Sunday 1 July 2012

On Women's Education in India, and Government Employees Who Take Themselves Too Seriously

On Women’s Education in India, and Government Employees Who Take Themselves Too Seriously

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 01 July 2012

Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit for more articles by Dr. Seshadri Kumar.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author alone, and of no one else, unless specifically mentioned otherwise.


Recently, a school in Tamil Nadu in South India disallowed two girls who got married immediately after finishing their Xth in that school from joining the XIth standard in the same school on the grounds that they would set a bad example for other girls and encourage them to do the same.  This was reported in The Hindu.  There are no other higher education institutions in the area for the girls and this action would effectively put an end to the education of the girls.

Many people were shocked by the attitude of the school in denying education, now legislated in Parliament as a fundamental right to all Indians, to girls, widely recognized as the one segment of Indian society in greatest need for education.  While it is sad to see Indian parents still parcelling off their girls to their husbands’ homes so early (and, in this case, below the legal marriageable age), it is usually the case that after marriage, it is the parents or in-laws who put a stop to the girls’ education.  However, in this case, the girls applied for admission to standard XI, only to be rejected by the principal of the school.

Distressed as I was by all this, I was even more distressed by a response to this action, also published by The Hindu in its Opinion section, written by a Professor Krishna Kumar, a Professor of Education at Delhi University and a former director of NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training), which actually defended the action of the said school principal.

According to this response, the fault does not lie with the principal.  The author of this piece believes that the principal is trying to fulfil the school’s social contract and their response is just a way of “conveying her inconsequential anger” at being unable to do so.

Noble though this sounds, there are many flaws with Professor Krishna Kumar’s arguments.

First, the author refers to a 1988 study by Prof. Leela Dube.  Accurate though the work may have been then, it is 24 years old, and many things have changed.  Importantly, that study was done before the opening up of the economy in 1992.  Society, especially urban society, has changed significantly since then.  Just look at how many women work in the IT sector alone.  Yes, Prof. Dube is right that women get a very different message in the home from what they do at school, but two things have changed how much of the home message they are willing to accept.  One is that there are so many employment opportunities available for women.  The other is that families need the extra income that women bring to the home and are not inclined to discourage women from working.  Both of these are different from the the situation in 1988.

Second, Prof. Kumar mentions (via Prof. Dube’s work) that there is a fundamental contradiction between expectations of girls in schools which, in an ideal world, encourage freedom of thought, freedom of action, and develop confidence in girls that they can do anything, just as boys can; and expectations of girls in the home - obey thy father and mother, obey thy husband, devote thy life to thy children.  Sure, this is true, and exists even today, but the intensity of the conflict is decreasing.  More and more parents are trying to give their girls a strong educational base so that the girls can stand on their own legs.  This isn't only in upper middle class homes - our maid servant in Pune was proudly telling us how she had big plans for her daughter, who seemed to be doing very well in school, much better than her son.

Third, the author assumes that teachers have taken upon themselves the mantle of reforming society and that the government also expects this out of them.  As anyone who has interacted with government employees of any kind, including teachers, knows, most of these employees do their job as a contractual obligation.  It is hard to believe that they truly think that the transformation of society rests upon them.  There may be some sincere teachers (yes, I have had some good teachers in my school as I grew up, as I assume many others have had too) who want to do a good job of teaching what they are supposed to teach, but to presume that they believe that the transformation of society is in their hands is a bit too much.

Fourth, let's think about education in India.  In his idealistic world at NCERT, Prof. Kumar loves to revel in illusions that Indian schools actually think of education as a means of teaching students to think and reason.  The truth of the matter is that Indian students all over the country, by and large, are NOT taught to think at all.  They are taught to memorize and learn by rote.  They learn an essay in English and then memorize answers to stock questions such as "explain with reference to context" that are dictated to them by the teacher.  And Prof. Kumar is telling us that teachers are trying to inculcate critical thinking in students?

The truth of the matter is that parents in India send their children to school for the certificate they get at the end of 12 years and the hope of getting a marketable degree in a college thereafter.

Fifth, how is denying the girls admission after they have been married helping anything?  What was the principal expecting, that she should have been consulted and her approval obtained before the marriages were fixed?  And how is denying women education helping with the mission of empowering women, even if we were to accept Prof. Kumar's thesis that that is the perceived mission of the teachers?

Sixth, and finally, what is this gibberish about "she is right in indicating that she is not equipped to run a school for married women. If the government is concerned about the education of child brides, it should develop a curriculum for them and start institutions where it can be taught."  What is there about history, geography, mathematics, civics, physics, chemistry, biology, English, Tamil, Hindi, or most of the other subjects that are standard in XIth or XIIth standard schools that are to be taught differently to married women than they are to be taught to single women?  When the same syllabus applies to boys and girls, why make a distinction between single and married women?

