Are the Kolkata School Confessions a Lesbian Witch Hunt?
Two days ago, NDTV reported 10 girls in a south Kolkata school had been made to sign written confessions by their school’s headmistress, after accusations from other students that the girls had been behaving inappropriately.
“Some students had complained against 10 students of indulging in such behaviour,” the acting headmistress told the news service INS, as reported by NDTV. “We called those students and they admitted it. Considering the sensitive nature of the issue, I asked them to admit it in writing. I have got written admissions from all 10 students.”
The girls’ parents have since stormed the school, protesting the way the disciplinary issue was handled. And the press has seized on the opportunity to call out the school administration for its perceived homophobia, reporting that “such behaviour” was lesbian in nature and the forced confessions were accounts of homosexual guilt.
While unfortunately, it’s not difficult to believe this is a case of rampant homophobia and misbegotten sensitivity, the problem is, we don’t actually know what was in these written confessions. We urge school officials to release one, with the student’s name redacted.
If the girls were indeed coerced into confessing to being lesbians, that is unquestionably reprehensible. Forcing teenage girls to write (in the name of sensitivity!) confessions of their sexuality, as if it being lesbian is something to be ashamed of, reeks of a backward prejudice and abject bullying unworthy of an educator and leader. Discrimination based based on stigma has a particularly damaging effect. Adolescence is already a risk factor for mental health problems; when children are targeted for their race, caste, gender or sexuality, it can lead to depression, anxiety disorders, and aggressive behaviour.
On top of this, when an authority figure is the one to deem individuals less worthy than others, when they’re marginalized, when they’re forced to write confessions about something they may or may not intrinsically be, the impact is greater and farther-reaching in its negative consequences; it is unlikely any teacher who makes an assumption on children’s sexuality, passes judgment and then punishes them, will be unbiased in marking performance. In such case, the headmistress’s actions only serve to create a school environment in which bullying by peers is not only acceptable but encouraged. Teachers don’t just teach subject matter – they set a standard of behaviour that children are expected to follow. When teachers begin witch hunts, what is there to stop children from following the example they’ve set?
But there’s another possibility here: that the so-called confessions did not contain the word “lesbian.” We’ve scoured the news reports on this, and so far, no one has been able to reproduce the language contained in the signed confessions. Per reports, the school claims it asked girls to write admissions of guilt for “acting naughty” or “inappropriate” in the middle of class – language that could be backward euphemisms for romantic behavior, or not. If the girls were actually disrupting the class, not paying attention, behaving in a manner not suited to learning, or even sexually assaulting their peers (it is unclear whether the girls in question were accused of touching each other or their peers), they should be disciplined.
Either way, what’s sad about this situation is the missed opportunity. This was a chance for the school, in one scenario, to teach acceptance and tolerance. In the other scenario, it was a chance to teach what good behaviour is – whether that is paying attention, suiting behaviour to environment, or asking and waiting for consent – rather than merely punish the bad. These 10 girls, whatever they’ve done, leave with no education they can apply to the future. And isn’t that what school is for?