Wednesday, August 7, 2019


English teaching at primary level in India– Cultural Interference
(published in HT Lko 5-8-19)

It goes without saying that a language is embedded in culture. Let’s take the simple examples of two very common words – pranam and shanti. Can the whole matrix of these words be translated into English? The English words ‘greetings’ or ‘peace’ are but poor approximations to pranam and shanti. Even a  poet-philosopher of the stature of T S Eliot failed to get an English equivalent and used the Sanskrit word as it is – ‘Shantih shantih shantih’ in his great poem – The Waste Land. A language, thus, cannot import the subtle connotations of another language.

The effect of cultural interference is clearly felt in the teaching of English in a vernacular setting such as the state of U.P.  The fact is that in the rural hinterlands English is not even the second language; it is practically the third language, as the local dialects (Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Braj…) are the first and, Khadi Hindi (standard Hindi) is the second language. In this scenario, where even the teacher is essentially a Hindi speaking person (though may be knowledgeable in English); the language-reinforcement crisis for the child is so evident.

Culture and communication are intertwined and it determines how people encode messages, the meanings they have for messages and, how they get interpreted.  For instance, as different from the West, in our country,  a teacher or elder is not addressed by his name/surname, instead, family friends are identified through some relationship – 'Uncle', 'Aunty', 'Chacha', 'Mama' etc. and, in Hindi, there are two different ways of addressing an elder and the younger – 'Aap' (for former) and 'Tum' (for younger). 

Associative contexts in which a word is used in a place might evoke a different understanding of that word. The word 'darling', I remember, raised shy smiles among us when a teacher addressed a student lovingly by this term. As 10 years old, in the early 80s we had heard it being used in the Hindi films in only one connotation. The various nuances of meaning given to the word ‘sexy’, ranging from obscenity to aesthetics, are only a matter of one’s cultural environs. Can someone in India, whose experience of a summer’s day is of a scorching sun and hot loo, compare his beloved like Shakespeare does in his sonnet- ‘Shall I compare thee to the summer’s day’!

All our educational philosophers have been advocates of primary learning in our mother tongues.  Tagore, in his celebrated essay “The Centre of Indian Culture”, wrote that a foreign language makes education 'nebulously distant and unreal, (because it is) so detached from all our associations of life, so terribly costly to us in time, health and means, and yet so meager of results.’

Researches all over have showed that the second language can be best learned at an older age.  Broadly speaking, different life stages give us different advantages in language learning. As babies, we have a better ear for different sounds and thus we don’t learn a language but we acquire it. As adults, we have longer attention spans and crucial skills like literacy that allow us to continually expand our vocabulary, even in our own language. This is known as ‘explicit learning’: studying a language in a classroom with a teacher explaining the rules. Young children are very bad at explicit learning, because they don’t have the cognitive control and the attention and memory capabilities while adults are much better at that.

The fact is that English teaching in a vernacular scenario cannot be divorced from its vernacular ambience. Both our teachers and books are to be aware of this.  We should remember Tagore’s caution -  ‘The diversity of our languages should not be allowed to frighten us; but we should be warned of the futility of borrowing the language of our culture from a far-away land, making stagnant and shallow that which is fluid near its source.’

 Our English teaching has to go side by side along our vernacular and the content has to be drawn as much as possible from the children’s everyday environment. Only this can help in an effective teaching-learning of English and also let the mother tongue thrive. 

Dr Skand Shukla
(Officer of the U.P. Education Services )




Sunday, April 7, 2019


द्वंद्व

(25/3/19 को पुनर्नवा , दैनिक जागरण में प्रकाशित)

कैच ट्वेंटी टू और फज़ी लॉजिक जैसे शब्दों जिनसे पढ़ाई के समय साक्षात्कार हुआ था, उनके अर्थ उसके बाद के जीवन-अनुभव हमें समझाते चले हैं। चेखोव और साकी जैसों की कहानियों सी घटनाएं जब हमारे सामने असल ज़िंदगी में घटित होती लगती हैं तब हम हतप्रभ से, बेकेट के उन प्रसिद्द पात्रों की तरह किसी गोडो के आगमन की तरह सही निर्णय के लिए प्रतीक्षा करते रह जाते हैं । यह प्रसंग भी कुछ ऐसा ही था। 

