A revised school textbook by Maharashtra’s publishing bureau, Balbharti, reflects a deeply regressive mindset in its content.
The Maharashtra government recently revised its Class 11 sociology textbook, which now lists various social concepts about cohabitation, family, same-sex marriage, gender equality and the constitution of marriage in general.
While the revised textbook appears to be more progressive in terms of including the decriminalisation of consensual same-sex relationships, as an integral part of the module of family and marriage, the definition of marriage in general seems more regressive. According to a chapter in the textbook, marriage is mentioned as a sanctioned pattern to enter into sexual relations, and the common purpose of marriage is to have kids. “Marriage is a social institution through which family relations are formed. It refers to a pattern sanctioned by society to enter into sex relations and to procreate. Marriage is understood as a socially approved relation to satisfy sexual needs. The common purpose of marriage is procreation, i.e. having children,” reads the text.
While subjects like sociology are needed to make sense of present realities, the conventional definitions of the institution of marriage needs to be revised so that it becomes relevant to the millennial. “We have included the conventional definition of marriage because the aim is to give students the traditional idea of the relationship. 19th century sociologists have formed this idea of marriage, and we need to make the student aware about that, and hence that is included in the chapter,” says Vaishali Joshi, co-author of the textbook.
The textbook is published by the state’s publishing bureau, Balbharti for the current academic year (2019-20). “We need to put the traditional idea of marriage in context to the previous chapters — these are the marriage perspectives of 60s and 70s, where marriage was seen as a coordinator and peacemaker in society,” explains the author, who is also a professor of sociology in St Mira’s College in Pune.
In early sociology, writers wrote from the purview that marriage is a way to get emotional and economic security, and pre-marital sex was abandoned. But when it comes to critical and feminist perspectives of the definition, it needs a lot of modification. “We are trying to give both - conventional and modern viewpoints. We can’t say that harmony and order is not needed in society; all institutions have to play their roles. As a teacher, I would always tell this to students. At the same time, we want to make them aware that marriage is not only for this purpose, and there are diverse functions of it,” explains the professor.
Meanwhile, Professor Balaji Kendre of the Department of Sociology at the University of Mumbai, believes that the syllabus needs to be updated as per the present context. “Certainly we need to change the content as per the present times. Society is changing, and we can’t be bombarding children with the old ideologies,” believes the professor, adding that we need more humanitarian society to promote the liberal ideas of marriage.
“Even today people are looked down upon if they are into live in relations, and have kids without getting married. It is difficult for the state to support the modern thought in general, so it is difficult to include it in textbooks as well. We need a lot of acceptance,” he rues.
Children’s book author Monarose Sheila Pereira is of the opinion that a child should be taught about both modern and conventional ideas of any social institution, but in a positive manner. “A child’s mind is too delicate to absorb the harsh realities of life, and therefore marriage and sex education should be coupled with spirituality. Textbooks should emphasise conventional values of marriage, but it has to have the idea of modern functions of society,” says the author.
Although society still has conventional ideas of marriage, a homogeneous society is needed where modern ideas of marriage and relationships are accepted and taught in the textbooks. “We have moved beyond definitions. The problem is that textbooks too have certain structures, and they are exam oriented, so we need to give conventional definitions. But we are trying to give global ideas about the topic through different activities in the books, and teachers should teach students about modern ideas of marriage,” insists Vaishali.
Professor Kendre adds that even authors of these textbooks are scared to take a stand to include modern ideologies. “We are scared of taking stand to revise the syllabus as per the new society, because that will only invite backlash. There is not enough support from the state to build modern thoughts for children. They still want children to study the conventional idea and that’s the reality of today,” asserts the professor.