CBSE misogynistic question row: Examination papers are evil is something students have been crying themselves hoarse about for ages. No one seemed to listen to them, until now. A bizarre question on a paper from the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) seemingly drove home that point when it told students about how the emancipation of wives can destroy the parental authority and that by bringing a man down from “his pedestal,” a woman deprives herself.
The contentious question, which has earned massive backlash, was listed on CBSE’s class tenth English Term-1 board exam that took place over the weekend. Congress leader Sonia Gandhi raised the “shockingly regressive and blatantly misogynist” question in Parliament Monday, asking for its withdrawal.
The same day, CBSE issued a circular informing that they had decided to drop the question since it was not in accordance with board guidelines and that students would uniformly be awarded full marks for it.
“What people were slow to observe was that the emancipation of the wife destroyed the parent’s authority over the children. The mother did not exemplify the obedience upon which she still tried to insist… In bringing the man down from his pedestal the wife and the mother deprived herself, in fact of the means of discipline,” read the passage, as per reports.
The Indian public education system is never without criticism for its shortcomings, like the manner in which it awards rote learning without valuing true long-term knowledge. Students come out of board exams having received a perfect score – which, as many point out, should ideally be impossible in an educational setup that forever pushes its students towards improvement.
How can an answer sheet ever be perfect, top to bottom? It can happen only in a system that prizes students’ retention capabilities.
As if these drawbacks were not enough, CBSE has now set new standards of what exams should not be with the printing of the question about wives and authority. Schools mould impressionable young minds that will grow up and make decisions based on the information they have been taught is correct and matters. Where would sexist information students are being fed through questions, answers and textbooks be placed on that map? Are those values we want future generations to draw insight from?
If it’s not vividly clear, the question makes direct implications that women gaining independence and agency spells doom for family units. Men should be, and women should let them be, the household heads sitting atop their (patriarchal) pedestals from where they conduct discipline, it seems.
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Our system flinches at including sex education topics in its textbooks, takes a free hand removing queer-sensitisation material from its database, refrains from making solid conversation on deep-seated patriarchal norms that direct our daily lives. At the same time, it finds it suitable to disempower women more than they already are by society.
Students, many of whom are not connected to social media where they can partake in updated discussions on patriarchy and feminism, draw their base knowledge from what school books and exams tell them. And if women’s emancipation leads to indiscipline is what students are being told, what will that do if not keep the cycle of suppressing women’s voices in families and society alive?
It’s proper that CBSE promptly decided to pull down the exam question that shouldn’t have been conceptualised in the first place. The consequences such dated ideas will have in shaping students’ futures will be way more far-reaching than those few marks got in an exam.
Views expressed are the author’s own.