In the first analysis of caste bias in Indian textbooks, researchers from ISI-Bengaluru and IIT-Hyderabad found in a case study that for every 16 pages on dominant castes, there was just one on Dalits. The paper, titled Caste biases in school textbooks: a case study from Odisha, India, published by Taylor & Francis's Journal of Curriculum Studies examines caste bias in Odia language textbooks prescribed by the government in middle schools in the state of Odisha, India.
The analysis focuses on 10 textbooks for Social Science and Odia literature prescribed for Classes IV to VIII. This first-ever systematic analysis within curricular material found that caste matters were either being erased, removed from context, falsified or entrenching stereotypes. Out of the 10 books seven did not represent Dalits at all. Not one book excluded dominant social groups, and while 79 per cent of the textual content, was devoted to dominant groups, Dalits found space in just 15 per cent. The research further revealed that there is no person of SC origin in any literature text for students from classes IV, V, VI and VII. When students are taught about India’s freedom struggle, no SC leader finds their place in the discussion. And government initiatives for Dalit communities are written about, but there’s no explanation on why these provisions are needed. The researchers also picked up instances from other states. The paper said, textbooks in Gujarat did speak of caste system but as a 'benign institution.' The same was done in Rajasthan, where texts were rewritten to argue that 'caste was a good system based on professional differences'.
Content analysis identified seven types of bias, with ‘invisibility’ bias being the most important form of bias. The persistence of caste bias across textbooks is in direct violation of the recommendations of the National Curriculum Framework-2005, and systematically creates an illusion that Indian society is an equitable one. “Academic research on textbooks in India has largely focused on issues of communalisation of history and gender. The presence of caste bias in textbooks has not been systematically examined in the Indian context thus far”, the paper said.
Speaking to Times of India, lead author Subhadarshee Nayak said, “This is not about Dalit students. Future citizens should be sensitised to human rights violations. Look at the atrocities on Dalits in India. Why do certain forms of understanding persist? Because we have not systematically attacked those beliefs, those social practices. Why can’t that be tackled through education that the state expects everybody to go through?” She added that inclusion has to be meaningful, it has to explain why certain things exist the way they do.