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Durbar Square
Nepal’s oldest school starts sexual revolution

in NEPAL, 14/07/2011

Nepal's oldest modern school that ushered in a revolution in education in the 20th century is now poised to bring in more sweeping social changes with the acceptance of a 13-year-old student, who was thrown out of a village school for being a transgender.

The Durbar High School in Kathmandu opened in 1892 when the then all-powerful Rana prime minister Jung Bahadur Rana decided to break away from traditional Sanskrit schooling for his children and give them an English education. In the beginning, only for wards of the blue-blooded , the school opened to the general public in 1902.

On Thursday, when Nepal celebrates Guru Purnima – Teachers' Day – 13-year-old Hem Baral (the name has been changed to protect the identity of the minor) will take admission in the seventh grade of the school after being forced to drop out of school in his own home district Bajura due to the incessant bullying of his classmates.

Baral was born Hema, the fourth daughter in a brood of four to a primary school teacher in Bajura. Disappointed at not having a son and heir, the teacher took a second wife. Though bigamy is illegal in Nepal now, the practice flourishes both in the capital as well as villages with the government turning a blind eye to it. Ironically, while the second wife too bore her husband three daughters, Baral began to develop signs of being a transgender.

Now, with her close-cropped hair, wiry frame and excellence in athletic activities, she is bound to be taken as a boy. She dresses like a boy, plays their games and prefers their company to girls'. However, in Bajura, the boys in her class were not ready to accept that, especially when she wanted to become the class monitor. Consequently, they made life miserable for her and forced her to drop out of school.

This week, accompanied by a cousin, the tearful teen appeared at the office of Blue Diamond Society, asking its founder and Nepal's only openly gay MP Sunil Babu Pant to help with her studies. On Wednesday, Pant and other officials of the gay rights organisation, had concluded talks with the principal of Durbar High School, Ghanshyam Yadav, asking him to admit Baral as part of the school's social responsibility.

"Hem is a good student as well as good at games," Pant said. "Her old school gave her a certificate, saying it was unable to keep her in school due to the atmosphere there that was impacting her mentally. But this is the capital and people are more progressive here. It is the responsibility of a government school to admit her."

With Pant agreeing to be Baral's local guardian, the school has accepted the new student, who starts attending from Sunday. The principal put one condition before admitting the teen. "Since she looks and dresses like a boy, I suggest we enrol her as a boy," he said. "We don't yet have provisions to admit a student as a trangender."

This is the first case of a school knowingly admitting a transgender student. Nepal's transgender community, who are increasingly coming out of the closet, say they were mostly forced to drop out of school due to peer bullying and teachers' bias.

Pant says he will ask the government to sponsor the teen's stay in Kathmandu. Three months ago, the International Relations and Human Rights Committee of parliament, of which Pant is a member, had summoned the Education Minister, Ganga Lal Tuladhar, and asked him to ensure that schools did not discriminate against students from the sexual minority community. Though the minister had pledged a circular would be issued within a week, true to the Nepal government's culture of never keeping commitments, the circular is yet to be sent.

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