The whole essay by Prof. Kumar presents a distorted (and idealistic) view of what the purpose of a school is.  It is as though Prof. Kumar believes that the sole purpose of a school is to engineer social transformation of a certain kind, and since getting such young girls married violated the objectives of that transformation, the girls should be expelled.  This is such ivory-tower and impractical thinking, and so out of touch with reality – and the irony is that the author prefaces his article by speaking of Prof. Dube, whose writings he claims to like because “her view ... derived its perspective from a deeper commitment – to social reality, rather than to activism or political correctness.”  Yet Prof. Kumar’s own article is completely divorced from the social reality of women in our country today!  It should have been discarded on arrival at the office of The Hindu - yet, it has been published - maybe just because it is a contrarian position?  Just because something is controversial is not reason to publish it.  For a paper like The Hindu, the arguments must also make sense.  There has clearly been a lack of proper editorial involvement here.

Note that I am not advocating that girls should be married off young.  I'd rather that people take their time before getting married, get an education, get to know themselves a bit, and obtain some qualifications to stand on their own before marrying.  But the decision to not allow them to pursue their education because they married early is an attempt to impose the teachers’ own morality or vision of society on others.  Prosecute the parents for arranging a marriage of minors if you will, but you have no right to stop their education.

If what you are teaching in school is worth anything, then in time, it will have the desired effect.  Maybe not in this generation, because the girls are forced to bend to their parents' will, but perhaps, when they grow up, they will think differently about their children.  But it is education that will empower them to change.  Maybe it will take a couple of generations, but it will happen.  Let them get that education first.


  1. Nice Article, I agree with all your opinions and thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

    Government Education Requirements

    1. Thank you for your response! Glad you liked it! Please pass on the link so more people are aware. This incident has not been widely reported even in the Indian media. Apart from The Hindu which reported it, the other major newspapers and TV channels in India have not even mentioned it. There hasn't even been any further reporting of this incident in The Hindu itself, so we don't know what happened to those poor girls later - whether their complaints were heard, and whether the Tamil Nadu state government took any action. This news needs to be circulated.

  2. The copyright note on the top of your article is an instant put off for not going any further. What's all this fuss with copyright boss!!!

    To do justice to the very act of putting up this comment, I did suffer through your article. And it seems to me that your thesis is as flawed as, if only more than, the Professor's. At least the professor had referenced some body of research material outside of his own opinions.

    And you say, the work is outdated, the urban world has moved on since 1992, blah blah blah, but this incident did not happen in any urban school.

    Neither the Principal nor the Professor has committed any "sins" more serious than your own, which is living up to the "opinions" of ones beliefs, without ever really questioning it.

    And since every one is so keen on holding up their "opinions" let me also shout out mine.

    The real heinous crime is committed by you Sir. The Principal, rightly in her sane mind, denied them admission fearing contagion. which is what a Principal should worry about. The professor defended her, which he thought right. Perhaps the people in the academia do think alike, at least in this respect.

    But you Sir, What have you done. You with all your logical, analysis, have played a real sophist. All you achieved in your piece with your inflated seemingly logical arguments is a diversion.

    The real issue that you should have attacked, if you had any care for women, is not the Principal's "Reaction" but the parents' "Action".

    That dare and insane practice of child marriage. That too in the 21st century. You may say, of course, I'm against it. But it's useless to write/contemplate about a lesser evil when a greater evil is already at action. Of which you just made a passing remark.

    Sir, pseudo intellectuals like you are the real problem of India, you cannot break with this countries ridiculous and insane customs.

    The real crime involved is not that those kids were denied admission but that they have been denied their life altogether by their parents and the people who vouched for this marriage.

    You can point me, like you did with your maid, to some relative of you who got married as a child and is living happily ever after.

    Bullshit. Period.

    Please feel free to delete this.

    1. Mr. Rintoul:

      The entire basis of your knee-jerk outburst here - I cannot by any stretch of imagination call it an argument - is the wrong assumption that I am a supporter of child marriage.

      That is the basis of all your abusive rants against me:
      1. Living up to my "opinions," without questioning it.
      2. Diverting the argument from the real crime of child marriage.
      3. Being unable to break with this country's ridiculous and insane customs.
      4. Having a belief that children who get married live happily ever after.

      Where, in my entire piece that you are reacting to, have I ever even glancingly stated such a belief? What right have you to accuse me of such a thing?

      I have, in fact, explicitly stated just the opposite. To be specific, I have said, (and I quote from my piece):
      1. “It is sad to see Indian parents still parcelling off their girls to their husbands' homes so early”
      2. “I am not advocating that girls should be married off young.”
      3. “I'd rather that people take their time...before marrying.”
      4. “Prosecute the parents for arranging a marriage of minors if you will.”