कई वर्ष हुए। एक अति-पिछड़े जनपद में शिक्षाधिकारी के रूप में समाज, परिवेश और मानव स्वभाव के नित नए अनुभवों से सामना हो रहा था और, इनके बारे में ज्ञानार्जन भी। उम्र और सरकारी सेवा दोनों का ही नयापन ऊर्जा और आदर्शों को बनाए रखने में अपना सहयोग दे रहे थे। सभी के लिए शिक्षा उपलब्ध कराने के अभियान के प्रारम्भिक वर्ष थे और इस दिशा में सभी संभव यत्न किये जा रहे थे। इन्हीं में से एक थी विद्यालयों में स्थाई अध्यापकों के सहयोग के लिए पंचायत-वार पैरा-टीचर्स की व्यवस्था। इससे, उस समय प्रशिक्षित और पूर्णकालिक अध्यापकों की अत्यधिक कमी को दूर कर, अब तक शिक्षा से अछूते परिवारों के नव-नामांकित बच्चों को शिक्षक उपलब्ध कराना ही एक मात्र उद्देश्य न था। नयी पीढी को उसके सामाजिक दायित्यों का भान कराना, उनसे इसके लिए सहयोग लेना और, इन्हें इसके प्रति मानदेय के माध्यम से उपार्जन उपलब्ध कराते हुए उनमें अपने व्यक्तित्व का अहसास कराना भी इसमें सम्मिलित था। और इसीलिए, इनके चयन में महिलाओं के लिए विशेष रूप से स्थान आरक्षित थे।  यद्यपि यह पद न तो स्थाई था और न ही इसके लिए मिलने वाला पारिश्रमिक किसी के जीवन-यापन योग्य, फिर भी बेरोजगारी  के मारे ग्रामीण युवाओं में इसके लिए भी गला काट प्रतिद्वंदिता थी।

मैं उस दिन तड़के ही एक जांच पर निकल गया था। शहर में स्थित जनपद मुख्यालय से लगभग साठ किलोमीटर दूर। दोपहर हो चली थी जब वापस अपने कार्यालय पँहुचा। मुलाकातियों और शिकायतकर्ताओं की भारी भीड़ एकत्रित थी। देख कर मन खिन्न हो गया। वापसी के रास्ते में  सोच रहा था कि शायद सुबह से मुझे अनुपस्थित पाकर कार्यालय आये हुए लोग अब तक लौट गये हों और मैं कुछ देर चैन से फ़ाइलें निबटा लूँगा। असल में ये प्रशासनिक पद भी बड़े विरोधाभासी भाव उत्पन्न करते हैं। अगल बगल लोग घेरे न हों तो व्यक्ति स्वयं को महत्वहीन लगने लगता है, और यदि हर समय घेरे रहें तो मन उकताता है और अपने लिए भी कुछ समय के लिए व्याकुल रहता है।  
अपने चैम्बर में जाते समय देखा कि मेरे स्टेनो से उसके कक्ष में एक लड़की बहस में उलझी थी। कुर्सी पर बैठते ही चपरासी ने एक एक करके लोगों को अन्दर भेजना शुरू किया। मैं उनकी बातें सुनता और उनके प्रत्यावेदनों को लेकर यथावश्यक मार्किंग कर देता। कुछ ही लोगों के बाद उस लड़की ने प्रवेश किया। प्रवेश करते ही वह फट पड़ी। मेरे अधीनस्थ स्टाफ और अधिकारी पर भ्रष्टाचार का आरोप लगाते हुए उसने कहा कि उसके साथ अन्याय हो रहा है और उसे कई दिनों से दौड़ाया जा रहा है। उसके तमतमाए तेवर को देखते हुए मैंने उसे बैठने को कहा और चपरासी के लिए घंटी बजायी। चपरासी को उसके लिए पानी लाने को कहा। दबे रंग और तीखे नाक-नक्श की वह युवती 18-19 वर्ष की रही होगी। वह किसी निम्न-वर्गीय परिवार की लग रही थी पर उसमें आत्मविश्वास स्पष्ट झलक रहा था।

कुछ क्षणों में जब वह थोड़ा सयंत हुई तब मैंने उसे विस्तार से अपनी बात बताने को कहा। पता चला कि उसने अपनी पंचायत में स्थित प्राथमिक विद्यालय में पैरा-टीचर पद के लिए आवेदन कर रखा था। सभी आवेदनकर्ताओं में उसका स्थान मेरिट में प्रथम था। मेरिट को तैयार हुए यद्यपि काफी समय बीत गया था परन्तु मेरिट-सूची और उसका चयन-प्रस्ताव विकास खंड स्तर से जनपद स्तर, यानी मेरे कार्यालय को, स्वीकृति के लिए नहीं भेजा जा रहा था।
‘क्या फर्क पड़ता है उस से ?’, मैंने कहा। ‘आखिर जब एक बार मेरिट–सूची तैयार हो ही गयी है तो चाहे जितने दिन लगें तुम्हारा स्थान तो प्रथम ही रहेगा। और इस कारण चयन भी पक्का होगा’, मैंने उसे आश्वस्त करना चाहा।

