Earlier this month, India’s Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) announced that it was scrapping tuition fees for India’s third gender individuals in an attempt to encourage members of the marginalised community to pursue higher education.
In less than a month, the university, commonly known as ‘The People’s University,’ has reportedly received 100 applications so far from individuals belonging to the community, a good sign that the initiative has been well-received.
The front gate of Indira Gandhi National Open University in New Delhi. Photo Source: Wikimedia
On June 2, during a memorial for the university’s founding Vice Chancellor G Ram Reddy, current Vice Chancellor Ravindra Kumar announced that the university would be scrapping tuition fees for transgender individuals for courses at over 3,000 study centres and 54 regional centres across the country. It has since been reported that it was in response to one transgender individual’s question to which Kumar made the impulsive announcement on the spot.
According to First Post, Kumar was asked during a video conference call what the university has done for the community, to which he responded that it was going to make education free for transgenders.
However, a long way from being something that he later came to regret, IGNOU’S VC remained true to his word and indeed made it happen.
Speaking to First Post, he said, “We don’t want to categorise and create further divide, but initially they will need a push to make them feel secure and confident.”
Transgender rights is still a relatively new concept in India and one that the country has only just began to seriously address. It was just recently, in 2014, that members of the community gained legal recognition as the country’s third gender.
Education is crucial to the social mobility of transgenders in India. Without proper education as a foundation, employment in the mainstream remains something that many transgenders can only dream of. Bullying and discrimination remains one of the major barriers to the third gender’s access to education, and is a main contributing factor to the community’s high dropout rate.
It is for reasons such as this that there exists a real need for institutions like IGNOU to make special provisions for the transgender community, particularly in regards to anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies, in order to support the community in their pursuit of higher education and also to prevent dropouts.
So far, IGNOU has been providing free education to sex workers, jail inmates and weavers. The university has been successfully imparting education and training to socially, economically, physically and/or geographically disadvantaged, in addition to women, minorities and jail inmates. A 2016 study conducted by the Commonwealth of Learning board reported that since the university’s establishment in 1987, IGNOU has been striving for inclusive education and to reach out to all groups represented in India. The study’s results further found the participation of rural women particularly encouraging in all programmes.
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