A Class 10 economics textbook for ICSE students claims there is a link between race, genes and efficiency of labour, though modern genetics has found little proof of this.
"The efficiency of a worker to some extent depends on racial and hereditary qualities," the authors explain. "If the parents are intelligent and hard-working, their children will normally inherit these qualities. For eg: Kashmiri workers are traditionally trained in embroidery work. Likewise, Punjabis are better in physical work than Bengalis, and South Indians are more efficient in mental work than North Indians."
This excerpt from a textbook published by Goyal brothers for Class 10 students actively perpetuates contentious and potentially divisive ideas. The ICSE does not print its own textbooks, but schools are allowed to choose what texts to follow from among books printed by private publishers, based on the syllabus.
Academicians say that it is through language, imagery, narrative and text in school textbooks that biases are shaped and reinforced in possibly damaging ways.
"Some of these notions are based on deeply embedded frameworks of stereotypes within which people operate, which lead to such texts with a total lack of understanding of what it means to be the 'other', of a different caste, religion or marginalised group that is out of the lens of the urban middle class," said Anita Rampal, professor of education and former dean, faculty of education, Delhi University. "These clearly need to be challenged for a more democratic and secular citizenship, that is the broader task of education."
Gender stereotyping, rampant across texts, means men and women are encoded into specific roles, as textual analyses by researchers has shown. Women will be shown doing 'unproductive' things or asking silly questions, men will be shown performing certain kinds of tasks. Ideas of caste and class are also built into textbooks, with far more urban characters and occupations depicted and barely a mention of rural or tribal ways of life.
"Most of these books have certain assumptions about the reader. He/she is a homogeneous child in the author's imagination - an urban, male, Hindu one," said Disha Nawani, associate professor, school of education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences. "Caste doesn't find much representation, if it all, and distorted imagery of certain caste characters are projected."
Experts point out what is left out matters just as much as what is included in the textbooks. "There are serious objections to the new texts, they only deal with major themes without any continuity," said S Jafri, secretary of the Indian History Congress, about the new NCERT history textbooks. "In an overview of the medieval world, how can you forget China? In the growth of civilisations, how can you be so Euro-centric?"