Diaspora depressed over deception
By Sandhya Jain
The Indian diaspora in America is upset over the manner in which the California education department has permitted known anti-Hindu baiters like Harvard professor Michael Witzel and other usual suspects to intrude in the textbook selection and reform process, in violation of established norms. The result is that while the Curriculum Commission has accepted changes mooted by representatives of the Christian, the Jewish and the Muslim groups, changes desired by Hindu groups are being posted for re-review by Hindu-baiting academics!
According to available information, the California Curriculum Committee was approached in September by concerned Americans on the issue of social studies textbooks being considered for Class VI to VIII. Practitioners of different religious traditions complained that several passages in the textbooks needed editing, as they comprised either negative or incorrect descriptions about the religious beliefs and practices of the Jews, the Muslims, and the Hindus. Some of the content was racist, and had the potential to create xenophobic or sensational images in the minds of adolescent students and negatively impact the self-identity of the Jewish-American, the Hindu-American, and the Muslim-American children.
Thereafter, the Institute for Curriculum Services (ICS) submitted several corrections and suggestions to ensure that sections on Judaism reflected Jewish understanding of the faith and did not fan anti-Semitism. The Council on Islamic Education (CIE) proposed alternative language for certain sections on Islam, and the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) and the Vedic Foundation (VF) gave inputs on Hindu dharma. The Curriculum Commission and Content Review Panel (CRP) informed the California State Board of Education (SBE), and on November 8, 2005, the ad hoc committee approved 499 out of 684 proposed changes.
Many changes approved were simply the rectification of obvious errors, such as the claim that ?Hindi is written with the Arabic alphabet, which uses 18 letters that stand for sounds,? when everyone knows that Hindi is written in the Devanagari script and has 52 characters. The Jewish and the Hindu groups shared a common agony that American textbooks did not capitalize ?God? when referring to the supreme deity(s) of their respective faith traditions. Both groups objected to their scriptures being demoted as ?stories,? which suggested ?that the events described are fictitious.? Fighting for more respectful terminology when describing Hindu dharma, the Hindu Education Foundation said that a textbook reference to ?gods and goddesses from popular Hindu stories,? should be changed to ?various forms of God from Hindu scriptures.?
Hindu scholars involved in this exercise were upset that several passages in the textbooks were trivialized and ridiculed Hindu beliefs. One passage read: ?The monkey king Hanuman loved Rama so much that it is said that he is present every time the Ramayana is told. So look around?see any monkeys?? Hindus sought subtle but pertinent corrections, such as replacing subject headings like ?Hindu Beliefs About Multiple Gods? with the more accurate phrasing: ?Hindu Beliefs About Various Forms of God.?
On the contentious issue of the Aryan Invasion Theory, which Witzel avidly promotes despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Hindus only asked for a mild corrective in the form of mentioning contemporary scholarship which points out that the evidence refutes this. It is readily apparent that all changes desired were legitimate. The education policy demands that the teaching of the religion and culture of minority groups be in tune with the self-concepts of the respective faiths and instill pride in every child regarding his or her heritage. Thus, the divisive and derogatory colonial terminology?Brahmanism?has never been used by Hindus to describe their faith, and cannot justly be imposed upon them.
While the exercise to correct such obvious distortions was going on, Prof. Michael Witzel of Harvard'sSanskrit Department wrote to the California State Board of Education on November 8, objecting to the accommodation of Hindus sensitivities. Prof. Witzel and his colleague Steve Farmer collected signatures from over four dozen scholars around the world, including worthies like Prof. Romila Thapar and Prof. Stanley Wolpert, without bothering to examine the desired changes! As Witzel exclusively targetted Hindu-Americans, he may have had a political agenda.
On December 4, 2005, the California School Board accepted many changes desired by the Hindu community in Grade VI textbooks on topics dealing with India and Hindu dharma. The corrections were vetted by an ad hoc committee including renowned Indologist Dr. Shiva G. Bajpai, who was hired by the Commission. But the Witzel intervention led the Commission to appoint Witzel, Wolpert and others as experts for a post-review process (Content Review Panel).
This led the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) to protest against the unequal treatment accorded to the Hindus vis-?-vis other faith communities by the California State Board of Education, by permitting an eleventh hour, post-process move by Witzel to undermine and circumvent the recommendations of the ad hoc committee and the review process established by the Commission itself for resolution of errors in textbooks. This indicates a bias and a singling out of the Hindu community in a manner that does not inspire confidence.
Concerned Indians may be interested to know that during the deliberations on the textbooks, Commissioner Munger, who identified himself as an Episcopalian, was the only Board member who advocated accepting the views of the Witzel panel. Commissioner Metzenburg said, the Hindus should be able to recognize their own religion when they read these textbooks. Metzenberg objected to the ?insensitive? approach of the Witzel panel which, asked to rectify the statement that the Ramayana was written later than the Mahabharata, commented: ?Who in Sixth Grade cares which epic was ?written? first?? Metzenberg retorted that it mattered to Hindus.
It is relevant that Jews wanted the removal of references that portrayed Christianity as an ?improvement? upon Judaism, or a ?replacement? for Judaism. Hindus found that Buddhism and Jainism were presented as ?improvements? over their dharma, and this violated Education Code Section 60044(a) and Subsection (b), which desired all students to ?become aware and accepting of religious diversity while being allowed to remain secure in any religious beliefs they may already have.?
The California Department of Education is meeting the publishers on December 14 to communicate the approved changes. Hindu Americans have pointed out that while the changes approved for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were reviewed by experts within those faith traditions, the Department has engaged academics who are neither experts in Indian history or Hindu dharma, nor practicing Hindus, to pronounce upon this ancient tradition.