Himanshi*, a Class 12 student was horrified when she saw the Instagram stories about the ‘Bois Locker Room’ chats.
“I got a headache and it just got more gruesome the longer I sat with it,” she says. The group, which was allegedly run by boys from south Delhi schools, contained lewd messages and morphed photos that slut-shamed young women, many of them minors.
“It was the first thing I saw in the morning and it was all I kept seeing through the day. It kept getting terrifying,” Himanshi added.
The leaked chats have highlighted the need for teenagers to be educated on topics like sex and consent. Experts believe that it is time to look beyond punitive action and adopt measures that would ensure a more restorative approach towards justice in cases such as these.
‘Create Preventative and Rehabilitative Measures’
Trauma therapist Ruchita Chandrashekar says rehabilitative measures are not discussed adequately while focusing on punitive measures.
“The state of our country’s sex education is abysmal and so is the education on consent. Consequences are necessary but education can create preventative and rehabilitative measures. Start talking to children from a young age about their bodies without sanitising language, silencing questions or shaming them for curiosity,” she adds.
Underscoring the importance of having a conversation about these issues, Chandrashekar says a dialogue on sex, consent, ownership over bodies must be introduced from a young age so that it becomes part of a dominant narrative.
Schools in India, however, have not adequately prioritised sex education. A report by the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights notes that “most schools — private and public affiliated with state boards of secondary education — do not have any form of sexuality education in their curricula.”
The report adds that when the Adolescence Education Programme (AEP) was introduced in 2005 in schools affiliated to state education boards, some organizations protested against it on grounds that “its explicit content was contrary to Indian culture and morality.” The programme was subsequently banned by 12 state governments.
More recently, in May 2019, when the National Education Policy draft suggested that sex education be included in secondary schools, Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas (SSUN) an RSS-affiliated educational organisation had raised strong objections, saying it would have a “negative impact” on the minds of children.
Chandrashekar says sex education is often misunderstood as a way to teach children about penetrative sex, reproduction and the use of their genitalia. Good sex education, she says, is much more.
“Sex education helps young children develop a relationship to their bodies and understand the relationship of their bodies to other bodies. It teaches respect, boundaries, sex positive attitudes, consent and a destigmatised lens that doesn’t see sexual activity as ‘bad’.”
Besides sex education, Chandrashekar also emphasises on the need for young minds to be educated on caste and class sensitivities. “The privileges afforded to those upper caste and upper class backgrounds not only provide them access but also create a heightened sense of entitlement that influences the brazenness of these behaviours.”
She adds that integrative sex education and dialogue can play a pivotal role in teaching young minds about the role of discrimination as violence, when it comes to identity, privilege and marginalisation.
‘Arrests and Imprisonment Don’t Solve the Problem’
Senior advocate Rebecca John says that she is deeply troubled by the behaviour of the young boys as well as some adults who are focussed solely on punitive measures.
“What the boys require is deep therapy. They need to go through counselling sessions, confront what they have done and feel ashamed about their actions. They need to understand that they caused deep insult and injury to the young girls. But, I don’t think the response can simply be ‘arrest and imprison.’ That doesn’t solve anything. We are talking about young people in conflict with the law,” John told News18.
She added that boys certainly need punishment and reform, but reactions like ‘never let them out’, ‘throw them in jail’ and ‘death penalty’ are cacophonic.
John further explains that there is a need to locate the root of the problem. “This punitive idea, everyday, I see sentences becoming increased, but we continue to be a society which normalises sexual violence. So we are obviously not doing something right. We need to locate the problem within the parameters of our existence — parenting, schooling, everyday language.”
If there’s culpability, she adds, it’s not just with these young men.
“Much like Covid-19, this disease has also entered our homes. We need to tackle it without scarring young lives,” John says.
Cyber law expert Karnika Seth also believes that just punitive measures may not be a deterrent in the long run because of a lack of cyber awareness in the country.
“Schools, parents, teachers need to educate children about cyber safety, cyber netiquette and cyber laws. This should be a necessary part of children’s education across all schools,” Seth said.
‘Sensitisation Should Begin with Teachers’
Yet another problem is the lack of safe spaces in schools, where teachers and authorities often end up victimising girl students who try to confide in them or complain against boys. Schools and its institutional structures, students suggest can be the biggest enabler of patriarchy.
Dhruvi Chawla, a Class 12 student at a Delhi school says that some teachers realise the gravity of such situations, but don’t take any action and ask the girls to “adjust.”
“A lot of teachers just find petty ways to blame girls and claim that the boys’ actions are just a reaction to what the girl had initiated,” Dhruvi adds.
Instances where girl students are shamed by their teachers can silence them from coming forward in the future. Some say not just students, even teachers must be sensitised.
“To start with, the implementation of sex education would require a revamp of the school structure. It needs to be institutionalised in a way where the sensitisation begins from the principal, teachers and then ends at students,” said Anshika Singh, a law graduate and a former Teach for India fellow who taught at a government school in Delhi.
Himanshi* points out that sex education alone would be ineffective. “What would help is gender sensitisation — for staff and the student body, from the beginning of their schooling.”
(*Names have been changed on request.)