Women can ‘grind chakkis’ to stay fit: Four times Indian textbooks promoted sexist ideas
A magazine brought out by Rajasthan’s education department received flak for its sexist ‘health’ advice.Updated: Nov 11, 2017 14:14 IST
A magazine brought out by Rajasthan’s education department suggests that women can keep fit by doing household chores such as grinding ‘chakki (stone grinder)’, filling water pitchers or sweeping or mopping floors.
The advice was part of a feature on ‘Simple ways to stay fit’ in Shivira, the Rajasthan department of Education’s monthly magazine aimed at schoolteachers.
The sexist ‘health’ advice aimed only at women drew flak from rights activists. Nathmal Didel, the director, secondary education, and magazine’s chief editor, however, said that while domestic activities should not have been suggested as exercise specifically for women, the writer was probably influenced by how traditional society operated.
This is not the first time Rajasthan’s education department has come under fire for the ideas and values it propagates. A 2012 article by academic and writer Deepti Priya Mehrotra found that Rajasthan textbooks lagged behind their NCERT counterparts when it came to portrayal of women.
“In Rajasthan textbooks, an archaic, feudal or monarchical ethos is frequently evoked, with women relegated to subsidiary positions. They remain responsible for household chores, particularly cooking and serving; even the story of an activist woman, Imarti Bai, begins with the sentence, “Imarti Bai was working in her house” (Rajasthan, Class 3). Even queens are projected primarily as wives and mothers, rather than rulers: their horizons are limited to the (royal) household. Not one text or illustration depicts a male engaged in household work,” notes Mehrotra in the article, India: Sexism and Patriarchy in the Textbooks.
But Rajasthan is not the only offender when it comes to sexist or outdated representation of women in books. Here are four times when Indian textbooks were on the wrong side of the sexism debate:
More dowry for ‘ugly’ girls
A Class 12 Sociology textbook in Maharashtra listed “ugliness of the girl” and “disability” as one of the reasons for families seeking dowry at the time of marriage. The textbook was used by students to prepare for the Higher Secondary Certificate board examinations.
While discussing dowry, an insensitive paragraph in the textbook read: “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…”
Women’s ideal shape is 36”-24”-36”
A textbook used by CBSE schools listed the ideal body proportions of a woman as 36”-24”-36”. “That is why in Miss World or Miss Universe competitions such type of shape is also taken into consideration,” said the book.
It also went on to say that “the bones of hips of females are wider and their knees are slightly apart. Due to this shape, females are not able to run properly”.
Outrage over these blatantly sexist ideas spurred Union education minister Prakash Javadekar to condemn the book, which was published by a private publisher, and order a probe.
Women take men’s jobs
In 2015, a young female teacher from Jashpur district in Chhattisgarh petitioned the state women’s commission against a textbook by the state education department that said male unemployment was rising because women started working, reported The Indian Express.
“Before independence few women were employed. But today women are employed in all sectors that has increased the proportion of unemployment among men,” the textbook said in Hindi.
The state’s school education minister Kedar Kashyap said the chapter will be withdrawn from the books.
‘Donkeys are like housewives’
A 2006 Hindi textbook from the Rajasthan Education Board caused outrage when it compared housewives to donkeys, reported the Times of India.
“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,” the Class IX textbook said.