainstream for long, and bringing it up as a dialogue was a commendable move.
"It shows how different the times are. During my educational years, we often took unexplained leaves or carried pads in secrecy. Regardless of the troubles we go through, we were taught that menstruation is not something that can be openly discussed." Now, as she sees many students step up to initiate a conversation surrounding their health and basic needs, she is hopeful about a positive change.
In regard to the concerns relating to toilet facilities, she said, "A proper toilet space is a necessity, and that is unarguable. For a person holding a position to say such a thing is surprising, but it wouldn't be the first time when the toilet concern has been raised in the state". Recollecting a report released a year back, Gayathri said that many states across the country were found to lack usable toilets. It was after this report that many started addressing the depleting health of the students and increased absenteeism among them.
She also conveys how functional toilets within educational institutions are something that has been regulated time and again under national building codes and even the World Health Organisation. At such a time of reform, brushing away responsibilities of the elected government would not help them hold their position for long, she said.
Also Read: Rajasthan Govt Sanctions Rs 200 Crores To Provide Free Sanitary Napkins To Women