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Regressive ideas in textbooks, like this story Ranga’s Marriage, need to be weeded out, if the next generation is to grow up with a progressive mindset.
Textbook information is the very backbone of the education system. It dictates our knowledge, and in the long haul, even our perceptions. So, at the very least, we can expect our textbooks to be progressive, if not always politically correct, right? That’s why I thought so too, until last year.
I think all school students can agree that we all have read the stories in our English textbook way before we would even begin the term. I too found myself immersed in these stories when I got my textbook. I had only read a few stories when I came across a story, ‘Ranga’s Marriage’, by Masti Venkatesha Iyengar. Maybe it was the sheer size of the story, or some other sentiment to put me off, which caused me to never read the story by myself.
Alas, the day came when our teacher asked us to turn to this very story, and I, unaware of its content, plunged myself wholly into it.
The story obviously started out fine, with a vivid (and a two page) description of a fictional village, set way back in time, with a young fictional man returning after attaining his degree from the city. As it is, the elder folk (including the narrator himself) pushed him with questions for marriage, and he responded to all such questions saying that he wasn’t interested in marrying a girl child, and would rather marry a young learned woman. His reply resonated with our class of girls, as we whispered our excitement over finally reading a progressive story.
However, all good hopes fall, and ours fell quickly, with the introduction of the female character, who the man immediately liked, described as a charismatic girl with a beautiful voice. Oh, and by the way, she was also just eleven years old.
Amongst the class, we whipped our heads up together as we shared a look of mutual shock and utter disappointment. What started out as a liberal plot soon took a conservative turn as the narrator himself tries to put the two together. As the story obnoxiously continued, we couldn’t help but feel disgusted by such primitive ideologies, and no amount of metaphors and symbolism was going to bag me in with the story. Pressurising the man to believe she is the right one, and making an innocent eleven year old believe she is too, just didn’t set right with any of us.
By the end, I realized what I hadn’t even thought of before, that this is a school textbook, an Indian School textbook, approved by the CBSE, with a story filled with blatant romanticism of child marriage and an obnoxious ‘win’ for the narrator, as he successfully marries the two together.
I agree that this piece of writing may not have sounded so disturbing back in some day, but today, in a world where our country needs to break free from orthodox thinking, and step into a righter path, where ideals of liberty and progressive theologies mark a politically correct person, such a story sets back us by generations, idealizing a long gone ritual, which we can intellectually understand as problematic at the very least.
I think, its high time a more vigorous revision of stories in our textbooks is done, and our education system tries to understand the implications any content can give.
Image source: youtube
Kudos, Megha. For identifying highlighting such concepts which SHOULD NOT be made worthy as a story, especially in a student’s textbook.
In a lighter vein, I really think next time our education system would show some Indian masala movie and ask us to eulogise the ‘enriched’ culture and traditions. Grrrr….when will we learn to understand that culture and tradition should teach us to respect all and it is not in the way a girl looks beautiful, or how she wears sari, bindi and other accessories. I have got a long list of things a woman should do for upholding culture…how many are there for the men? Don’t men need to uphold the culture too….like asking him to wear dhoti,kurta pyjama, some accessories, some specific symbols to differentiate whether he is married or not, some symbols to prolong the wife’s life, etc. Maybe, if these are introduced into the textbook, our Indian culture and tradition can come full circle and we all can live an utopian life….
All the best to you and keep writing more.
Brilliant comment Chintu! I so agree with you. If we are going to continue to have skewed and ridiculous expectations of women all in the name of upholding culture- what about the men? Why are they being allowed to sail about merrily with no restrictions or obligations? Have they no concern about upholding the culture? Yeah ! you are so right to ask this question. We must all ask these questions and demand answers that sound logical.
Dear Megha, I do understand that you are rightfully aghast at the way this story in your text book sounds. I completely agree that it is disturbing and perhaps a completely regressive idea to have it as part of a CBSE text book> Like you say there is a strong possibility that this story further reinforces a sense of entitlement and patriarchy and so many other notions that are wrong and ridiculous. But stories like these also help teachers open up the important discussions surrounding these topics and this leads to better clarity how to rectify the past wrongs and thus paves the way forward. Of course empowering stories may do this even better and more effectively with no confusion. Perhaps we women must write these stories and flood the world with only these so that there may be no other choice but to pick from our feminist stories… to include in text books…and even re-tell as fair (not fairy) tales of equity, to our children and grandchildren
Haha Sonia, that’s an out of the box perspective. Thanks for shedding light from this angle. I really failed to see it the way you have done.
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