‘न,न। ऐसा नहीं है।, उसने कहा। ‘यह सब एक रणनीति के तहत हो रहा है सर।
‘मतलब?’
‘मेरा विवाह हो चुका है, सर। और मेरा गौना बस दो-एक महीने में ही होना है।’
‘तो?’, मैंने पूछा । मेरी समझ में कुछ नहीं आ रहा था ।
‘अरे सर! ये लोग इसी बात का तो इंतज़ार कर रहे हैं; कि मेरा गौना हो, और मैं अपनी ससुराल चली जाऊं। यह होते ही मैं इस ग्राम-पंचायत की नहीं मानी जाऊंगी और मेरी अर्हता इस विद्यालय के लिए नहीं रह जायेगी। इस तरह मेरा अभ्यर्थन अमान्य कर दिया जाएगा और मेरिट में मेरे बाद वाले व्यक्ति को चुन लिया जाएगा।

‘ओह! तो यह बात है , मैंने अब कुछ कुछ स्थिति को समझते हुए कहा । 

‘आपके नीचे के लोगों ने निश्चित पैसे खाए हैं सर। वे झूठ- मूठ की शिकायतों के बहाने इसमें देरी कर रहे हैं। मैं नौकरी करना चाहती हूँ। मैं अपने पैरों पर खड़ी होना चाहती हूँ। बड़ी कठिनाई से मैंने इंटर तक की पढ़ाई पूरी की है । कुछ आमदनी होगी तो आगे भी इसे जारी कर सकूंगी। पैसे के लिए किसी का मुँह तो नहीं देखना होगा। वह रुआँसी हो गयी थी ।

मैंने उसे आश्वस्त किया कि कुछ भी गलत नहीं होने दिया जायेगा और, उसके सामने ही, इस केस से जुड़े लोगों को सभी अभिलेख के साथ अगले दिन उपस्थित होने के निर्देश दे दिए ।

देर शाम जब आवास पंहुचा तो कपडे बदल कर अभी चाय हाथ में लिया ही थी कि नौकर ने बताया कि कोई मिलना चाहता है। थकान से चूर, मन चिड़चिड़ा गया। मैंने कहा कि उस से कह दे कि अगले दिन कार्यालय में मिले। नौकर जानता था कि मैं वैसे भी किसी से सरकारी काम के लिए आने वाले से आवास पर नहीं मिलता था, फिर भी उसने आग्रह के स्वर में कहा , ‘साहब मिल लें। शायद बहुत जरूरी काम है । बहुत समझाया कि घर आप नहीं मिलते फिर भी जिद्द पकड़ कर बैठा है । आया भी कहीं दूर से लगता है 

‘ठीक है, बुलाओ उसे। मिल ही लेता हूँ’, कुछ सोच के मैंने कहा। जल्दी जल्दी  चाय ख़त्म करके बरामदे में आया तो देखा कि चालीस के कुछ ऊपर का एक व्यक्ति खड़ा है। मुझे देखते ही वह पैर छूने के लिए झुका, और बोला - ‘साहब मैं उस लड़की का पिता हूँ जो आज आपसे कार्यालय में मिली थी
‘तो? उस संबंध में मैंने सारे रिकॉर्ड कल मंगवाएं तो हैं। अब आज आप क्यों परेशान कर रहे?’, मैंने कुछ नाराज़गी से कहा।
‘असल में सर, मैं कुछ और विनती ले कर आया हूँ’, उसने याचना के स्वर में कहा। ‘मैं नहीं चाहता हूँ कि उस पत्रावली पर आप तुरंत निर्णय लें

मुझे विस्मित होते देख उसने कहा- ‘मैं आपको सब बताता हूँ सर। इसमें आपके नीचे के अधिकारी अथवा स्टाफ की कोई गलती नहीं है। मैंने ही उनसे कहा था कि वे कोशिश करें कि मेरी बिटिया का चयन न होने पाए। आप सोच रहे होंगे कि बाप होकर मैं ऐसा क्यों कह रहा हूँ? मजबूरी है साहब, मजबूरी। हाड़ तोड़ मेहनत और पेट काट कर अपनी तीन बेटियों को पढाया है। यह बड़ी है सबसे। पढाई में भी बहुत अच्छी। लेकिन साहब रहना तो समाज में ही है, शादी –ब्याह तो करना ही था। पिछले साल कर्जा लेकर पास के गाँव में इसकी शादी कर दी थी। इसी गर्मी के लिए गौना तय हुआ है। गौने बाद तो इसे दूसरे घर जाना ही है । वह नौकरी के लिए जिद्द ठाने है लेकिन उसे अभी ज़माने की समझ ही कितनी है। मैं पिता हूँ उसका और उसके अच्छे के लिए ही तो सोचूंगा। सोचिये साहब, यदि यह नौकरी पा भी गयी तो भी आखिर कितने दिन यहाँ कर पाएगी! सूची में दुसरे नम्बर पर एक लड़का है। उसी ने हमसे कहा था कि यदि इस पद को मेरी बिटिया छोड़ दे तो उसका चयन हो जाएगा। इसके बदले में साहब, उसने गौने के लिए मेरी कुछ मदद करने को कहा है अब आप ही बताइये साहब मैं करूँ तो क्या करूँ!’,वह बोलते बोलते रोने लगा था
और मैं? एक पिता का अपनी पुत्री के प्रति ममत्व, सामाजिक दायित्वों के प्रति उसकी विवशता और, एक नवयुवती के स्वप्न के मध्य अनिर्णय की स्थिति में निस्तब्ध खड़ा था
 डॉ स्कन्द शुक्ल 
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Saturday, February 23, 2019


