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India: Students to be awarded full marks for exam question criticized as misogynistic

“The emancipation of the wife destroyed the parent’s authority over the children,” the passage in the reading comprehension section of some English language and literature exams read.
Students Appear For CBSE Class 12th English Exam 2021
Students exit an exam center in Noida, India.Hindustan Times / Hindustan Times

High school students in India will receive full marks for a national exam question that has been dropped after it was criticized as misogynistic.

The first passage in the reading comprehension section of some English language and literature exams suggested that women’s growing independence and changing family dynamics had had a negative effect on children’s behavior around their parents.

“The emancipation of the wife destroyed the parent’s authority over the children,” the passage read. “The mother did not exemplify the obedience upon which she still tried to insist.”

The exam was administered on Dec. 11 to Grade 10 students by the Central Board of Secondary Education, an autonomous body under the Education Ministry.

In response to criticism, the board said this month that the passage was “not in accordance” with its guidelines. It said the passage and accompanying questions would be dropped and all students would receive full marks on the first passage in that section, even if they had taken a version of the test that did not include that passage.

In a separate statement on Twitter, it said that it was “committed to equity and excellence in education and promotes inclusiveness and gender sensitivity.”

The board added that it was setting up an expert committee to review the way exams were written “to avoid such occurrences in the future.”

The Ministry of Education did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Students discuss notes after an exam on Dec. 3, 2021 in Noida, India.Hindustan Times / via Getty Images

India ranked 140 out of 156 countries in this year’s Global Gender Gap index, according to a March report by the World Economic Forum. The Switzerland-based organization measures the gap between men and women in terms of political influence, economic gain and health and education.

The controversy over the passage comes amid broader concerns about the country’s treatment of women. Reports of gang rapes and other cases of sexual violence have drawn global attention to the issue in recent years. In August, the alleged gang rape of a 9-year-old girl in India set off protests.

Opposition politicians were quick to leap on the exam controversy, with the Indian National Congress using it to criticize the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Referring to the passage as “drivel,” Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress party’s general secretary, said on Twitter that the BJP clearly “endorses these retrograde views on women,” as they had been allowed to appear in the CBSE curriculum.

Raising the issue in Parliament, Congress party president Sonia Gandhi said the material “reflects extremely poorly on the standards of education and testing, and it goes against all norms and principles of a progressive and empowered society.”

Others also took to social media to criticize the passage.

Calling it "crass and regressive,” one Twitter user, @Sulochana97, accused the CBSE of blaming feminism for a lack of discipline in teenagers, saying the passage “insults women, teens and domestic helpers at one go.”

However, some Twitter users argued that the criticism was unwarranted.

“I don’t see anything retrograde. We know there is a National crisis relating to our kids attitudes,” @Ygupta55 said in reply to Priyanka Gandhi’s tweet.

This is not the first time the CBSE has faced criticism over its exam questions.

Earlier this month, the board came under fire for a question on a Grade 12 sociology exam related to deadly religious violence in Gujarat in 2002, when Modi was the state’s chief minister. According to Indian news outlet NDTV, the question asked who was in charge of the government when the riots took place.

CBSE said at the time that it would take action against those responsible for the question, which it said was “inappropriate and in violation” of its guidelines. Exam questions, it said, “should not touch upon domains that could harm sentiments of people based on social and political choices.”