The Cable

Indian Government Denounces Textbook Describing Ideal Female Shape

The government minister who deals with education says the book "mentions unmentionables about women."


An Indian government minister has launched an investigation into a school textbook for being “sexist,” “non-defendable,” and “unacceptable.”

India’s union minister of human resource development, Prakash Javdekar, denounced the book, Health and Physical Education, on Friday, saying it “mentions unmentionables about women.”

“I have instructed the officers to take strict action against those behind this textbook and all schools should ensure they have proper books,” Javdekar, who is charged with dealing with matters of education, said.

Schools have been asked to immediately stop using the book, and the publisher, the Delhi-based New Saraswati House, has said it will stop printing it. Written by Dr. VK Sharma, the textbook is used in some schools that follow the India’s Central Board of Secondary Education syllabus. But the board recommends only using textbooks made by India’s National Council of Educational Research and Training and does not have the ability to monitor privately-published textbooks.

What did the offending textbook say? What could have been so bad as to provoke such a reaction?

“There is a lot of difference in the size of the body between males and females.”

Alright, we guess that’s fine.

“This difference can be seen directly.”


“The size of body of males are larger in comparison to the body size of females.”

A generalization, but mostly accurate.

“There is a vast difference in the shape of males and females, 36”, 24”, 36” shape of females is considered the best.”


“That is why in Miss World or Miss Universe competitions such type of shape is also taken into consideration.”

Yep, got it. Touché, Javdekar.

“The ‘V’ shape body in case of males is considered the best.”

We are assuming they mean something like this:


It’s not great. But it could be worse! At least the textbook didn’t say that women’s bodies them from doing everyday things like running.

Oh, wait.

“The bones of hips of females are wider. Knees are slightly apart. Due to this shape females are not able to run properly.”

Photo credits: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images; Sesame Street dot org

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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