The textbook claims that dowry is paid to marry off ugly or handicapped women because they find few takers.
A class 12 sociology textbook published by the board lists “ugliness of the girl” as one of the reasons for families seeking dowry at the time of marriage. This is how a particularly insensitive paragraph from chapter 3 of the book reads: “If a girl is ugly and handicapped, it becomes very difficult for her to get married. To marry her, the girl’s bridegroom and his family demand more dowry. The helpless parents of such girls are then forced to pay up…”
The book was used by thousands of students over the last two years to prepare for the Higher Secondary Certificate board examinations. Quite understandably, the assertions made in it have drawn widespread criticism from college professors.
“When I first read the chapter on dowry, I was shocked. How can they write such things in a board textbook?” questioned a Bandra college professor on the condition of anonymity.
She said professors tend to avoid reading this portion of the text in the classroom. “We have to be very careful while teaching from this book. Students call this particular chapter rubbish,” she added.
Board chairperson Gangadhar Mhamane refused to comment because he was busy attending a meeting.
On Thursday , social media was abuzz with such controversial excerpts of the textbook, first printed in 2013 and used by thousands of students who opt to study sociology at junior college across the state every year. It was prepared by the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education.
“We will withdraw the objectionable part and also issue a notice to the textbook officials concerned,“ education minister Vinod Tawde told TOI. Anonymous complaints appeared regarding the text in Chapter 3, `Major social problems in India’, which discusses dowry , problems of working women and domestic violence, among others. The state board’s Class XII sociology textbook lists “ugliness and handicap“ as reasons why parents have to shell out higher dowry to get their daughters married. On dowry , it also lists religion, the caste system, social prestige and the compensation principle. It mentions financial negotiations conducted during a son’s marriage to fund a daughter’s wedding and a bride’s family turning into “criminals“ to arrange for dowry as some of the “consequences“.
Teachers said while the issues discussed in the book might be the grim reality , it sho uld have used a more academic language. “These issues are real. We cannot deny them but when I first read the text, I was offended. It could have been handled far more delicately . When we read it out in class, it is very awkward if a student with disabilities is present. Besides, teenagers are extremely self-conscious about their image and such content could hurt their confidence,“ said a south Mumbai college teacher.
While educationists have expressed their reservations over the content, one of the six authors of the textbook whom TOI contacted said the excerpts are being seen in isolation. “The textbook has to be re ad carefully. We have said that these (ugliness and handicap) are some of the reasons why dowry exists. We have also included an advisory on how girls should and can refuse to marry a groom whose family demands dowry ,“ said the author.
Madhuri Pai, programme head of NGO Pratham, said, “
Ugly' andhandicapped’ could easily have been replaced with perceived physical attributes. I prefer disabled to handicapped. Sociology is a science and writers must choose their words carefully . While writing for an impressionable age group, one has to be extremely cautious.“ Similarly , sociologist and professor Nandini Sardesai said the book has been written from a chauvinistic point of view. “Students should just be told that dowry is a social evil and it must be eradicated no matter what. Steps must be taken to rectify it because it sends out wrong signals to students.“
Though she agreed that dowry was “market-related“, senior sociologist Vidyut Bhagwat said, “Mentioning
ugly' andhandicapped’ to describe girls is in itself a very wicked and crooked way of looking at things. Why didn’t the writer instead write about the anti-do wry Act and past movements that led to stopping the practice? I feel the book should be banned. A criminal offence should be registered against people behind the book.“
However, Maharashtra right to education (RTE) forum convenor Hemangi Joshi said, “Sociologists go far beyond sympathy and analyze the perceptions, biases and social systems responsible for situations.Sociology is not a subject of citizenship building but it helps equip students critically analyze social situations and issues.“
Education minister Vinod Tawde has already spoken to Gangadhar Mhamane, chairperson of the board. “The content in the syllabus is old; the textbook has been around for three years. Politics and school syllabus should not be mixed.This issue is related to school syllabus and there is an academic board that decides what goes into textbooks. I think the education board has tried to reflect the social reality in this chapter. However, we will review it and send suggestions to the board and study their suggestions too,“ said Tawde. Mhamane remained unavailable for comment.
The book, Sociology Standard XII, authored by six people and published by the state board, discusses dowry under the chapter ‘Major Social Problems in India’, which also includes sections of gender inequality, domestic violence and farmer suicides among other things.
In the dowry sections, 12 causes are listed among which are ‘social prestige’, ‘expectation of the bridegroom’ and ‘compensation principle’. While the causes listed in the book outlines established practice in India, it fails to evoke critical engagement. For instance, the section titled ‘social prestige’ says that dowry has become a “symbol of social prestige”, as a consequence of which the book suggests the more the dowry is paid, the more social currency a family has.
Another cause for dowry in the book is ‘kulin marriage’ – a marriage between a higher caste man and a lower caste woman. According to the book, these marriages are considered auspicious and are therefore sought after, giving the bridegroom’s family more leverage to demand more dowry.
The tone the book takes seems to almost justify dowry than just list causes. Additionally, it must be asked if causes of a problem like dowry can be listed in bullet points like the book does.
Astonishing claims such as these have surfaced every now and then from textbooks prescribed for schoolchildren. In May 2016, the Indian Express had reported that a textbook in Rajasthan for class VIII students had erased Jawaharlal Nehru and his legacy as the country’s first prime minister and Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse, among other things.
The book was revised by the State Institute of Education Research and Training for a “curriculum-restructuring” for use in schools affiliated to the Rajasthan Board of Secondary Education, the report said. This was seen as an attempt by the BJP-led Rajasthan government to sabotage history though the government did deny direct involvement as per the Indian Express report. Sachin Pilot of the Congress had told the Sunday Express at the time, “This is taking saffronisation to the next level. The BJP’s ideological bankruptcy has stooped to such levels that it is erasing the country’s first prime minister from school history books.”
Again from Rajasthan, the Times of India had reported in July 2016 that another textbook for class VIII stated – in a chapter on Sant Kanwar Ram who is a Sindhi poet – that it is a “woman’s duty to follow her man”.
In December 2016, the Ladies Finger had reported that the CBSE intends to remove a section in its class IX history textbook, entitled ‘Caste Conflict and Dress Change’ following a Madras high court order that found it objectionable. The section discussed atrocities faced by Dalits and highlighted the struggle of radical Dalit women of the Nadar community who were forced to keep their upper bodies uncovered.
In January this year , the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool government in West Bengal, in an attempt to “secularise” education, removed ‘ram’ from ‘ramdhenu’ – the Bengali word for rainbow – which literally translates to ‘Ram’s bow’. ‘Rongdhenu’ was suggested instead, which would mean ‘coloured bow’.