As a product of the Indian higher education system, I’m all too familiar with the narrow-minded notions that textbooks in the country propagate. An impressionable teenage version of me was told that families could only be nuclear or joint, along with stereotypical images of bindi-donning mothers and briefcase-wielding fathers pushing the idea of strict gender roles. Considering this was the foundation of understanding how family and society work, I couldn’t help but notice that it missed out on a lot of very real relationship possibilities. I’d end up arguing with my professor who continued to insist that things like bisexuality or living with your partner without marrying them went against societal norms and were “deviant” in nature. While the professor then had textbooks backing up his claims, it looks like they would no longer be relevant when it comes to pushing the agenda of a conservative mindset.
The Maharashtra government has revised the sociology syllabus for students in class 11 and 12 to include same-sex relationships, single parents, live-in couples and step-parents. They will now also talk about the importance of gender equality and how different cultural influences come together to create cultural hybridisation in an age of social media.
The reading down of Section 377 is one of the reasons this revision was seen as necessary, with students being taught about consensual same-sex relationships as part of the module on family, kinship and marriage. A line from the revised book reads, “In a historic verdict, the Supreme Court of India on September 6, 2018, decriminalised Section 377 of the IPC and allowed gay sex among consenting adults in private”
There’s also a new module on ‘Twenty-first-century families’, which talks about couples that choose to live together even though they aren’t officially married, saying that “younger generations especially in many parts of Europe and in urban areas of India are preferring cohabitation as a family relation. This is especially true about same-sex couples… live-in relations or cohabitation might not lead to marriage.” And considering the Supreme Court recently reiterated the fact that consenting adult couples could live together even if they hadn’t put a ring on it, it seems only fitting to teach young minds that marriage is not a prerequisite for a consenting sexual relationship.
Vaishali Diwakar, the chairperson of the subject committee that framed the new curriculum, said it was necessary to oppose existing biases by using contemporary references to make the students aware of their social surroundings with a broadened view. “The committee was of the opinion that students need to learn more than just the concepts. We also wanted the book to be a reflection of the changing social fabric,” she told Hindustan Times.
Other chapters also include talking about equal gender pay and allowing women the right to make policy decisions to push for a more gender-inclusive society. The mass media is mentioned as an agent of socialisation, with students being warned not to believe everything that reality shows expose them to since they are breeding grounds for bullying and the use of “harsh language”. The text is also peppered with visual references, like a hijab-clad Barbie to explain cultural hybridisation. The idea is to lay the foundation for students to grow up with broader viewpoints in a more inclusive environment.
While some professors see this as a way for students to better grasp the changing realities around them, others insist that including these subjects in the text is just the first step, and it is also the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that their students get the right takeaway from the textbooks. The consensus, however, is that these additions were way overdue.
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