Warmth, Up Close and Personal (published in the Hindu 24/2/19 url - https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/warmth-up-close-and-personal/article26352293.ece)


Just when you are feeling all eyes on yourself and are gloating on the pullover you are wearing for its unique design, you suddenly see another person wearing a similar one. It’s such a big letdown; in fact downright embarrassing! How painstakingly you had searched for it, foraging through innumerable stores and finally settling for this! It was ‘like’ at first sight. But then, what else can one expect in this assembly line, mass production age.

It was another time when all sweaters had their own distinct patterns. They were like our fingerprints, or those stripes on coats of Zebras and tigers, each unique. Our moms took pains to ensure that the design on the sweater of their loved ones didn’t resemble any other sweater on earth.

Women’s magazines devoted their winter editions to sweater designs. Market places acquired a colourful hue as shops after shops converted themselves temporarily to selling wool-yarns. They made an ostentatious display of their stock, kept as wool- balls or hung in loops of yarn in innumerable tints. Sarojini Naidu’s description of colours, expressed in another context though, could have been so apt here - ‘Silver and blue as the mountain mist,/ … Some are like fields of sunlit corn / Some, like the flame of her marriage fire,/ Or, rich with the hue of her heart's desire/… Some are purple and gold flecked grey/ For she who has journeyed through life midway…’.
Sweaters were not knitted, they were created. Magazines were consulted, designs were mulled upon, and improvisations explored on old patterns. As the ladies gathered after their household chores for a chitter-chatter in the winter Sun, the nimble fingers engaged with the knitting needles and the yarn. The woolen canvas grew and enchanting motifs surfaced out of nowhere on them. The magic, they said, lay in the requisite ‘gauge’ or phandaa which was ensured with an engineer’s precision. For those uninitiated in the art, ‘gauge’ is a measurement of the number of stitches and rows per inch of knitting.

As it acquired shape, the likely wearer was called time and again to ensure the correct measurement of the torso and the sleeves. Since these summons made clear as for whom the particular piece was being knitted, our moms used a deceptive trick when they were to surprise us with a gift. Instead of trying it on us, the sweater, as it got knitted, was tried on a similar bodied child! And wasn’t it a moment of pride when some lady stopped one to admire the pattern on one’s sweater and examine it to try to understand how the particular design was made!

Knitting has been a prominent feature in literature as well. Whether it be the lady characters in Jane Austen classics or the elderly lady sleuth Miss Marple in crime thrillers of Agatha Christie, knitting was perhaps a kind of metaphor both for a woman’s struggles with daily life and also her creativity, of her innate ability to make something beautiful from nothing .

It seems, in retrospect, that our sweaters had an unending life. They underwent a reincarnation when they became too old to be worn any longer. Unlike the machine made, these hand knitted sweaters were unreeled then, and the yarn was used to knit newer ones.

The hand knitted sweaters made you feel warm not merely because they were made of wool. They contained something far more valuable- the warmth of relations and affection. We are fortunate to have experienced this warmth.

Saturday, August 25, 2018





Summer on our Rooftops

(published on the Edit Page of the New Indian Express 24-7-2018)

Rooftops during summers were lively places before the high-rises, air-conditioners, television and, a general sense of insecurity did them in. Lying on the cots, gazing at the stars, deciphering their patterns, wondering what lay beyond, it felt ethereal as the light breeze fanned one to sleep. Though it was all (to borrow from Wordsworth) ‘quiet as a Nun, breathless with adoration’, one was encompassed by sounds – sounds which can be heard only when all is still. The chirping of crickets, a cuckoo calling her mate, the waft of an old film song or the crackle of some transistor tuned to Radio Ceylon or the B.B.C News and, the soft voices of a conversing couple or, someone narrating stories to kids, slowly faded away, as the gentle summer breeze, with a whiff of the sweet mild smell of a mango tree in bloom, lulled all to sleep.

Preparations for the nightly slumber began when the Sun went down after its harsh day’s labour. The rooftop floor was drenched with water to cool it down. The  string cots would then be brought out in the open from the shade and, bed sheets  spread on them early enough to make them cool by the time one would lie on them after a couple of hours or so.

