The California Board of Education acceded to a decade-long demand by Hindu groups in the United States for an “accurate and culturally competent portrayal of India and Hinduism” in school textbooks, the Hindu American Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation said on Nov. 9. The state’s Instructional Quality Commission approved the changes after taking a look at drafts of new elementary school textbooks from different publishers.
The move, however, also received its share of criticism. The South Asian Histories For All Coalition (SAHFA) said that the recommendations upheld by the state erased the history of Dalits, Sikhs and other Indian minorities. “Today the CA State Board of Education failed to protect the rights of Dalit, Sikh, and Muslim Californians. They gave in to manipulation and intimidation, Shameful. Our textbooks continue to fail our marginalized communities,” Barnali Ghosh, an Indian American community activist, said, India West reported.
SAHFA added that several changes recommended in the official guidelines were ignored. For instance, National Geographic World History Ancient Civilizations textbook does not mention the Dalits. Although the Dalits were named in the official guidelines, the textbook says, “At the bottom were slaves, laborers, and artisans. Many centuries later, another group developed that was considered even lower.”
The official guidelines describe caste as “a person belonged to a particular caste primarily by birth.” However, in the final version of the California Studies Weekly – Social Studies textbook — it says “someone’s position in society was based on his or her nature, or attitude.”
SAHFA also claims that Guru Nanak’s opposition to the caste system and his challenges to Brahmin authoritarianism have also been left out of the National Geographic World History
“California students deserve a balanced and fact-based history, not a partisan history,” stated SAHFA.
Samir Kalra, senior director of the Hindu American Foundation, was happy with the changes made in the textbooks. “Despite the false claims of SAHFA, our broad interfaith coalition that represents individuals from all communities including Dalits, never tried to erase any community, caste, or religion’s history, and believe that all groups should be represented fairly in textbooks,” he said, India West reported.
“In fact, we asked that the contributions of Hindus of all backgrounds, including the spiritual traditions of Dalit Hindus, be acknowledged in textbooks. Most of the changes that SAHFA submitted were hateful and violate California law and the textbook framework,” he added.
The Hindu groups acknowledged the help of several politicians for their help in the campaign, such as California state Assemblyman Ash Kalra, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi.
Gabbard wrote a letter to Michael Kirst, the president of the State Board of Education, and Tom Torlakson, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, on Oct. 31, saying that current California textbooks have “gross inaccuracies and stereotypical images, perpetuating biased images about Hinduism and Indian culture.” She said that the textbooks are based on outdated research and “the use of stereotypical images that portray India and Hindus as dirty, primitive and ‘spiritually poor’ is nothing short of egregious.” This was in violation of the State Education Code, which prohibits local school boards from adopting content that might unfairly portray people based on their religion, national origin, sexuality, or disabilities, among other factors, she added.