Sexuality is still not openly discussed with teenagers in Indian families and schools, and the curiosity in their minds often ends up in googling for the ‘unanswered questions’. This often results in misinformation and uncleared doubts in the young minds, which are looking for simple answers to the changes they are experiencing in their bodies.
Tricity Scoop this week has a special interview with Iqbal Judge (64), a retired English professor from Government College for Girls (GCG), Sector 11, Chandigarh. She is spending her retired life counselling adolescents free of cost through her podcasts, Haaye Yeh Jawaani, which has completed 20 episodes helping youngsters to get the right information about sexuality.
Here are some excerpts of the interview.
Tell us about your journey from an English professor to starting this initiative? What actually motivated you to start this?
Way back in 2005, when I was teaching at Govt. College, sector 46, the then Director Higher Education Mrs. Raji P. Shrivastava had selected a handful of teachers from the Govt. Colleges in Chandigarh for a campaign called Valuing the Girl Child, as part of which we did a series of events and workshops on gender sensitization, highlighting discrimination against girls, especially Sex-Selective abortions. Subsequently, we continued our work on gender discrimination and women’s empowerment through ‘Gender Equality Societies that were set up in each College, and by then I had been transferred to PG GCG -11, where I continued to head the Society till my retirement in 2018. The constant interactions with young people had made me aware of the numerous issues they faced and with my good friend and colleague, Prof. Jyoti Seth (Department of Sociology, PGGCG 42) we started visiting the government schools to interact with High school children, both boys and girls, to sensitize them on gender-based issues and also talk about menstrual health and changes at puberty. It was an eye-opener for us, in fact, as we increasingly realized that young people had tons of questions about physical, mental and emotional issues, which most teachers and parents felt embarrassed to address. So, I did a course on Comprehensive Sexuality Education from the well-known organization, Tarshi, and petitioned the Chandigarh Administration through Change.org to make Adolescent and Menstrual Health Awareness (MAHA) mandatory in all Govt. Schools of Chandigarh. Our work was appreciated, our petition was successful and we managed to conduct our extensive 1 hour per day five–day sessions in a number of schools, before Covid shut down all schools.
That is when I learnt the art of podcasting and hit upon the idea of creating a podcast in Hindi, to reach out to young people wherever they might be. I started HAAYE YEH JAWAANI last year and have published about 20 episodes so far.
What has been the response of parents and children to your podcasts when it concerns the sensitive issue of sexuality?
When we used to go to schools, most teachers and principals would tell us that the topics we talked about were much needed. We encouraged school children to write down their questions anonymously and give them to us so that they would not have to face teasing remarks from others. And we received a barrage of questions in whichever school we went to, ranging from what to eat during periods, night emissions in boys, to PCOD, Addiction to porn and masturbation, as well as on relationships.
Most parents and young people who hear the podcasts are very appreciative and express happiness that such issues are talked about. The bottom line of Haaye Yeh Jawaani is “ I love myself, I respect myself and I respect all others too.’’ Contrary to what people might believe, talking about sexuality does not mean that we are in any way encouraging permissiveness or rebellion against cultural practices. We emphasise the Right to Consent and responsible, respectful behavior. At the same time, we do question regressive/ outdated practices, especially taboos related to menstruation.
What are some topics that you have touched upon in your podcasts so far?
I have done 20 episodes so far, and talked about 18 topics, beginning with menstruation and changes at puberty in boys and girls, taboos related to menstruation, nutrition, PCOD, COVID and menstruation, dealing with Rejection, Fashion and Brands, Body Image, Infatuation, Gender stereotyping, Understanding Transgenders, Child Sexual Abuse, etc.
Further topics will focus on Relationships—how to form healthy relationships, red flags in relationships, Right to Consent, masturbation, pornography, etc.
In some episodes, I have invited experts – a doctor, psychologist, gender trainers, campaigners, transgender activists, etc- to talk at length about certain topics.
Any interesting feedback that you would have got from any child or parent?
Most recently, some mothers in a rural area bordering Gurgaon, who got the opportunity to listen to the podcasts on Transgenders and Child Sexual abuse, said that it was an eye-opener for them. People have been messaged to say they were deeply affected and saddened on listening to transgenders talking about the traumas they faced.
A former student messaged that the episodes about body image and clothes/ brands were ‘cathartic ‘ for her, as she had struggled with body issues for long. “ I feel how important it is to talk to young people about their bodies, so that they don’t stay in a conflictual process with themselves.”
And of course, the two episodes on infatuation—‘Dil Deeyan Gallaan’ were favourites with many!
Your content deserves to reach a wider audience. Did you ever contact any schools for the same? How was their response?
I did contact a private school where I had earlier done the sessions, and some NGOs as well. Even though they greatly appreciated the work, they were hesitant, being concerned about the reactions of ‘conservative parents’. The Government Education Department also has numerous reservations about making anything ‘official’ on a ‘sensitive topic’. I find it both disappointing and amusing that most people in high Administrative positions, even though they agree wholeheartedly that my podcasts are very useful and much needed, yet they themselves backtrack on relaying these officially, for fear of incurring criticism from so-called ‘conservative parents’! The mere words ‘sex’ , ‘sexuality’ send them into a tizzy!
Education is meant to inform and create awareness precisely against such misguided conservatism!
Are you also taking any initiative to tackle the issue of child sexual abuse?
At present I am focusing on creating awareness through my podcasts, though I am also collaborating with Pranaadhika Dev Burman Sinha in her campaign, ‘One Million Against Child Sexual Abuse’. I have been a part of Change.org’s ‘She Creates Change’ programme and support fellow changemakers wherever possible. With my friend Dr. Jyoti Seth, we ran ‘Sanjh Jagori’, the Chandigarh chapter of Abha Bhaiya- and late Kamla Bhasin’s NGO Jagori, though our activities stopped largely due to the pandemic.
Tell us a bit about your Tricity connection. What are your plans for a few years down the lane?
I am an ardent Chandigarhian: my parents moved here in 1958, a few months after I was born, so I have literally grown up with the place, experiencing its organic transformation from a cluster of buildings dotted through large swathes of land, where one barely saw a car drive past, — often derided as being a city without a soul, because it had no deep historical roots and its buildings were too modernist! —-to this bustling, vibrant city almost bursting at the seams with people and traffic. I love its close connection to Nature – its parks, lakes, the garden culture; and its artists— especially writers, playwrights, actors, painters… It seems to me one of the few cities in our country that has its soul intact and shining today!
At my age, (64) I have no ‘long–term plans, no grand ambitions! I enjoy my little creativity and awareness–building pursuits and intend to continue being active, endeavouring to become a better human being, learning to embrace the Oneness within us all, each passing day.