Apologist arguments in favor of the caste system have not been a recent phenomenon in India. For a deeply oppressive system of social division to have survived more than 3,000 years, it was indispensable to have exponents of Brahmin-Savarna supremacy at successive stages to suppress any sign of a revolt to challenge this ‘pre-ordained social order’. The most prominent of such methods of suppression nay enslavement was to limit the access to knowledge which ultimately handicapped vast masses of oppressed castes and put them in a perpetual state of helplessness and ignorance.
‘brainwashing pedagogy….’ by Unnamati Syamasundar
Since independence, constitutional safeguards for the oppressed castes are in place in the form of legally enforceable rights aimed at uplifting historically wronged communities and raising their status both socially and economically. Till now stigmatized as ‘untouchables’, these classes of the oppressed began to exert pressure to enter into educational institutions. To formally prevent any classes of persons from educating themselves by coercive diktats is now, not only a punishable offence but also a universal wrong. These provisions to a considerable extent have increased the participation of the Dalit-Bahujans in fields of power paving a way for the emasculation of the institution of caste. The state, for the same, is assigned with the responsibility of bringing positive reforms in the society with the help of progressive legislation.
But what happens when the state itself is complicit in the spread of regressive social norms instead of promoting secular and progressive values? The detrimental effects it could create by legitimizing oppression and supremacy of a few castes over the vast majority of others, particularly through textbooks, has certainly missed peoples’ eye.
In recent times a few topics from social sciences textbooks have been unearthed and brought to notice the dangerous myths it seems to be perpetuating. One such recent incident was the emergence of a 12th- grade Sociology textbook which cited advantages of dowry. The book suggests that one of the causes of the rise in dowry is the ‘ugliness’ of the girl.1 It should be noted that such misogynistic comments are not uncommon to Indian textbooks. A textbook prescribed for 15-year-old students in Chhattisgarh blamed the increasing independence of women to be the cause of rising unemployment in the country because they have begun working in various sectors. Or the comparison of a donkey to a housewife in 2006 in a textbook prescribed for students in Rajasthan.2
One such popular texts among students of Sociology is ‘An Introduction to Sociology’ by Vidya Bhushan and Dr. Sachdeva. The book claims to cater students of B.A., M.A., B.Sc., Nursing/ GNM, U.P.S.C./P.C.S. and other competitive examinations. It is recommended for various undergraduate courses and particularly in Maharashtra, where some law colleges ask their students to consider reading this book as a reference for the 2nd year of the V-year law course. Chapter 20 deals with the social stratification in India and it begins with citing a few definitions of prominent sociologists on caste. As we read further, we are introduced to the ‘merits and demerits of caste’. The authors have made some astonishing claims about the ‘merits’ of caste system, as can be seen in the following two images.
“From time to time the Indian caste system has been attacked from various quarters and to it have been ascribed all the numerous evils from which the society is suffering. But the very fact that it continues in spite of these attacks as before, goes to prove that the system is not so bad as it is thought to be. The very fact that the Brahmins retained their supremacy for two thousand years proves that they were eminently fitted to be in a position of domination.”, upholding the supremacy of the Brahmins and celebrating the subjugation of all the other castes, the book notes. Following such a bizarre claim, it goes on to list 9 merits. In almost an unapologetic tone, it is being claimed that caste is inherently altruistic which wipes away the need of the state to supporting the poor, in a country where close to 25% of its population is below its official poverty limit.
Among its other shocking claims of being meritorious, it reads, “it has preserved the social purity of the higher caste by forbidding indiscriminate inter-marriages and has greatly fostered the habits of cleanliness by insisting on ritual purity” and “functions ranging from education to scavenging, from government to domestic service of the most menial kinds and it makes this provision under the sanction of a religious dogma, the belief in karma, which renders superficially inequitable distribution of functions acceptable as being part of the divine order of the universe.”
Preservation of ‘racial purity’ of the high castes by not inter-mingling with lower castes is being celebrated as an achievement of the caste system which further perpetuates the belief in caste purity and untouchability. The students, especially from the oppressed sections, are made to internalize the caste structures being pre-ordained, a myth against which countless social reformers have tirelessly fought. Not only does this embolden the notion of ‘high and low’, but also it effectively exacerbates the learning environment of the Dalit Bahujan students by alienating them from any discourse on caste.
There is an immediate need for corrective measures to be adopted by the state governments and the central government to make learning a safe place for the students of oppressed communities and women. The state should make provisions for students to address their grievances with regards to the misogynist and Casteist syllabus and consider setting aside books which seem to impart regressive notions at the earliest. Progressive and caste & gender sensitive syllabus is the prerequisite to the making of responsible citizens, overlooking which would prove to be disastrous to the world of tomorrow.
1. Staff, T. W. (2017, February 03). Maharashtra Textbook Shocker: ‘Ugliness’ Leads to Dowry. Retrieved November 10, 2017, from https://thewire.in/105146/maharashtra-sociology-textbook-blames-ugliness-dowry/
2. BBC News. (2017). Five bizarre ‘lessons’ in Indian textbooks. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-34336826 [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].
Anitya is a student of Law.