By: Vishal Agarwal
January 31, 2006
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1. Locus Standi of HEF and VF:
It is a well known fact that India and Hinduism are
given a less than fair treatment in American school textbooks. Articles
have been published recently showing how
unfair the treatment of Hinduism is vis-a-vis other religions,
prejudiced the coverage of ancient India is in these textbooks.
Teenage school students of Hindu American community have also written
articles on how they have felt belittled by the negative and
hostile coverage of their heritage in school classrooms.
A few months ago, a Hindu organization named Vedic
Foundation (VF) initiated an online petition objecting to the derogatory
depiction of Hinduism in proposed sixth grade school textbooks for the
state of California. Another organization named Hindu Education Foundation
(HEF) supported this petition, and almost 6000 signatures were collected
In addition, 1000 additional signatures were collected
in person from Hindu parents in California.
Numerous other parents such as myself, who are not
members of either organization support them on this particular issue
though we may not have signed any petitions or letters for them.
- More than three dozen Hindu and Jain organizations (supported by
people originally from India, Nepal, Carribbean as well as from the
United States itself), Educational societies (such as
more than 100 academics have given supporting letters to HEF and VF. The
latter list includes 39 prominent archaeologists, and 50+ academics
specializing in history, religious studies and other allied fields.
- Professionals from fields such as Psychiatry have appeared at the
California Department of Education on their (HEF and VF) behalf
testifying why these corrections are necessary for the welfare of
- HEF has also worked with Schools in the Bay Area, with school
teachers, school superintendents and with hundreds of students. Many
parents, teachers and others came to testify on their behalf at the
public hearings of the Board at Sacramento.
- Major Indian American organizations such as National Federation of
Indian Associations, Federation of Indo-Americans, Indo-Americans of the
Bay Area, Indo-American Friendship Council, etc. have provided written
support to the efforts of HEF and VF to my knowledge.
- Hundreds of Hindu Americans (500 in the second half of November 2005
alone) sent faxes to the State Board of Education (SBE) and California
Department of Education (CDE) supporting the efforts of VF/HEF and
opposing intrusion of some Hindu-hating academics in this matter.
The California Department of Education and State Board
of Education have well laid out procedures for inviting and considering
public comment on the content of proposed textbooks. HEF followed this
duly laid out process along with Vedic Foundation over a period of several
Since no other organization came forward to rectify the
depiction of Hinduism and Ancient India, HEF/VF submitted some edits to
the Board pertaining to Hinduism and Ancient India. The Board accepted
them, and got them reviewed by bona fide academic scholars per their
Of course, no organization, including HEF can represent
all Hindus. Just as no organization can represent all Muslims or
Christians or Jews. VF and HEF have also not made the claim of
representing all Hindus. They are just two organizations of Hindus.
But all the above support for their work establishes
sufficiently the locus standi of HEF and VF in this entire matter relating
to the issue of Hinduism and Ancient India in the proposed school
2. What are Hindu groups trying to achieve through
their proposed edits?
Hindu groups want sixth grade children to get a fair
and accurate portrayal ancient Indian history and of Hinduism, that also
conforms to CA State Law, Education Code 60044(a) and Subsection (b)], and
the “Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content
(2000 Edition) which clearly state the following guidelines for textbooks:
“1. Adverse Reflection. No religious belief or
practice may be held up to ridicule and no religious group may be
portrayed as inferior.”
2. Indoctrination. Any explanation or description of
a religious belief or practice should be present in a manner that does not
encourage or discourage belief or indoctrinate the student in any
particular religious belief.”
It is very clear that these standards are violated very
often when Hinduism is discussed by most of the textbooks.
3. How are CA Education Code 60044 a&b violated by
- Buddhism is typically represented as an advance or an improvement
over Hinduism even though the California State education policy
guidelines clearly imply that one tradition cannot be privileged over
another. These same textbooks do not present Islam as an improvement
over Christianity, nor do they describe Christianity as an advance over
- There is an incessant and even anachronistic dwelling on the
negatives of Hinduism, which seems to have been singled out as a
religion for unfair treatment, when one reads the contrasting glowing
narratives about Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) in
these and corresponding texts from other grades.
- In contrast to other faiths, it appears that only Hinduism oppressed
women, and that there is nothing good in Hinduism relating to women.
Even if negative remarks are made about treatment of women in other
faiths, they are promptly hedged with positive statements. In the case
of Hinduism however, any
positive achievements of women are ignored.
- The oppression of lower castes is continuously
discussed, whereas corresponding treatment of non-believers
(or even believers with a different skin color) in traditional Christian
and Islamic societies is left out. For instance, it is well known that
Arab and Persian Islamic societies ill-treated Muslim slaves of African
immense contributions of low-caste Hindus to Hinduism is
- Hindu sacred narratives are referred to as ‘stories’, ‘songs’ or
‘myths’, whereas Biblical and Koranic narratives are presented as
historical facts. Hindu holy books are referred to as ‘stories’ whereas
Koran and Bible are called ‘scriptures’.