As evening set in, the rooftops became a frenzy of activity. The young rendered the evening sky a riot of colours as their kites swirled with excitement or swam with elegance. Released from their day-long confinement, the kids hit the outdoors with a vengeance. Hide and Seek, Vish-Amrit, Chor-Sipahi, Chibbadi or Hopscotch were some of those games for which terraces were ideally suited.

Mango pickles owed themselves to sunny terraces. Whether it were their marinating with salt and turmeric at the beginning, or seasoning them with spices and mustard oil before they finally got ready to eat and also store for a long period, they had to be laid down in the summer Sun.

Those were times of early to bed and early to rise. Fracas and farce, euphemistically called the T.V. News hadn’t taken our fancy then. Families conversed and kids had stories to hear as they went to sleep. Twitter of birds, mooing of a cow somewhere, and the morning Sun’s soft rays woke them up. Our towns hadn’t turned into megalopolises and, the houses did not resemble cells of a honeycomb. Yes, it’s so different today. Closeted with four walls all the day long, we have to wrench ourselves from the communication gadgets to go to sleep amidst the monotonous whirr of the air-conditioners. The word ‘complex’ in the compound word ‘residential complex’ seems so apt. In this context, two great thinkers- Ruskin and Tagore- come to mind. While Ruskin believed that our architecture is an expression of our life and character, Tagore abhorred walls. He wrote- ‘…walls leave their mark deep in the minds of men. They set up a habit of securing all our conquests by fortifying them and separating them from one another…. It breeds in us a strong suspicion of whatever is beyond the barriers we have built, and everything has to fight hard for its entrance into our recognition’.

Some decades back, the roofs of the houses were lively, open and, welcoming as the then life, unlike today, when huge water tanks and dish T.V. antennas are their only adornments. Hasn’t similarly, our then openness and genuine warmth seems to have been replaced by canned emotions and digital expressions?

http://www.newindianexpress.com/opinions/mindspace/2018/jul/24/the-rooftops-of-our-homes-are-now-dead-1847592.html

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Musings of a newspaper addict/ The thrill of the morning



Musings of a newspaper addict
published in The Hindu - 08/10/17 http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-thrill-of-the-morning/article19819797.ece

How I wait to hear the ‘thud’ of the rolled bundle falling on my terrace! A few minutes late and there I am - perched on the railing, waiting eagerly to catch a glimpse of his cycle turning the corner towards my house. It sure looks fantastic. With a large bundle tied on their handles and carriers laden with another, the bicycles swim in my lane.  The satchel on their handle bars holds some more- the rolled ones. The practiced fingers nimbly pick the exact newspaper from the bundles or the satchel, depending on whether they are to be delivered to a ground floor verandah or, to an upper floor terrace and, the dexterous arm akin to an Olympian javelin thrower sends it to the desired place. All in one seamless action!
I am a confirmed newspaper addict.  Without it the morning seems bland,  the  morning- tea insipid, and, the day morose. They may have been the mornings of  a remote town, Sakti in Chhatisgarh, or a non-descript railway station where my train happened to stop during some journey , the Heathrow airport where the flight to USA took a break , or the cities in USA where I have had  short sojourns, I have gone all out in search for a newspaper. Yes, the printed version- which one can feel and smell and can hold in one’s hands. Having had one, I flip and cursorily make a mental note of the choicest and juiciest topics, and then lay it down on the lap to savour it, to chew and digest it in the celebrated words of Bacon. I even deliberately leave some of the articles unread for the next day, if  the newspaper is not to be available that day on account of  a press holiday.  I cannot let my morning tea be tasteless !
It wasn’t so in the beginning. Those were the days when we children were asked to read newspapers to improve both our language and knowledge, and it was a reluctant compliance of course. The comic strip, the sports page and, the weekly Children’s page were the initial hook-ups. The graduation to the editorial and op-ed pages took some years and the preparation for the civil services exam made it staple. The newspapers then catered to all age groups. They were meant to be read not to be merely seen as some of them now. Page three was just another page in a daily, which usually carried local news. It wasn’t an adjective then. While our teachers and parents insisted that we read the newspapers, I dread asking my kids to do that. Not only have all the well-known newspapers stopped having an exclusive kid’s space on their sheets, some of them have also gone ahead for a blatant display of patent adult stuff on them in the name of life style articles.
 ‘But why is mine so late today?’, I grumble , careening myself as if I would be able to see beyond the road-bend. Well may be some newspaper might have reached the distribution centre late or may be his cycle-tyre got punctured.  I suddenly realize that he must have left his home at the crack of dawn to be there at the newspaper sorting center. The foggiest morning of a crippling winter or,  a monsoonal one, raining hailstones makes no difference to his schedule. So, while we in our blankets, lie warmly ensconced in dreams, he is out there loading grim realities on his handle bar. He cycles dripping wet to get our newspaper dry and crisp as a papadum. I realize that this drudgery is to supplement his paltry income from some low-paid job the rest of the day.
I espy my paper-wala shooting newspaper missiles, bang on targets, of specific balconies and porches, as he speedily cycles towards my house. My reverie breaks. I move a bit back from my perch, take a stance à la Jonty Rhodes and focus my attention to catch the roll of newspapers hurled from below.

