The clichéd headline “girls outshine boys”, which the media uses after the CBSE Class X and Class XII examination results every year, is not only a gross misreading of statistics but also a blow to the morale of city-bred boys. While the Indian society since the age of invasions pushed women behind the purdah, with the situation aggravating in the epoch of Victorian Puritanism, the male outlook has successively broadened since Independence. Nevertheless, vast swathes of the hinterland, as well as certain communities, witness the regression of lessened opportunities for both young girls and grown-up women. The question is whether the positive discrimination with which the media treats women helps improve the scenario. It is doubtful the men who offer women a raw deal are typically subscribers of the English language media. Hence, the only thing these hare-brained copywriters end up doing is affect the self-esteem of boys, which the boys often betray in conversations with friends, frustrated and dejected. The headline is statistically erroneous because of the absence of a study of the sample that the CBSE, ICSE or any State education board has tested. For the very reason of discrimination against women, the sample of girls tested by the school-graduation exam comprises families that are evolved. In a way, this is a competition between members of a certain class. On the other hand, the same reason is responsible for a much larger sample of boys, which consists of the masses as much as the classes. It is obvious then that the percentage of boys who pass would go down as a result. The positive discrimination continues at the competitive stage. When boys do better at, say, the IIT-JEE exam, no newspaper or television channel reports that the boys have outshone girls. Rather, the much larger male sample is held against society and a series of articles are written with utmost politically correct language, urging the system to bridge the gap.

The education system is to blame no less. In order to boost the confidence of students of the humanities, it was decided many years ago that the answer sheets of arts subjects would be examined leniently. This has yielded the atrocity that one scores nowadays 100% in subjects such as languages and social ‘sciences’. It is to be noted here that a cent per cent score is possible in mathematics even if the examiner uses all strictness at his or her disposal while checking the numerical solutions. This dual standard of scrutiny offers no solace to the boys who have numerically been superior in physical sciences — whereas the achievers among girls are rarely emerging from the science subjects where they have, for long, registered a formidable presence: biological and chemical sciences. Year after year, the girls graduating from higher secondary schools and women topping the UPSC exam have had subjects like psychology, history, sociology, English, etc. Society could have still drawn some inspiration from these results if these marks churning machines went on to create history in their respective disciplines. Quite paradoxically, the standard of language and the style of articulation have declined from the level seen in the period when the British had recently left the country. Hindi and regional languages are degenerating into street lingos while written compositions expose this generation’s pathetic sense of orthography. If the engineering colleges are not yielding inventions and medical colleges are not bringing forth discoveries, no new chapter in history or psychology is being written by Indians either. That brings us to the questionable celebration of IAS exam toppers, too. When bureaucracy is singularly responsible for the sluggishness in the governance of the nation, what for do we fete those who crack the UPSC exam?

If the womenfolk are to be uplifted and empowered, the media’s messaging might well be right but its medium is all wrong. In fact, telling backward parents the potential of their girl child is not going to ameliorate the social condition of girls substantively either. That’s a lazy journalistic approach towards a social responsibility. A thorough and sustained counselling alone can change the obscurantist mindset of the patriarchs. That, in turn, calls for the counsellors’ prolonged stationing in affected areas. The process may take an ugly turn in some pockets of society where the resistance to change is high. In the meantime, the media must spare a thought for the mental vulnerability of the adolescent boys, which is no less riveting than that of the girls in their batch.