The CBSE has been called out in yet another controversy on its recent English examination question paper for class tenth. A question testing the comprehension skills of the students contained a passage perpetuating gender stereotypical statements. Some of the excerpts that became viral on twitter with the hashtag #cbseinsultswomen included “the wife gave him formal obedience realizing that upon this depended her authority, in turn, over the children” and “what people were slow to observe was that the emancipation of wife destroyed the parents’ authority over the children”. The marking scheme set by examiners for the objective questions to the passage also created some furor, especially among students. One of the correct answers prescribed by the Board advocated that the intention of the writer was to take a light-hearted approach to life instead of being a male chauvinist pig or an arrogant person. While the regressive nature of the text is not a matter of debate, there is much to think about the response of the general public and the CBSE to this entire debacle.
Predictably, the Board decided to remove the problematic text and award full marks to all students for the particular question. Can doing away with problematic writing also magically do away with the deeply embedded regressive gender notions of our society? These immediate resolutions seem promising but remain a futile exercise in achieving any real feminist progress. Even today, classroom discussions barely accommodate the issues of gender and sexuality including stereotypes, prescribed gender roles and the overarching patriarchal framework.
The CBSE curriculum ensures that status quo is maintained by not incorporating any contentious issues that could lead to critical conversations in educational spaces. To then conveniently delete passages, is the easiest way for CBSE to shun their role in perpetuating the patriarchy even as they shut down avenues of debates on the overarching issue.
In addition to this, political spokesperson such as the AIADMK Coordinator O Panneerselvam express concerns on the confusion and discrimination such questions might create in some students. While this may be true, it speaks much more about the Board’s consistent and deliberate failure to make students socially aware through their education.
Politicians were also quick to emphasise that the Board must ensure such content is avoided at all times as it is against the society and could incite violence. It is worth asking what parameters decide the capability of a particular content to incite violence. Earlier last month, a question from class twelfth Sociology question paper was deemed inappropriate and against CBSE guidelines when students were asked to name the party under which the ‘anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002’ took place. With no guidelines specified by the CBSE for scrutinising a text, it is likely that political agendas capable of sensationalising the media for popularity might define the appropriateness of a subject matter instead of an objective evaluation.
Another common solution advocated for such a blunder is the sacking of the Board members responsible for setting the marking scheme. It has been rightly pointed out that the CBSE validated the writer’s views by not giving students the option to call out the misogyny in the passage. However, under the garb of finding the root cause to the issue, inherent gender biases of the society are once again reduced to an isolated event that would presumably resolve with the termination of an employee.
Last month, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) which is a government publishing entity providing subject books to most CBSE schools, removed a manual titled ‘Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap’ from its website. This step was taken in response to a misinformed and absurd complaint filed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). The manual aimed to gender sensitise educators in classrooms by recommending the inclusion of gender-neutral washrooms, doing away with gender-based segregation in schools and explaining terms such as gender incongruence and gender dysphoria to sensitise teachers in their engagement with students.
Its disappearance from the public domain is another indication at the confusion and incoherence on issues of gender and sexuality apparent in all government functionaries. Instead of owning up to their regressive attitude, these entities fluctuate from the extremes of removing misogynistic content to prohibiting feminist values in their pedagogy while students and educators are left hanging in the arbitrariness of it all.
Amidst such recklessness, feminist outrage is the only anchor capable of mobilising any effective reform to the CBSE education system. The reaction of students, especially on the blatantly misogynistic answers set by examiners, is a valuable insight of their potential to highlight the complex issues of gender and sexuality even while they continue to be trapped in a rote-learning system. Feminists should emphasise on nurturing avenues that equip students as well as educators and examiners to create, develop and reflect with nuance in classrooms and examination halls, at homes and on social media. A call for uncomfortable conversations that cancel deep-rooted gender-based prejudices would go a long way than a call for cancelling texts, people, boards and councils.
Shreyashi works at the Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality, Ashoka University. She is trained as a lawyer with litigation experience on issues of gender violence. Alongside other things at the CSGS, she is enthusiastic to focus on the questions raised by the entanglements of law with gender and sexuality. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Featured image source: Times Of India