                                                        Skand Shukla

Friday, September 29, 2017

Our Primary Level Text books and Social Constructs about Gender (published in the Journal of Women's Studies)


Our Primary Level Text books and Social Constructs about Gender

Abstract

Text books are not only an expression of the beliefs of the writers who are a part of a particular social milieu, but also a shaper of the belief system of the coming generations. A reading of the primary school text books of various publications, including NCERT, shows that they seem to be guided by many age old social constructs about gender. ‘Social construct’ is an idea that seems to be natural and so obvious that it is accepted unquestionably, but, which in fact, may not represent reality, being actually an invention of a given society. In fact ‘gender’ itself is a social construct. Down the years, gender sensitivity as regards the text books has been limited to an increase in pictorial content depicting women and gender role reversals, but has not questioned the traditional gender power structure.
            This paper intends to present how finely the gender biasness is interwoven in the content of the textbooks and why and how it can be done away with, with a little circumspection.


Our Primary Level Text books and Social Constructs about Gender

It was during the mid-19th century, the period of Victorian England, when Tennyson wrote in his long poem ‘The Princess’-
 ‘…Man for the field and woman for the hearth:
Man for the sword and for the needle she:
 Man with the head and woman with the heart:
Man to command and woman to obey;
All else confusion….’(Part V, lines 427-431)
 The poem raised and explored the question of the male- domination in gender relations, both in work area as in lines cited above and, in sexual relationships as in the lines- ‘We hunt them for the beauty of their skins;/They love us for it, and we ride them down’ (V, 147-50).

The scenario has changed tremendously in the West since then. Changes have not been little even in our part of the world but the moot point is whether the social beliefs have changed to considering the two genders equal (not similar) on a social scale or, is it only that woman have taken to some works in professional area, mostly because of economic necessity, which previously were done only by males. Perhaps it is only the latter and the clearest signs can be found in our text books written for our primary school children. Text books are important indicators because they are not only an expression of the beliefs of the writer who himself is a part of a particular social milieu, but also a shaper of the belief system of the coming generations in society.Browsing through the primary school text books of various publications, including NCERT, makes one feel that the age old social constructs about the male being more  powerful, both in physic and intellect, and hence the natural decision maker, exist in our society till date and are also being perpetuated through them. 

            To put it simply, a ‘social construct’ is an idea or notion that seems to be natural and obvious to people who accept it unquestionably, but, which in fact, may or may not represent reality. Thus it is largely an invention of a given society. In fact ‘gender’ itself is a social construct. Gender, as distinguished from sex, is the assigning of masculine or feminine behavior and roles based on the genitalia. Some of the social constructs about gender are- girls are feminine i.e. are characterized by being shy, soft spoken, sensitive, self-effacing, compliant, emotional and subjective; boys have masculine traits and are out-going, aggressive, achievement oriented and objective. These constructs become the basis of stereotypes in other fields as well. For instance, in the field of education, it is widely believed that girls are less adept in mathematics vis-à-vis boys, drawn perhaps from the notion that girls are emotional while boys are rational. Similarly, in reference to marital life, it seems to be a given that woman are best suited for household chores while men for works outside the house.

 The assigning of softness and emotionality, down the ages, to one of the two genders has automatically resulted in the acquiring of a dominant role by the other gender. It would however be interesting to think overas to why this assigning traverses time and space.Fiona Tolan writes- ‘The Second Sex argued that there was no such thing as ‘feminist nature’. There was no physical or psychological reason why women should be inferior to men…Biological differences do not provide a causal explanation for women’s oppression, however their reproductive function has placed women at a disadvantage by tying them to the domestic sphere…’ (Waugh 321-322).Without going into a debate over the question of the two genders being psychologically or emotionally differentfrom each other, this writer’s guess too is that since it has been the woman who bore child, she automatically got bound within a boundary for rearing and, as a corollary, got stamped over time with the attribute of emotional and a weaker gender vis-à-vis man.

