Education is one of the most important opportunities that people can have. However, in India, students who opt to take sociology courses may be learning from a textbook that cites “ugliness and handicap” as reasons families had to pay a higher dowry to marry off their female children, according to a Feb. 3 Times of India article.
Maharashtra, the state in India where this textbook was distributed according to a Feb. 3 article, is one of the most populous states in India. To have this information distributed to such a potentially wide audience of junior college students is detrimental to dismantling the institution of dowries, a practice that was made illegal in India in 1961.
While there are cultural traditions that can be honored when it comes to marriage, dowry is not one of them. Its use makes marriage and relationships seem like business deals between families instead of a loving commitment between two people.
Not only do dowries demean and devalue women in their marriage and in society, the practice is also a documented cause of suicides and violence against Indian women.
Already this year, there have been reported dowry-related suicides. The Times of India reported Jan. 8 that two Indian women died by suicide after being harassed by their husbands’ families to produce dowries.
An Indian woman suffered severe burns after her husband and his family allegedly set her on fire over dowry disputes, according to a Jan. 7 article from The Indian Express.
These cases make it clear that although the practice might be illegal, the expectation of a dowry is far from eradicated in Indian society.
Because the practice is still common and expected of women from many families, accurate education on the subject is extremely important.
The information in the textbook was not technically inaccurate. A professor interviewed in the Feb. 3 Times of India article said the information presented in the textbook is an accurate depiction of how dowry has been used.
It is true that dowry is a subject that should be covered in courses like sociology and history. It is relevant to understanding Indian culture and living in it.
However, information, especially information being taught to young people, must be more than just accurate. It has to be presented in a way that recognizes outdated practices and stereotypes and does not use potentially offensive words like “ugly” and “handicap” to describe the stereotypical woman with a high dowry.
The authors of textbooks like this one must be aware of their audience-—young, malleable men and women.
For a young person to read this textbook’s description of dowry use only reinforces the ideals of the institution. It does not encourage students to examine the true causes of the institution of dowry and how its effects might still be felt throughout society today.
In the discussion of dowry, it would be much more beneficial to students and the progress of the country to give a more in-depth explanation of dowry than it being used for “ugly” women.
Countries around the world that are trying to move past outdated cultural practices can learn from the missteps of this textbook.
Education is extremely valuable, but only when it fosters progress and analysis instead of regurgitating the past onto a page.