Dr Ashutosh Gupta & Nihar, California
“A California commission — mandated with recommendation and revision of school text books — has rejected demands of replacing India with South Asia for pre-1947 references, which had become a major bone of contention for various academic groups in the US.
The California Department of Education's (CDE) Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), at its hearing on May 19 decided not to replace mentions of India with South Asia in the new framework for History Social Science textbooks in California. The commission has also decided to restore the mention that Hindu sages Valmiki and Vyasa were born non- Brahmins. It also agreed to replace the word “untouchable” with “Dalit” as demanded by the various Dalit groups.
The final draft of the framework was voted by the commission on May 19th and will be submitted to the State Board of Education (SBE) to be approved later this year. Earlier this year, the Commission had proposed to replace instances of 'India' by 'South Asia' in its school textbooks at the behest of South Asia Faculty Group (SAFG), led by top academicians like professors Kamala Visweswaran of University of California at San Diego, Lawrence Cohen and Robert Goldman of University of California at Berkeley. The group had suggested that all mentions of India’ before 1947 had to be replaced with ‘South Asia’.
The suggestions were opposed by another group of 41 academics led by professors Barbara McGraw of Saint Mary’s College of California, and Diana Eck of Harvard University who called the proposal “anachronistic” and “not historical”.
Recently, more than a hundred Hindu American children, their parents, academics, teachers and Hindu community organisations testified in front of the California Department of Education (CDE) about the negative portrayal of India and Hinduism in California textbooks. Many children narrated instances of bullying, stereotypes and harassment they have to face in their classrooms due to such depiction. The Hindu American groups and individuals also opposed attempts by a group of academics named ‘South Asia Faculty Group’ (SAFG) to delete the word ‘India’ in over 30 places in the textbook framework. The letter written by the group of academics with links to radical Left and Islamist groups such as Forum of Inquilabi Leftists (FOIL) and Friends of South Asia (FOSA), had argued that all mentions of ‘India’ before 1947 had to be deleted and in some places had to be replaced by “South Asia”. The Hindu community had disapproved these changes and had raised strong objections. The SAFG had made a desperate last minute attempt to try and discredit the scholars and groups by calling the content “revisionist”. The Commission paid no heed to this and reversed many suggestions by SAFG that had been accepted earlier.
So in a sense it is a victory for the Hindu Americans in their quest for equality and fair portrayal of their religion and culture in California textbooks. As a scholar pointed out to the commission at the meeting on May 19th, the chapter on ancient India in a 6th grade textbook mentioned the word ‘Caste’ 35 times in 10 pages, as if India is only about caste and nothing more. The keen participation of Hindu organisations like Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and Uberoi Foundation (UF), in the textbook framework adoption process, over the period of last two years has facilitated this victory. But the content on Hinduism and India is still not at par with the content on other religions and cultures.
Prof Ramesh Rao of Hindu American Foundation informed Organiser about the whole struggle. He said, “This was simply an issue of ensuring that historical accuracy and cultural competency were part of the California frameworks. It was a matter of equity, to not only ensure that Hinduism was covered at par with other faith traditions. When people say ancient India, it’s generally understood that India today is not the same.”
“We support an inclusive document that reflects on the positive contributions of all communities, and are gratified that the Hindu community's voice was reflected in this process. There are close to 1 million Hindus in California, so this is really representative of the community's evolution from their first presence in the state in the late 1800s to now”, he added. n