            These social constructs can easily be seen to be false if we just observe the world around- a woman laborer giving as much output as a man at a construction site and also taking care of her child, lady scientists in one of the most intellectually demanding organizations as ISRO, ladies climbing high mountains – even an amputee like Arunima Sinha, ladies heading big corporates and; men too breaking down in times of distress, even tough sportsmen as the South Cricket team players on losing a world cup match. But, the question is- can we observe objectively? Perhaps not. The reason is that we all - men and women- have been bred amid gender discriminatory social constructs. Content and images in our text books have only gone to reinforce, unawares, our impressionable minds with the gender stereotypes. No wonder socially prescribed, practiced and believed in gender roles and behavior do not strike us as odd. No wonder statements like, ‘it’s the cow which is tied to a peg, not the bull’, are sometimes issued by the boy’s apologists when his inappropriate behavior towards a girl is asked to be restrained.No wonder,a criminalseems to echo Tennyson’s words cited abovewhen justifying his heinous act of violation of the girl Nirbhaya-"Housework and housekeeping is for girls…’       

Besides the typical images of boys playing outdoor games and girls playing with dolls with which our primary school text books are replete with, there are more gender related seemingly innocuous contents, which on a deeper analysis, are not really so. Down the years, gender sensitivity as regards the text books has been limited to an increase in pictorial content depicting women and gender role reversals, but has continued situating her within domesticity and, not questioning the traditional gender power structure. A few examples from books published by India’s premier educational organization, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT),   below will show how finely the gender biasness is interwoven in the content of the textbooks–

1)      ‘His mother and sister have to walk a longer distance to fetch water… While walking on the hot sand their feet burn and blisters just cannot be avoided. When the train carrying water comes they are very happy. Madho’s father goes to fetch water in his camel-cart’. (Chapter 20 ‘Drop By Drop’, Environmental Studies book Looking Around).

The text above and the picture of ladies trudging to fetch water in this chapter on water conservation reinforces in the young minds  that the job of fetching water is of women alone. Moreover, it goes on to assert that, when a man does so (the chapter makes clear that it is ‘not often’) he goes not on foot, but on a cart, , unlike Madho’s ‘mother and sister!

2)      The stage directions in chapter 8 of the Hindi textbook for class 3 , Rimjhim, for  a skit of the famous parable of a monkey eating the whole bread being fought over by two cats are worded thus- ‘ 7-8 baraskaladkabandar ban saktahaiaur 5-6 baraskiladkiyaanbilli ban saktihain.’(a boy of 7-8 years of age can become the monkey and girls of 5-6 years can play the parts of the cats).A dialogue spoken by the monkey is so expressed- “roti kiski? Mai iskafaisalakaroonga. Chalokachehry, mere peechhepeechheaao.” (Whose bread? I will decide it. Come to the court, come behind me) The stage directions then say-‘ bandardono se chheenkar roti apnehaathmeilekarchaltahai, donobilliyaanpeechhe-peechheaatihain’. (the monkey snatches the bread from both of them and with it in its hands begins to walk while the two cats follow )

The stage directions specifying the gender of the actors for the role of the monkey and the cats, the dialogues and, the accompanying picture of the monkey sitting on a pedestal while the cribbing cats look above to him for justice reinforce the notion of maleness essential for decision making and females given to stupidly fighting over small things.
           
In both the above examples, a little circumspection could have made the content gender neutral. In the first, the distinction between men and women could have been avoided and, men too could have been shown partaking in the domestic works. In the second, the specifying of gender for role play could have been avoided or even provided that a girl could be the monkey-judge and a boy and a girl can play the roles of the cats.

3)      Some of the seemingly innocuous pictures of children playing are like bas-relief in the way they subtly put forth the distinction between the two genders even when the two are shown to be performing the same activity. The chapter ‘ Nobody’s Friends’ in  Unit 8 of class 5 English text-book juxtaposes in one picture a girl-child with a doll with a boy-child on a tricycle. Again, a picture of  three children playing basketball in Chapter ‘Teamwork’ (page 20) in Class 5 English book shows  two boys leaping high in the air, touching the ball while the lone girl’s feet are on the ground, the ball quite beyond her reach.

Besides the NCERT books, which are supposed to set standards for other publications, here are some examples from other reputed publications-

1)      In the Social Studies book for class 4, TREK (Oxford University Press, 2013),there are five pictures of different seasons being enjoyed by a child and not one is of a girl-child in chapter 6- ‘The Climate of India’. The chapter 8 of this book- ‘Natural Resources’- has a picture of children enjoying themselves in a pond and, all of them are boys.Chapter 7- ‘Organizations that help us’- has five different pictures of various professionals helping us  the police, doctor, army personnel, workers in a post office and none of them has a woman Chapter 10- ‘Our Industries’- has a picture of people working in an automobile industry and all of them are men. However there is a chapter, chapter 11- ‘Our Heritage’- which has pictures in which there only women, and interestingly they all are depictions of dances of various kinds.

2)      The book Environmental Studies , Viva Publications , written for class 2 has pictures of 12 professionals in the chapter 11- ‘We Need Them’- and none of them has a woman while, in the same chapter, the sub section ‘People who entertain us’ has the only picture of a woman and,again interestingly,it is of a dancer !

