It’s well known that many good schemes of governments fail due to bad communication. While travelling in Tripura’s tribal belt, an HT reporter once found posters on how to avoid malaria infection – put up by the state health ministry ---- written in Bengali. The use of Bengali as a medium of communication was wrong in those areas because tribals don’t read/speak the language. The net result: A high number of deaths due to malaria in the district. In other words, good messaging is critical if a project has to succeed. The good news is that the Union ministry of health has got this right in its resource material for adolescent peer educators (Saathiya). It may come as a surprise to many but the material says that it is all right to “feel attraction” for the opposite sex or the same sex during adolescence. The crucial aspects of all such relationships, it says, are consent and respect.
Why should this communication surprise anyone? This is because the legality of homosexuality is still an open question for the judiciary and the NDA government is yet to change the prejudiced law on the issue. The resource kit also has several other key thoughts: “It is important for adolescents to understand that such relationships are based on mutual consent, trust, transparency and respect. It is alright to talk about such feelings to the person for whom you have them but always in a respectful manner… Boys should understand that when a girl says ‘no’ it means no”. This material is going to be sent to states as part of the adolescent peer-education plan. According to a report in a national daily, the resource material, which has been prepared in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund, also dispels gender stereotypes in the section on mental health where it says it is fine for boys to cry and categorisations such as “sissy” and “tomboy” are inappropriate.
This is a positive move forward. The government will hopefully manage to distribute the manuals to the states, and busybodies (moral police) will not leap out from dark alleys to stop their circulation since the material does say many things that are true but could sound sacrilegious to them.