After embarrassing gaffes in history and geography textbooks — Arunachal Pradesh was shown to be a part of China — the Maharashtra state education board has once again courted controversy. This time, it is for a Class 12 sociology textbook that lists “ugliness of the girl” as one of the reasons for a major social problem in the country — dowry.
Maharashtra education minister Vinod Tawde, however, brushed off the controversy, saying he will review the situation, but such terms aren’t wrong and shouldn’t be taken ‘out-of-context’.
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…”
Since the HSC exams are a couple of weeks away, academicians said the board can rewrite the controversial text and send corrections to junior colleges. But they maintained the book has many other faux pas and must be rewritten entirely for the next year.
The book is used by more than 2.2 lakh students every year to prepare for the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) board examinations. It has been in circulation for the past three years. Quite understandably, the assertions made in it have drawn widespread criticism from college professors and educators. “When I first read the chapter on dowry, I was shocked. How can they write such things in a board textbook?” said 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 said.
Although academicians demanded recalling the books and rewriting the text in a sensitive manner, the state education department is in no hurry to do this. “I have spoken to the board chairperson regarding the objections raised by the media. This is an old textbook in use for three years. But politics and curriculum shouldn’t be mixed into this issue,” said Tawde.
Adding that the board of studies, which prepared the textbook, was providing a reflection of the society (by using such words), Tawde said, “We will definitely think over the points raised by the media and present it before the board of studies.”
But academicians are opposed to the continuation of the book. “The word ‘ugly’ is sexist. It should have been replaced by other words or phrases such as perceived physical attributes and disabled in place of handicapped,” said Hemangi Joshi, education manager, Narotam Seksharia Foundation and member of the Right to Education Forum.
The fact that the book has been in circulation for the past three years has also puzzled educators. “It is upsetting that such a book is being used at the school-level for the past few years. It creates a wrong impression on young minds,” said Nandini Sardesai, professor and sociologist. Adding that the purpose of sociology is to broaden minds, Sardesai said, “Those who prepared the book haven’t imbibed the essence of the subject.”
Lost in translation?
Retired professor Amrita Nadkarni, who taught sociology at St Xavier’s College, Fort, for 30 years and was part of the board of studies that prepared this book, said such slip-ups occur because books are translated word-to-word from Marathi to English or vice-versa. “This book seems to be translated from the Marathi version and the translators are clearly not fluent in English,” said Nadkarni. “The words used are inappropriate, and personally, I wouldn’t teach such a book.”
Out of context?
In contrast, Usha Rane, director of training, Pratham NGO, said, “If the term is picked and highlighted, read without context, then it can be seen as sexist. But since it is given in a specific context, used in a sentence to elaborate a point, it cannot be called sexist.”