Maharashtra's HSC Sociology textbook says 'ugly' girls' parents have to pay dowry: Why I'm not surprised

A few years ago, I walked out of college dewy eyed, with a double major in Sociology and English Literature, believing myself sufficiently wary of the ways of the world, and confident that I would be able to shrug off any oppression that tried to hold me down. Unfortunately, I learnt the hard way that while I had been learning to “problematise the obvious,” most of the world was still posting bigoted memes on Facebook. All of them (and indeed, I was guilty of this too) believed that we’d had a good education. Since we’d been fed the myth that education solves all problems, we sat armed with our social media accounts to change the world, one comment/like/share at a time.

A Maharashtra HSC Sociology textbook said parents of 'ugly, handicapped' girls had to pay dowry. Representational photo/

A Maharashtra HSC Sociology textbook said parents of 'ugly, handicapped' girls had to pay dowry. Representational photo/

My blinkers were soon yanked off. I came to realise that whether you’re at a posh international school or a state junior college, you shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that you’ve learnt to think critically just because you’ve studied the humanities — everything we are taught is trying to inculcate traditional gender, class, and caste roles into us right from the ripe old age of four. Right from primary school books that have sentences like “Ram plays cricket. Sita cooks food.” to the recent furore over an HSC Sociology textbook that said that (and I quote), “If a girl is ugly and handicapped, then it becomes very difficult for her to get married. To marry such girls, bridegroom and his family demand more dowry. Parents of such girls become helpless and pay dowry as per the demands of the bridegroom as family.” [sic]

Why are we even discussing why it’s wrong for men to demand (a greater) dowry from handicapped or ugly women? Is it not obvious? Aren’t men and their families doing these subpar girls a HUGE favour by getting married to them? Given that Indian men rate so high on the worldwide good looks scale, and that they are never prone to any kind of accidents, diseases, or disfiguration, I personally feel that they are completely justified in asking for a higher dowry from ugly and handicapped girls. If girls are pretty and able-bodied, then they can ask for an average-sized dowry, of course, because that is perfectly acceptable too. Girls, on the other hand, have no right to ask for any such special favours if they marry men who don’t fall into the brackets of handsome and/or able-bodied.

What’s that you say? That the social evil of dowry will stop when girls’ families stop paying dowry? I completely agree. Families should leave their daughters unmarried instead. Because society is so forgiving and welcoming towards unmarried women, their families have complete agency to not pay the dowry, and can single-handedly change society instead! Why should the change start from the men’s side, after all? How will they get started in their new lives as man and wife (not woman and husband, mind you) otherwise? How could you forget that, as men, they’ll be providing for their wives and children for the rest of their lives, and they are completely entitled to ask for a little push from their wives’ families when they initially get married? They could support their wives’ decision to work and contribute to the household income, you say? Tchah, your head is in the clouds.

If we stop paying dowries, how will a small, smug group of males furiously post their favourite #NotAllMen hashtag on social media while women are being harassed, tortured, and even burnt alive as #AllOtherMen demand what is only their fair share from their weddings? How will the comments section under “entertainment” posts of celebrity wives seeking alimony thrive? And if for nothing else, we should continue our noble tradition of dowry so that savarna men and women can have panel discussions on these social evils. These are the men who take “shagun” (not dowry, of course) from their brides’ families. And they’re the women who post long odes to “not really needing feminism” in their protected world where an Uber can whisk them away from most problems at the snap of a finger.

Coming to the constructs of ugliness or being handicapped… Of course, those things are not subjective at all. The constant force-feeding of beauty products, fashion brands, and high-end lifestyles has ensured that we have a very clear idea of who a beautiful girl is. She’s curvy but not fat, fair but not pale, and has long, flowing hair on her head, but none on her arms or legs. Any woman who dare not toe this arbitrary line of beauty will obviously be pulled up and punished. And society is being nice enough to even give her a choice — either pay a higher dowry or don’t get married.

Here’s the thing — one of the primary purposes of Sociology is to help us deconstruct what we have assumed to be obvious our entire lives. If the discipline itself normalises and justifies things like dowry (not to mention the concepts of “ugliness” and being “handicapped”), then what hope do its students have? Additionally, the way exams are structured at the HSC level, where you have to “write four points for four marks” further justifies mindless mugging up of such ideas and vomiting them out verbatim in order to be deemed a “good student.” So, educational institutions of Maharashtra, maybe instead of banning Such a Long Journey next time, put a check on the propaganda you’re selling in the form of textbooks?

Antara Telang is the content director at LaughGuru, an e-learning website that teaches kids through humour. In her free time, she backpacks, pets strangers' puppies, and leaves feminist comments on Facebook posts. She tweets @AntaraT

Updated Date: Feb 04, 2017 11:11 AM

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