The Central Board of Secondary Education on Monday dropped a passage from a Class 10 examination paper after political leaders criticised the portrayal of women in its text.
The passage, which dealt with lack of discipline among teenagers, was aimed at testing the students’ reading comprehension abilities. The passage appeared in a Class 10 English question paper on Saturday.
One paragraph from the passage stated: “What people were slow to observe was that the emancipation of the wife destroyed the parent’s authority over children. The mother did not exemplify the obedience upon which she still tried to insist.”
It added: “There was more room now for disagreement between the parents, enabling the child to appeal from one to another, eventually ignoring both. In bringing the man down from his pedestal the wife and the mother deprived herself, in fact of the means of discipline.”
The passage stated that “some teenagers live in a world of their own” and went on to cite “lack of parental authority” as one of the reasons behind it. It said that over a century ago, the husband was considered the “master of the house” and the wife gave him “formal obedience”.
“It was only by accepting her husband’s sway that she could gain obedience from the young,” the passage said. “... Children and servants were in this way taught to know their own place.”
In the 20th Century, following the “feminist revolt”, the passage said, married women retained their identities and some pursued separate careers and most men welcomed the changed, “dropping their role of infallible tyrant in the home”.
This liberation of women led to the decline of parental authority, the passage claimed.
A multiple choice question following the passage asked students if the writer “appears to be a chavunist pig/ an arrogant person, takes a light-hearted approach to life, is a disgruntled husband, or has his family welfare at his heart”.
The board’s answer key says that the correct answer is the writer “takes a light hearted approach to life”, reported The Indian Express.
The CBSE faced a backlash on social media for the reading comprehension passage.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra described it as “unbelievable” and asked if this “drivel” was really being taught to children.
In a tweet, she wrote, “Clearly the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] government endorses these retrograde views on women, why else would they feature in the CBSE curriculum?”
Tamil Nadu Congress spokesperson Lakshmi Ramachandran said that the CBSE should explain the question and tender an apology.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called the comprehension passage “downright disgusting”.
“Typical RSS-BJP [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party] ploys to crush the morale and future of the youth,” he tweeted.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi raised the matter during the Zero Hour in Parliament and demanded an apology from the CBSE and the education ministry. She also demanded that the passage be withdrawn, reported ANI.
She said that the entire passage was filled with “condemnable ideas” and the questions were “equally nonsensical”.
Gandhi said: “I add my voice to the concerns of students, parents, teachers and educationists and I raise strong objection to such blatantly misogynist material finding its way into an important examination conducted by the CBSE.”
Members of the Congress, the National Conference, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Indian Union Muslim League also walked of the House, seeking clarification on the matter, reported PTI.
After the backlash, the education board referred the matter to subject experts, who recommended dropping the passage and its accompanying questions.
In a statement, CBSE said that the passage was not in accordance to the board’s guidelines for setting up question papers.
It said that full marks will be given to the students who got the question as well as others who received different set of questions in order to “ensure uniformity and parity”.
This is the second controversy to have erupted within a month in relation to questions in CBSE examinations.
On December 1, a multiple-choice question in the Term 1 examination for sociology had read: “The unprecedented scale and spread of anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 took place under which government?”
The CBSE had then said that the question was “inappropriate” and that it would take strict action against those responsible. The education board had said that the question was in violation of its guidelines for external subject experts for setting question papers.
However, social media users had pointed out that a paragraph in the textbook noted that the 2002 riots took place while the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power in Gujarat.