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Thursday, January 27, 2022

CBSE can’t be seen as a vehicle of outdated and patriarchal ideas

🔴 CBSE withdrawing sexist passage in question paper is welcome. It can and must do more to steer clear of regressive prejudice.

By: Editorial |
Updated: December 15, 2021 10:01:25 am
This is the second time in recent weeks that the CBSE has been left scrambling for a response over question papers.

It is not surprising to find the “emancipated wife” — imagined as the arch-villain of the great Indian family, she whose wilful ways and refusal to sacrifice her desires can wreck homes and corrupt the adarsh parivar — in television serials, or cinema, or the nightmares of prospective fathers-in-law. But to encounter this stock character, dripping with misogyny and prejudice, in a CBSE board exam English question paper for Class X students is a disgrace. A passage meant to test the comprehension of the students blamed the lack of discipline in children on the “emancipation” of wives. “In bringing the man down from his pedestal the wife and the mother deprived herself, in fact, of the means of discipline,” it said. As if this sexist bilge was not enough, according to the CBSE, the right answer to the question — Is the writer “a male chauvinist pig/an arrogant person”; “a disgruntled husband”; or “has his family’s welfare at his heart” — is that he “takes a light hearted approach to life”. The joke was, thankfully, lost on students and parliamentarians alike. In the Lok Sabha, Congress president Sonia Gandhi objected to “such blatantly misogynist material finding its way into an important examination”. Though the government refused to make a statement in the House, the Ministry of Education has asked the CBSE for a detailed explanation. The CBSE has made the immensely welcome decision of dropping the passage and awarding all students full marks for the questions.

This is the second time in recent weeks that the CBSE has been left scrambling for a response over question papers. Earlier this month, it chose to mysteriously withdraw a question on the anti-minority violence in Gujarat in 2002, sending the terrible signal to students that some questions cannot and ought not be asked. In doing so, the autonomous body risked questions being asked of its pliability in the face of political pressure. In this instance, the disturbing question is this: How can regressive ideas of the “place” of women in the house, which have been interrogated, and in some sections of the society even dislodged, after a long arduous process of education, feminist mobilisation and political change, be allowed to creep back in public discourse through “errors” such as this?

Of course, if the backlash to the question paper shows anything, it is that the social common sense has shifted in incremental but tangible ways. In some areas, at least, there is impatience with blatant sexist prejudice and a price to pay for misogynist loose talk. The CBSE cannot afford to be seen, even by mistake, as a vehicle of outdated and patriarchal ideas. It can and must do better.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 15, 2021 under the title ‘No marks for misogyny’.

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