- Most textbooks also describe the subtle Karma and rebirth related
principles of Indic faiths in a minimal and essentially caricaturist
manner (“according to this theory, if you do bad deeds, you will be
reborn as an insect or a pig”).
- Whereas the Abrahamic religions are predominantly described from an
‘insider’s’ (emic) perspective, Hinduism is described from an outsider’s
(etic) perspective. The misuse of AIT and its euphemistic versions to
discuss the origins of Hinduism is a case in the point.
- A typical lacuna in most textbooks is inadequate discussion of the
tenets of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism (whereas considerable space is
given to the theology of Abrahamic faiths). In the discussion of
Hinduism, most texts leave out the system of purusharthas (goals
of human life), ashramas (stages of human life, or modes of
living), liberating yogas (Bhaktiyoga, Karmayoga, Jnanayoga,
Rajayoga) and other schools of Hindu philosophy.
Some of these textbooks, such as the one by Glencoe/McGrawHill
actually indulge in racist and hate-speech against Hindus, in my opinion.
This textbook for instance has an entire page on the role and status of
women in Hindu tradition, in which not one of the 20 odd sentences says
anything neutral or positive.
Everything is negative. It is not that these instances
were not high-lighted to the SBE/CDE officials by Hindus. However, all
attempts have met with blank stares.
4. What criteria did the Hindu groups adopt when
they proposed these edits?
In addition to Education Code 60044(a) and Subsection
(b), quoted above, the Hindu groups used the following criteria and
considerations while preparing our list of corrections:
- The textbooks are meant for impressionable school children in the
sixth grade. These students are not graduate students who need to or who
could assimilate nuanced and diverse viewpoints on each matter.
- The treatment of Hinduism and ancient India in these textbooks is
introductory. Therefore, it is essential that just as for other
religions, these textbooks should focus on more essential, doctrinal
aspects of Hinduism, rather than dwelling on clichés about women and
Dalits. The narratives for these sixth grade students should be marked
by a positive attitude and sympathy for the tradition being studied.
Hinduism seems to have been singled out for a negative and unsympathetic
treatment although it is probably the last time most students will ever
learn about this religion.
- Hinduism is not a history centric faith like Abrahamic faiths.
Therefore it is all the more important to include emic (“insider’s”)
viewpoints in its discussion rather than focus on etic or outsider
historian perspectives. However, this is not seen to be the case, and
questionable historical theories such as the
Aryan invasion theory and its variants have been used to
explain the very genesis and the very nature of Hinduism
- The textbooks in question end their narrative around 550 AD for
ancient India. This means that practices such as Sati and untouchability
which were marginal before 550 AD should not be mentioned in what is
clearly a brief description of Hinduism in these textbooks.
- Further, Hinduism is not derived just from the Vedas. Traditions of
Hindu tribals and other communities that were not necessarily Vedic
fused with the Vedic traditions to give rise to Hinduism. To a great
extent, these former traditions are found in Mahabharata, Puranas,
Ramayana and in non-scripture based religious practices all over the
Indian subcontinent. By focusing obsessively on the disabilities of
‘low-caste’ Hindus, the textbooks are in reality denying the role of
these communities in the genesis of Hinduism.
- The audience of these textbooks is predominantly non-Hindu, and it
may be necessary to put across
Hindu doctrines to these students in using terms that are
used in Abrahamic faiths. For instance, the sixth grade student in
California is very likely to confuse the word ‘Brahmin’ (Hindu priest)
with ‘Brahman’ (Supreme Being), and therefore words such as ‘Supreme
Being’ or even God may have to be used.
- There are specific problems that Hindu students, as members of a
marginal religion (in the American society) have to face in a classroom
filled with students following one or other Judeo-Christian-Islamic (=Abrahamic)
traditions. Hindu students are often ridiculed for their beliefs, and
the shoddy treatment of Hinduism (and ancient India in general) in these
textbooks is one of the biggest cause of this.
Many edits of VF-HEF were motivated by these
considerations, after they interacted with hundreds of parents and
professionals (including a psychologist who testified before the Board on
the negative effect the current textbooks could have on Hindu children).
5. What were the roadblocks faced by Hindu groups in
proposing their corrections/edits?
- The textbooks are written very shoddily in general, and the edit
procedures of SBE do not allow re-writing the text. They merely permit
changing a word here and there, or deletion of a few sentences. Addition
of sentences is normally not permitted. Rewriting is also not permitted
It is within these constraints that HEF and VF had to write their edits.
