Gender neutral greetings in Kerala school: Colonial greetings like the usage of sir or madam to refer to a person in authority or power is highly gendered. They often are binary in nature and exclude other genders apart from male and female. A school in Kerala has now taken the decision to do away with such norms. Instead of using sir and madam to refer to teachers, the students will now refer to them as just teachers.
This step towards a gender-neutral language has been adopted by the Senior Basic School, a government-aided school in Olassery, Kerala. According to the headmaster of the school, H Venugopalan, this was first proposed by a member of the staff, V Sanjeev Kumar.
Taking in Kumar's suggestion, the school held a meeting of the staff and later parents were brought into the picture. "The parents were also very supportive of the move. It has been implemented as part of introducing the gender-neutral concept in our school," said Venugopalan.
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Changing habits can be difficult, especially for young people who have been taught to conduct themselves in schools and public spaces abiding by certain norms. But students at the said school have taken to the new gender-neutral greetings already. According to the principal, initially, it would take some time as students, out of habit, may refer sir or madam instead of teachers for greetings but they correct themselves whenever they slip on it. The school accommodate at least 300 students and has nine women teachers and eight men teachers.
In 2019, Merriam-Webster had declared non-binary pronoun, they, as a replacement of traditional pronouns she/he.
The campaign to abolish gender-specific greetings was initiated by social activist Bobban Mattumantha. He had even forwarded a memorandum to the government. According to Mattumantha, the Congress-ruled Mathur panchayat was the first local body to have put up a board asking the public to refer the officials using their designations only.
According to him, the Mathur panchayat seems to have inspired the school to also take this route. Mattumantha said that in many areas women officers are referred to as sir and he wondered how the transgenders, who are inducted into the government service will be addressed as.
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However, this is not the first time that a school in Kerala has tried to break away from the gender-specific mould. The Balussery Government Girls Higher Secondary School, which admits students of all gender, adopted a gender-neutral uniform for their students in higher secondary classes. The Education Minister of Kerala Dr R Bindhu said that this development is a "radical step towards" gender equality.
Dr Bindu said, "At a time when the world is heralding an age of gender justice and quality, Balussery Government Girls HSS has taken a radical step forward. Glad to have had the opportunity to officially inaugurate the school's new gender-neutral uniform, which students have welcomed with open arms."