By Shambhavi Saxena:
‘Towards A World Of Equals‘ – the new bilingual textbook on gender that has been introduced by the South Indian state of Telangana is a long overdue initiative. And an ambitious one at that. Set to be part of the syllabus of the undergraduate course at certain colleges, the book plans to take a comprehensive approach to understanding gender not just as a social category, but its economic, political, medical and historical implications – why men are granted more power and more access than women, why men and women are expected to behave in different ways, why certain professions are dominated by certain genders, and even why the history we learn is so biased towards men’s achievements.
Like the cover of the book, the homepage of World of Equals is plastered with some recognizable images – like snippets from those ‘Ideal Boy’ comics, Amar Chitra Kathas, movie posters and even Rosie the Riveter – giving it a feeling of accessibility and familiarity already.
A few short weeks after announcing the initiative, a website has been launched with the course outline, including fiction works like Begum Rokeya’s story ‘Sultana’s Dream‘, Jamaica Kincaid’s poem ‘Girl‘, among others, as well as the writings of B. R. Ambedkar, Anne Fausto-Sterling, and Bertolt Brecht. 13 individual units displayed on the website look pretty comprehensive, covering a lot of ground, from economic inequalities between men and women, to the need to move beyond the gender binary. But so ambitious a project must also be a two-way street, and the textbook’s contents are now open for review and comment here.
Says the team behind the textbook: “We invite you to browse through the website as an accompaniment to the units being discussed in class. We welcome your suggestions about other readings and links that could be mentioned here.”
While we may celebrate Telangana’s move to create this unique textbook, and hopes to build a ‘World of Equals’ from classrooms up, many have noted its limitations.
A trans activist from Telangana, Vyajayanthi Vasanta Mogli said, “Without a sound law to protect the rights of gender nonconforming children and trans adults, how is one chapter going to change the ground reality for us?”
Additionally, there are issues with this mode of instruction itself – Scroll notes how students getting around attendance requirements for a course that’s only expecting exam results in the neighbourhood of 40% isn’t really going to give them the schooling in gender they need or deserve. Further criticism has been pointed at its reliance on popular culture in its syllabus.
We need some honest participation from netizens – feedback on course material would be invaluable. But if this textbook is going to do anything at all, there need to be measures in tandem to address the negatives ways in which university spaces reinforce gender relations. So why stop at leaving a few comments on their website? Let’s also ask for better community-building activities in our colleges. Let’s change the ridiculous and oppressive guardianship of female students, à la Pinjra Tod. Let’s get all students talking about the social and biological discrimination of women’s bodies, and end the assumption that every one of our classmates is straight or cisgender. And then, let’s also have this textbook as part of a wave of a change we all want to see.