To the reader many of these edits may appear rather trivial, but the
truth is that this is all they could expect to change in the current
textbooks within the constraints of SBE editing rules. A long term
solution would be to re-write these textbooks in a much more improved
manner, but VF-HEF did not have the luxury of doing this in the current
textbook adoption cycle.
- Secondly, members of the Board were not aware about Ancient India
and Hinduism to the same extent that they are aware with other
religions. They initially did not understand why Hindus could object to
Judeo-Christian terms such as ‘Salvation’ in referring to Moksa.
- Representatives of other religions have been working with the SBE/CDE
for decades and have succeeded in ensuring a correct portrayal of their
traditions over several textbook review cycles. In our case, this was
the first time a Hindu organization participated in the process.
- Certain communities such as Muslims have established relationships
with some of the publishers of the textbooks themselves. This enables
them to prevent inaccurate and insensitive material entering into the
textbooks even before they reach the SBE/CDE for consideration. Hindus
do not have this access to publishers. Of course, this has often led to
grotesque consequences, such as the
Houghton-Mifflin textbook actually doing Islamist propaganda!
- In recent months, CDE/SBE have actually employed Hindu-hating
scholars in suggesting which of our edits are good or bad, despite
several appeals to the Board against doing so by hundreds of Hindus.
Unfortunately, these well-meaning efforts of Hindu
organizations have met with considerable opposition from groups and
individuals who have not opposed any of the 500 edits of the Jewish
community, 97 edits of the Islamic community and numerous other edits
pertaining to other religions and cultures.
Why have some people opposed the modest edits of Hindu
groups to shoddily written textbooks? The response to this question
involves speculation of course, but we may list the following causes–
- Ignorance: Many critics are
not aware of all aspects of the controversy. Some academics
who wrote against Hindus had not even then seen the proposed edits or
even the textbooks. They merely acted on the basis of a defamatory and
speculative anonymous letter. Several people believe, out of the
goodness of their own hearts that Hinduism and India are already
described nicely in the textbooks. This is really not the case.
- Prejudice: Certain vested interests do not want Hinduism to
be projected with the same empathy and sympathy as their own traditions.
Certain groups and individuals supposedly bear an active
hostility towards Hindus and this is becoming more and more
evident these days in protests against our efforts.
- Politics: Certain people want to import
politics from the Indian subcontinent and view this issue
from their own politicized perspectives. A Leftist political academic
has alleged that Hindus want to portray a rosy picture about India so
that India can attract more foreign investment!
- Arrogance: Some academics cannot countenance the fact that
Hindus themselves can have a say in how their own traditions are
academic who initiated a letter against us has gone on record
to say that Hindus in the United States are ‘lost and abandoned’!
These people have singled out Hindus primarily to vent
their opposition and hatred towards us in my opinion. I think that it is
unfortunate that people who have never done anything in the past to ensure
a correct, accurate and sympathetic portrayal of our heritage are now
trying to play a destructive role when some Hindu organizations are
actually trying to remedy the situation.
In the next few parts of this article, I will analyze
the hateful and political nature of this opposition to edits proposed by
Hindu groups to what are clearly biased, prejudiced and inaccurate
6. Meanwhile, what should concerned people do?
People should FAX letters stating the following:
- The endorse changes proposed by HEF and VF to correct the prejudiced
statements and errors in proposed textbooks.
- They object to the discriminatory treatment of Hindus by the State
Board of California in addressing community concerns.
- They are alarmed by the fact that these textbooks project Hinduism
as an inferior religion compared to Christianity, Islam, Judaism and
Buddhism. They are appalled by the fact that these textbooks focus
obsessively on negatives of Hinduism and whitewash the record of other
- They are concerned that the textbooks contain numerous errors of
- SBE should reject unwarranted intrusions from academics such as
Michael Witzel who are not sympathetic to our traditions. Instead,
sympathetic scholars and practitioners of Hinduism should be consulted.
- They are concerned that these textbooks will have a negative impact
on the minds of Hindu American students who read them.
All concerned people should write to the
Board, whether Hindu or non-Hindu, Indian or non-Indian, CA resident or
non-resident. The letters should be faxed (emails are not
advisable) to the following people:
Ms. Glee Johnson, President of the California
State Board of Education
Fax: 916-319-0176 or 916-319-0175 (no email available)
Dr. Ruth Green, Immediate Past President of the
California State Board of Education
Fax: 916-319-0176 (no email available)
Mr. Alan Bersin, California Secretary of
Education addressed to his Secretary (with a request to forward) at
firstname.lastname@example.org , fax 916-323-3753
Part II: The hateful Michael Witzel petition of
Part III: Yankee Comrades- Their Conspiracy
Theories and Pseudo-Academics
Part IV: Hating Hindus in a ‘scholarly’ way
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