      So where did you get the idea that I support child marriage?

      Let me answer the question for you, since you are seemingly incapable of things like logic.

      Your conclusion is based simply upon the following puerile logic:
      1. The principal and the professor are against child marriage.
      2. I criticized the principal and professor.
      3. Therefore, I must be in favour of child marriage!

      Congratulations, you have attained the reasoning ability of a 10-year old! It is people like you who are the real problem in our country - people who don't know how to use their brains - and just react emotionally to everything.

      Learn to think a bit before farting all over the internet - it will be better for you and you won't look like an idiot in public.

    2. Second, Mr. Rintoul, let me come to your "argument" - which was also the so-called argument of the principal in the first place. You claim, as did the principal, that she feared "contagion" - what contagion? You are parroting the absurd thesis of the principal that if the two girls who were married off were allowed to come in contact with the other girls, they would make them also think about getting married while still in school.

      Do you realize that there is an inherent contradiction in your and the principal's argument?

      I believe, and clearly you agree, that the children were forced into a child marriage by their parents - then where is the question of them "converting" others to do the same? They did not go through their own marriage willingly, so where is the question of them asking others to do the same?

      You might argue that yes, the children were forced into it, but now they are enjoying their married life, so now they are trying to convert the other children into getting married! That is doubly absurd. Firstly, if it was true that the children were enjoying their married life, it defeats your argument that child marriage is a bad thing. Secondly, it is not true. Child marriage is unpleasant.

      Anyone who knows the reality of child marriage in India knows that the poor children will only suffer once they marry. They will not be allowed to play with their schoolmates; they will be loaded with back-breaking work; and they will be forced into a sexual relationship with an older person when they don't even know themselves – something, at that stage of their lives, which can only be called rape. If they come in contact with their schoolmates, they are hardly likely to advertise their new life in such glowing terms as to convince them to leave school and get married. Rather, their friends will get the scare of their lives listening to the horror tales of the two children.

      The "contagion" argument that you and the principal are putting forward is so absurd that I will not even call it sophistry - it is just plain stupid. Sophistry at least involves some cleverness.

    3. And finally, Mr. Rintoul, the fact of the matter is that the principal (and you) are using this stupid argument as a smokescreen to defend her actions. From what the original report said, and what the professor said in defence of the principal, it is clear that what happened was this:

      1. The principal opposed the child marriage. Fair enough, right thing to do.
      2. The parents got the kids married anyway. Bad. They should have been prosecuted.
      3. The principal got angry. How dare they disobey her? She will set an example, to teach people that her orders are not to be trifled with.
      4. The principal realizes she is powerless to do anything against the parents.
      5. So what does she do? She punishes the CHILDREN!

      This is kind of like the employee who comes home and ill-treats the wife and kids because the boss shouted at him and he feels impotent against the boss. So the principal, in order to satisfy her ego and show everyone that she’s the boss, denies education to the poor children because of a crime the children's parents committed! How wonderful an example to set to others as a teacher!

      And yes, I DO care for the children, unlike you, the principal, and the professor. That's why, given that their parents "denied them their life," I want them to have the one tool that will help them, whatever happens in their life afterward. For it is possible, given the dark ages that much of India still lives in, that some day (I hope not) one of them may have a serious disagreement with the family or the husband they were pushed into, or she may not have given birth to male children, and that family might decide she is worthless and just throw her into the street. On that dark day, if she only had an education, she could fend for herself with a job - but now, because of the ego of your principal, she will be forced to wash dishes or do some other manual labour (if she's lucky, she won't have to sell her body), while your principal and you continue to bask in that warm feeling of having "taught her parents a lesson."

      If the action the principal took was just to prosecute the parents, and if the professor had just defended such an action, I would have heartily supported it. But that is not what happened here. Someone sacrificed the education of two girls for their own ego trip, and another person defended this high-handed action.

      You don't know me from Adam, so don't go around spewing bullshit all over the place like saying I have some relative that got married as a child and is living happily ever after. When did I ever say that? Stop talking trash. Don't think the anonymity of the internet gives you the right to say anything you like. If you cannot talk logically, just shut the hell up.

      As for deleting your post, maybe I will do it, but not immediately. I want everyone to see in your response how there are many people who are incapable of using the brain that they were born with and who make asses of themselves in a public forum. Once enough people have had a chance to see that, I will delete it, for I see no reason why such tripe as your reply should live on for eternity in cyberspace.

      And I put the copyright note because morons like you who cannot think logically or write properly might be tempted to copy my stuff and pass it off as yours, since you are not capable of anything worthwhile yourselves.

    4. excellent comments...........

  3. Mr Seshadri, the article written by you was very good. I completely agree to it.


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