            The above are only a few samples of the gendered content existing subtly in our primary level textbooks of various reputed publications. These examples give a fair idea of the fact that our text book writers have to get out of the time warp of antiquity as far as the gender constructs are concerned.
In their essay ‘Inclusive Education in India: The Struggle for Quality in Consonance with Equity’, NidhiSingal and Roger Jeffery remark that- ‘Efforts aimed at developing inclusive education have been largely framed by the distributive paradigm of social justice’ (Artiles, Kozleski and Waitoller, 181). The distributive view of justice, as thought of by Rawls, has relevance only to an extent. It is useful in that it focuses on access and provision of resources like free books, uniform, and even bicycles and money sometimes, and thus ensures the availability of basic essentials for education to girls but, it stops short of realizing the roles that are played by social structures and institutional contexts in upholding the gender inequalities.Access does not automatically ensure equality. In fact, if the curriculum and the content are not examined in the light of gender equity, the gender inequalities of socialization and social control will only be perpetuated. As Lewis advises to ‘remember the ‘education’ in inclusive education’ (qtd in Artiles, Kozleski and Waitoller, 182), inclusion is not enough in itself and attains worth only with the imparting of an education that helps to create a just and equal society.

We should also remember that it’s not only about girls. ‘Femininity’ cannot exist by itself, therefore masculinity and its effects on boys and menneeds to be sensitively understood and addressed too.The Position Paper of the National Focus Group on Gender Issues in Education expressly says-‘Boys and men also suffer from the stereotyping that exists in a patriarchal culture. Boys are discouraged from being emotional, gentle and caring or from admitting to being weak or fearful. They are thrust into the role of breadwinners, protectors, warriors. Most men cannot live up to the notion of hegemonic masculinity. They are ridiculed for being effeminate if they are not aggressive. Gentle boys are pushed around and sexually exploited by stronger, macho men. An excessive emphasis on virility, male sexual prowess and performance leads to tremendous insecurities and anxiety in men.’ (NCERT, 24)

What is required is a massive rethink on our definitions, language and concepts to create gender non-discriminatory knowledge for our children.The Position Paper of the National Focus Group on Gender Issues in Education suggested construction of ‘alternative gendered frameworks of knowledge that equally reflect the life worlds of both men and women and carry within them the seeds of a just social transformation.’ (NCERT, 32). These alternative frameworks will have to go beyond merely making woman visible in the text books, situating them within domestic boundaries (even while discussing historical figures like Rani Jhansi and Razia Sultan) or, at best, supplementing income of the family in her outdoor life. It also suggests to seek new definitions of ‘strength’ as the existing definitions only lead to a false perception of women being weak. It says-‘Strength is usually measured in terms of who runs faster, jumps higher, carries heavier loads. Physicalstamina, thresholds of pain, and longevity, are rarely taken to be indicators of strength.’
.

The fact is that we have to move even beyond gender and think in terms of intersectionality, i.e. multiple disadvantages of some sections of society, to ensure inclusiveness in our thoughts. Thus, instead of a picture of man mountaineer in the text book, we have to have the picture of that woman amputee mountaineer who successfully climbed Mount Everest.   

            Learning imparted at the impressionable age of primary schooling remains forever and, it is imbibed both from the texts as well as the images. It is hence, of utmost importance that the material presented before children is such which is empowering for girls in the sense of making them realise their potential, frees the boys from the bondage of stereotype male-hood of aggressiveness and curbing of emotions, and thus, raise a generation that is not conformist but critically evaluative and constructive and capable of expanding its capacities to the utmost and contribute to the making of a just and compassionate society.


Bibliography


11-      Artiles, Alfredo J. , Elizabeth B. Kozeleski and Federico R. Waitoller. Inclusive Education, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, MA, 2011. Print.
22-      Environmental Studies , Viva Publications, New Delhi, 2014. Print
33-      Gutek, Gerald L. Philosophical and Ideological Voices in Education, Pearson, USA, 2006. Print.
44-      NCERT.  Marigold, http://www.ncert.nic.in/NCERTS/textbook/textbook.htm Web (8/5/2015)
55-       NCERT. Looking Around, http://www.ncert.nic.in/NCERTS/textbook/textbook.htmWeb (8/5/2015)
66-      NCERT. Rimjhim, http://www.ncert.nic.in/NCERTS/textbook/textbook.htm Web (8/5/2015)
77-       NCERT. The Position Paperof the National Focus Group on Gender Issues in Education. 2006. Print

                                                                                                                   Dr Skand Shukla
(Officer of the U.P. Education Services and was recently a visiting fellow at the Arizona State University, U.S.A)

Profile of the writer- An officer of the Provincial Educational Services of Uttar Pradesh, did post-graduation in English Literature with a gold medal and was awarded the degree of D.Phil. on his thesis on Tagore’s philosophy of education by the University of Allahabad. Articles related to academics and other issues have found place in newspapers like The Hindu, The Economic Times, The Times of India and the Hindustan Times. He was also a visiting fellow at the Arizona State University, U.S.A.
E-mail id- skandshukla@yahoo.com ; Phone number- 09415254692