By Nithin Sridhar
Kerala Education Minister PK Abu Rabb has landed himself in a controversy after he commented: “I, as a minister and at a personal level, do not approve of boys and girls sitting together. But it is ok if they are on different chairs. Kerala does not have a culture of boys and girls sitting together.”
The issue of gender segregation in schools and colleges is not new, but the fact that this still exists as an unresolved issue speaks a lot about the direction our society is proceeding.
The Minister was actually reacting to the issue of suspension of a student from Muslim-run Farook College in Kozhikode who was suspended after he refused to apologize for sitting on a bench with girl students. The college had asked nine students consisting of both boys and girls to quit the class after they were found to be sitting on the same bench.
It appears that our schools and colleges are more interested in trivial issues than imparting quality education. Otherwise, why would the colleges always indulge in moral policing and imposing their sense of ‘culture’ on students, be it the imposition of dress codes or the imposition of gender segregation.
In the current scenario wherein rapes, sexual violence, and eve teasing have become rampant in the society, the gender segregation is doing more harm than good. In the present social environment, there is almost zero advantage from this gender segregation.
In the olden days, when the Gurukula system was prevalent, boys and girls were taught separately. But, the social conditions, as well as, the whole system of Gurukula was very much different from the current education system. In the current social scenario, the segregation of children based on gender is having a negative impact on both children and society.
At an individual level, the segregation has made children and youth under-confident, especially while interacting with those of opposite genders. Lack of interaction between boys and girls has kept them ignorant about emotions and behavioral traits of opposite genders. Further, this segregation has given rise to increased curiosity and desire for experimentation and exploration regarding the issues related to opposite genders that may lead to undesirable effects ranging from too much addiction to pornography to eve-teasing.
When such children grow up and become adults, many find it very difficult to work in offices wherein interactions with colleagues of opposite gender is inevitable. They will be afraid, unconfident, and many may end up in trouble due to miscommunication and misunderstanding.
Many of the women related issues present in the society are also rooted in this gender segregation. Depression due to rejection in love, eve-teasing, sexual harassment, are all rooted in the fact that, men who perpetrate these crimes do not recognize that women are also human beings who deserve freedom and dignity. The commodification and objectification of women in media have further complicated the situation.
The only manner in which these issues can be addressed is by making boys and girls study together from childhood without any segregation and discrimination. When boys and girls grow up together, then they will begin to perceive members of the opposite gender as being humans just like them.
Further, children will be able to appreciate the biological and emotional differences between boys and girls and accept each other for who they are. This will make them develop respect towards members of the opposite gender.
Such boys and girls will grow up to become confident individuals who are well educated on the interpersonal level. They are also less likely to indulge in actions like eve-teasing, mistreating of women, etc.
This is not to suggest that removing gender segregation by itself will miraculously solve all the problems of society. Instead, removing gender segregation will act as a first step and will go a long way in addressing many of the gender-related issues.