Maharashtra Textbook Shocker: 'Ugliness' Leads to Dowry

"If a girl is ugly and handicapped, then it becomes difficult for her to get married," says a textbook for class XII students prescribed by the Maharashtra board.

The sociology textbook prescribed by the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Education for class XII students lists ‘ugliness’ as a cause of dowry.

Reflecting a deeply regressive mindset, the textbooks claims, “If a girl is ugly and handicapped, then it becomes difficult for her to get married.” Following this line of argument, the section suggests that when “such girls” have to get married, the bridegroom’s family demands more dowry, and the girl’s parents “become helpless” and pay the demanded dowry.

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.

Earlier this year, in January, 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’.

Well known educationist Krishna Kumar told The Wire, “When crude examples of this kind are brought to light by someone in the media who has suddenly discovered them, state authorities promise to ‘look into them’. Unfortunately, most states do not have the institutional capacity to develop thoughtful texts. Nor have they established procedures for monitoring the quality of textbooks. Children who study these textbooks are in schools affiliated to state boards, not CBSE which uses textbooks produced by NCERT which has institutional resources and procedures to develop better textbooks. This duality – consisting of otherwise equivalent examining boards – covers up social and class divisions.”