“If girl is ugly and handicapped, then it becomes very difficult for her to get married. To marry such girls bridegroom and his family demand more dowry. Parents of such girls become helpless and pay dowry as per the demands of bridegroom’s family. It leads to rise in the practice of dowry system.”
If you think that this is a line from a regressive TV serial or what an ignorant tourist guide will say to foreigners, you have never been more wrong.
These lines have been listed as one of the ‘causes’ of dowry in India, in a Class 12 textbook created and prescribed by the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education. Not by a tuition class, not by a politician. These lines, and the whole textbook, have been written by academicians and professors who are supposed to be subject matter experts imparting useful knowledge to students. These lines have been and will continue to be read, memorised, and reproduced by students so that they can answer questions in their examinations.
Dowry is a multifactorial social issue. While society at large remains mainly rigid, dowry manages to manifest itself in cities and villages, in upper and lower castes, in the case of women who are considered, on the basis of socially accepted norms, beautiful and ugly.
Understanding how dowry came into being is not a simple topic and must be presented with factual accuracy and real statistics. The textbook fails to do this. Understanding why dowry is problematic is not rocket science. By reducing causes to factors such as “ugliness” and treating the subject matter in this manner, the writers of the textbook have made understanding this difficult.
How are we, as students, voters, and citizens, ever supposed to think critically or even objectively about social issues if the people who are supposed to educate us are so regressive? State Education Minister Vinod Tawde said, “People should not mix politics and syllabus. The Board of Studies might have attempted to explain the societal reality in this way.”
It seems to me that this is not a case of politics, but of unconsciously ingrained prejudice being presented as analysis. Additionally, is this the wording that must be used to explain an orthodox, regressive tradition that has led to the death of countless women over centuries? The lines mentioned at the beginning of the article almost make it seem like it is acceptable for women who are considered ugly to pay higher dowry. It makes it seem like we must accept that this is what will occur in society. The writers of the textbook sound more like dowry apologists.
It is a well-known and well-documented fact that the credentials and skills of teachers who take classes at the school and college level in Maharashtra and all of India are not up to the mark. Despite getting a degree from what is considered a progressive college of repute, I have heard statements such as this on campus:
“If you wear these kinds of clothes and something happens, don’t come crying to me.”
Funnily enough, this was said by a professor of Sociology, who also happens to be a woman. Something like this is not forgivable. But even if we are to look away from the abysmal quality of teaching, we simply cannot ignore the content of textbooks.
The Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education says this on its official website about the subject of Sociology:
“The proper applications of scientific principles are necessary”
“Education provides various experiences to the students. These experiences set the students to understand society and to adopt social conditions in a desirable manner”
“A teacher should build a noble person for future society through sociology”
It’s almost as though it doesn’t listen to its own mandate. But then, it also says this:
“We live in a society with full of social and natural calamities. It is not in the hands of common man to control the situation.”
This principle seems to guide how it writes about social issues. Rather than pushing students to question notions of beauty and challenge the way that society functions, it makes dowry seem like an irreversible, inevitable problem guided by factors such as “ugliness”.
Maharashtra State Board education has now joined the misogynistic league that is Bollywood, Khap Panchayats, and sexist politicians.