Many of us have come across news of the Maharashtra Class XII textbook which lists “ugliness” as a cause of dowry. The textbooks claims, “If a girl is ugly and handicapped, then it becomes difficult for her to get married” and thus it follows that the families of such girls, helpless, end up paying more dowry.
This is not a black-and-white issue. It is a clear case of sexism in our education system which normalises regressive practices and fosters a culture of victim blaming. What the passage in the textbook is doing is, making it seem as if the dowry practice is a factor of a girl’s physical appearance and not the boy’s entitlement or society’s conservative mentality. It makes the girl – who is the victim – the cause of the system instead of highlighting the problem with the families who involve in the dowry system.
Shocking as the Maharashtra incident is, it is by no means the first of its kind. Here are some more examples of bigotry, racism, propaganda, and misinformation.
Other instances where Indian textbooks were sexist or racist.
- “All South Indians are “Madrasis … People in East India wear clothes above ankle as there is more rainfall. Ladies wear the sari in a peculiar manner … Japan dropped a nuclear bomb on the United States during World War II.”
– A history textbook in Gujarat. The state government ordered an investigation in 2014, but not before the books were distributed to tens of thousands of students.
- “[Non-vegetarians] easily cheat, tell lies, they forget promises, they are dishonest and tell bad words, steal, fight and turn to violence and commit sex crimes.”
– A class 6 CBSE textbook. CBSE faced calls to monitor content more strictly following this controversy in 2012.
- “Once Dr Radhakrishnan (India’s first Vice President) went for a dinner. There was a Briton at the event who said, “We are very dear to God.” Radhakrishnan laughed and told the gathering, “Friends, one day God felt like making rotis. When he was cooking the rotis, the first one was cooked less, and the English were born. The second one stayed longer on the fire, and the Negroes were born. Alert after His first two mistakes, when God went on to cook the third roti, it came out just right, and as a result, Indians were born.”
–Literature textbook in Gujarat. This text is still part of the supplementary reading list for students.
- “[The Indian map should include] countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma [as it’s all a] part of Akhand Bharat … Undivided India is the truth; divided India is a lie. Division of India is unnatural, and it can be united again.”
– Gujarat primary school syllabus. This is also still a part of the supplementary reading list for students.
- “A donkey is like a housewife … It has to toil all day, and, like her, may even have to give up food and water. In fact, the donkey is a shade better … for, while the housewife may sometimes complain and walk off to her parents’ home, you’ll never catch the donkey being disloyal to his master.”
– A textbook in Rajasthan. State education official said the comparison was made “in good humour”; he promised to remove it following protests.
- “The pilot and the Indian together thrashed the negro and tied him up with rope. Like a tied buffalo, he frantically tried to escape but could not. The plane landed safely in Chicago. The negro was a serious criminal…and this brave Indian was an employee of Air India.”
– Certain textbooks in Gujarat. Current status of passage unclear.
- “Hitler lent dignity and prestige to the German government within a short time, establishing a strong administrative set-up.”
– Gujarat textbook. Faced widespread condemnation for glorifying Nazism and downplaying the Holocaust; current status of inflammatory passages unclear.
- “The condition is one of arrested development or a natural deviation, and beyond that, homosexuality is a disease. It exists among all callings and at all levels of society. A prison sentence may do more harm than good. Psychotherapy is useful in some cases. Tribadism can be quite compatible with normal heterosexual behaviour. On the other hand, some lesbians can be so morbidly jealous of such women with whom they are in inverted love, that they are sometimes incited to commit even murder.”
– Local medical textbook. Current status of passage unclear.
- “One day Swami Vivekananda went to give a lecture. He told the gathering, ‘We should always wear Indian clothes’… He was wearing saffron robes, but his shoes were foreign. An Englishwoman noticed this and said, ‘Swamiji! You are insisting on wearing Indian clothes, but your shoes are foreign’. Vivekanand listened to this and laughed. And he quietened down and said, ‘I was saying exactly this, that in our view, the place of a foreigner is here’. The woman was dumbfounded.”
– Gujarat textbook. Still part of supplementary reading list for students.
“Victims of a patriarchal monomania.”
In 1965, the Indian Education Commission warned that Indian textbooks promoted sexist and patriarchal stereotypes.
A three-year-long study on sexism in Indian education which mainly involved 22 English and 20 Hindi textbooks came to similar conclusions. The study found instances of over 100 female characters appearing as sex role victims and men routinely abusing and beating women in many lessons. The study observes that “the editors and authors of Indian textbooks are the victims of a patriarchal monomania. Despite their tokenist acceptance of female achievers as the subjects of biography lessons, their subliminal message comes through loud and clear: Women are weak, women are stupid, women are capable only of scrubbing floors and burping babies.”
“In India, on average, more than half the illustrations in primary English, Hindi, mathematics, science and social studies textbooks depicted only males, while only 6% showed just females. In the six mathematics books used in primary schools, men dominated activities representing commercial, occupational and marketing situations, with not a single woman depicted as an executive, engineer, shopkeeper or merchant.” – Study affiliated with the UN.
The Logical Indian take
Childhood is the phase of our life when we are most malleable and impressionable. Textbooks not only help us pass exams, but they also have the power of shaping our worldview in the long run. India’s education system involves books which – openly or between the lines – reinforce stereotypes and promote sexism, bigotry, racism and homophobia.
This is destructive and divisive. This should not be a matter of debate: it is plain and clear that such text should be omitted from our school books and we teach our children facts and truth instead of sensationalism and nonsense.
[If you know of any other instances where Indian textbooks used dismissive and misleading facts and language, kindly email us the same: [email protected]]