The headlines of this short story, factually told, run like this. ?Hindus worship ?statues?, not deities.? ?Hindu God cannot have capital ?G? and has to be content with the ordinary letter ?g? as, unlike the Gods in Abrahamic faiths, there is no one God for Hindus.? ?Who in sixth standard cares whether the Ramayana was written before or after the Mahabharata.?
This scandalous depiction of Hindus, their faith and history is not the tirade of evangelicals luring Hindus to their faith. But, this is how some US scholars who supported the demeaning descriptions of Hindus and India in textbooks proposed by the California Department of Education (CDE) defended their contents when Hindus protested and sought corrections.
Since the US scholars were not Hindus, their defence of the books lacked credibility. To fill the credibility gap, Indian seculars stepped in, led by Romila Thapar. They jointly petitioned the CDE that the Hindu protests against the textbooks was actually the protest of the ?Hindutva forces?. Hence, the corrections suggested by them should be disregarded.
The issue is whether what Hindus say is true or not. Does the truth lose its value because Hindus bring it out? Fortunately the CDE, after giving some anxious moments to Hindus, dismissed the seculars? petition and accepted the corrections that Hindus had sought, almost entirely. Now, some further detail.
The controversy was about the proposed textbooks on India and Hinduism for 6th standard school children. After the book publishers had submitted preliminary editions of the books, according to procedure the CDE called for comments and corrections from those concerned. The Hindu community in California, after months of work, submitted some 170 corrections or ?edits? as the CDE would call them, for improving eight of the 10 textbooks. This is where the secular megaphones stepped in to exert to perpetuate the demeaning references to Hindus in the textbooks.
Dr Michael Witzel, a Harvard University professor who is undeniably anti-Hindu and thus an icon of Indian seculars, charged that the Hindu community'scorrections were motivated by ?Hindutva forces?. He warned the CDE that it ?would lead without fail to an international educational scandal? if accepted. Romila Thapars of secular India joined as co-petitioners of Witzel, making it a kind of ?confession? on behalf of Hindus. This forced the CDE to appoint a last minute ?Content Review Panel? which comprised three scholars including Witzel himself. The panel rejected 58 of the Hindu edits.
But the Californian Curriculum Commission decided to accept all the corrections of Hindus adding a rider that the Witzel panel's58 rejections be reviewed one-by-one. In the commission, an evangelist member supported Witzel, but two others abstained on grounds of lack of expertise.
While discussing the Witzel objections, the Curriculum Commissioner took the position that the Hindus should be able to recognise their religion when they read the textbooks. On the much insisted and the equally contested Aryan invasion issue, a compromise was suggested that instead of the word ?invasion? the word ?migration? could be substituted as there was no evidence of violent invasion. But the commissioner said that hard evidence from DNA research, which is more reliable than the study of historians, proved there was no ?migration? also. Finally, the commission agreed to allow this much to be said, namely, ?that some historians believe there was an Aryan invasion?.
The commission accepted that the Hindus worship ?deities?, the equivalent of murti in Sanskrit, not ?statues? and also allowed the use of capital ?G? for the Hindu God saying that the same Hindu God has several forms. It agreed that the Hindus go to temples to ?worship?. It is obviously important to know, when was the epic Ramayana written? And so, the writing of the Ramayana pre-dates the Mahabharata, which needs to be stated in the textbooks.
Yes, the Hindus got almost all they wanted. But was it a favour done by the CDE to Hindus? No. The CDE merely applied the rules it had made for evaluating textbooks of different religious or national groups. This is what the CDE rules mandate: the evaluation is to enable all students to ?become aware and accept religious diversity?, while remaining ?secure? in their own ?religious belief?.
To achieve this ?the diversity of religious beliefs held? in US and elsewhere should be depicted ?without displaying bias toward or prejudice against any of those beliefs?. No religious belief or practice ?may be held to ridicule?; no religious group be ?portrayed as inferior?. ?Beliefs or practices? should ?not be presented? ?to encourage or discourage disbelief?, nor indoctrinate. The rules are common for all, the majority Protestants and the Rest, the minorities.
While CDE commission has concluded that there is no evidence of Aryan invasion, it is still ridiculed as a ?saffron? view to deny Aryan invasion here in India. In secular India, the views of scholars who are known as secular, not the facts, are decisive. That is why Aryan invasion is still the official view of history despite total absence of any evidence whatsoever. The secular US has thus overruled the anti-Hindu views of secular Indians. Paradoxically, the ?secular? US seems kinder to Hindus than ?secular? India.