California Hindu Textbook Controversy
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What is the California Hindu Textbook Controversy All About?
I. Introduction
II. Academic Issues
III. Supporting Organizations
IV. Opponents of Hindu edits
V. Reports
VI. Press Coverage
:: Supporting Letters ::
VII. By Academics
VIII. By Political Representatives
IX. By Individuals & Organizations
X. Public Testimomies
XI. Miscellaneous
XII. Litigation
What is the California Hindu Textbook Controversy All About?

Numerous studies have demonstrated the preponderance of Hinduphobia at all academic levels in the United States. The sixth grade textbooks of the progressive state of California are no exception.

Every six years, California revises its history textbooks for grades VI, that cover all ancient civilizations and also have extensive sections and chapters on Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions (living or extinct). Islam is covered in seventh grade textbooks that cover the medieval period, and so are later developments in Christianity. The periodic adoption of textbooks is preceded by extensive public review and comment, allowing for various advocacy groups to revise and improve these textbooks and eliminate errors or biases. There are nine proposed textbooks for grade VI, and six for grade VII.

California comprises between 12-15% of the American market for school textbooks due to its large population. This market is estimated to be 200-300 million dollars. As a result, the textbooks adopted in this state have a profound impact on what is taught in all the other states of the United States.

Historical Inaccuracies and Other Flaws in Textbooks:
In the year 2005, two Hindu American groups namely the Vedic Foundation (VF) and The Hindu Education Foundadtion (HEF) examined the textbooks proposed for adoption in the current cycle, and found hundreds of errors of the following types:

  1. Factual errors (e.g., a textbook says that Hindi is written in the Arabic script).

  2. Insensitive remarks (e.g., a textbook gives the title ‘Where is the Beef’ to a section dealing with Hindu emphasis on vegetarianism). Kali and Durga are referred to as ‘blood-thirsty’ goddesses in one textbook.

  3. Obsessive negative focus (e.g, many textbooks have entire pages with completely negative remarks on Hinduism, without a single positive statement).

  4. Disparity: The textbooks dwell on the positives for other religions, but Hinduism is singled out for a negative treatment (e.g, on issues of social and gender inequality). Hindu scriptures are referred to as ‘poems’, ‘stories’, and ‘myths’, whereas the Abrahamic scriptures are called Holy Books. The latter are dealt with from an insider’s perspectives, whereas Hinduism is treated often from a hostile outsider’s perspective.

  5. Promotion of colonial stereotypes: Many textbooks repeat colonial equation of Hinduism with caste, cow, curry, sati. The racist Aryan invasion theory is still used to explain the genesis of Hinduism in these textbooks.

  6. Distortion and caricaturing of Hinduism: For example, the subtle doctrine of karma is stated in the following irreverent terms- “According to this theory, if you do bad deeds, you may be born as an insect or as a pig”. Yoga is merely described as a set of physical and breathing exercises. Ayurveda is not explained adequately in most textbooks.

  7. Reductionism: The contributions of tribals, women and underprivileged sections of the Indian society to Hinduism are completely ignored. Hindu tradition is viewed solely as a Sanskritic tradition (and the role of other languages and cultures such as Tamil is ignored), and there is an obsessive focus on scriptures as in the treatment of Abrahamic faiths.

  8. Adverse Reflection: Buddhism is treated as an advance over Hinduism, whereas Christianity is never treated as an advance over Judaism.

Impact of Defects in Textbooks:
In short, these textbooks are not just historically inaccurate, they are discriminatory. They would hinder the development of self-esteem in 11 year old children of Indic origin in California classrooms, and expose them to potential embarrassment at the hands of their classmates. These textbooks may also be responsible partially for perpetuation of prejudices against Hindu Americans. Finally, these textbooks do not meet the State of California’s own guidelines on how religion should be treated in sixth grade textbooks for impressionable 11 year old children. Hundreds of Hindu American children and parents, and also academics have testified in public hearings the harmful impact of these textbooks on our community.

The edits and corrections proposed by the two Hindu American organizations had been accepted to the extent of 90%, when suddenly a group of Hinduphobic academics (many with a track record of making racist remarks) approached the Board to rescind its decision. The Board panicked, and this lead to a chain of events culminating in a final decision that does injustice to Hindus in retaining several of the above-mentioned errors.

Opponents of Hindu Group proposed Corrections:
In promoting erroneous descriptions of Hinduism in these textbooks, the Hinduphobic academics (e.g, Michael Witzel) who approached the Board initially have been joined by a motley group of Indian-American Communists/Leftists (e.g., FOSA, ‘Coalition against Communalism’ or academics such as Vinay Lal), Christian evangelical organizations such as Dalit Solidarity Forum (often pretending to represent ‘Dalit’ interests), Islamists, Sikh groups with an antipathy towards Hindus, and academics with a track record of promoting stereotypes against Hindu. Interestingly, these groups, often claiming to be ‘South Asian peace groups’, are completely silent about the whitewashing of other South Asian religions (Islam, Buddhism, Christianity) in these textbooks. The constant refrain in the opposition of these groups against Hindu American group has been along the following lines –

  1. Defamation and Demonization of Hinduism, Hindus, Hindu Americans, including labelling the thousands of Hindu American parents supporting these corrections as dangerous ‘Hindu fundamentalists’ linked to a thousand murders in the Indian state of Gujarat!

  2. Constant back-projection of current political and social fault-lines in India to textbook narratives dealing with Hinduism and India before 600 AD.

  3. Mobilization of individuals and organizations with a prior history of promoting hate and terrorism, or writing apologetically about dangerous groups such as the Taliban.

  4. Constant misrepresentation of the position of the two Hindu American groups in media, and characterization of the ‘Hindu other’ as ‘incompetent’ in these matters.

  5. Pretense of being ‘mainstream’ organizations (when in reality they are fringe groups with more organizations than members) comprised of Hindus (although these people actually hate Hinduism).

  6. Singling out of Hinduism for their attacks, ignoring what the textbooks hide about other religions.

In short, the same group of people who have never ever done anything significant to improve the treatment of India or Hinduism are now playing a solely destructive role in hurting maiden efforts in these directions. It is hardly surprising therefore, that many of them have actively associated themselves with activities and groups that harm the well-being and interests of Indians in general, and Hindus in particular.

Flawed Process Adopted by the California Board of Education:
It should be noted that none of the textbooks had any Hindu (or expert on ancient Hinduism ancient India) as their author or as member of their content advisory panel. The natural outcome of all this is that the textbooks are riddled with errors of fact, insensitive remarks, biased coverage (often excessively negative) of issues related to Hinduism and a marked disparity in how Hinduism is depicted vis-à-vis other religions (as detailed in the previous section). And yet, after November 8, 2005, the State Board of Education has demonstrated a discriminatory attitude in dealing with the Hindu advocacy groups, as summarized in the table below (adapted from an article by Rajiv Malhotra):

Public Process How the California process has worked
Islam Judaism Christianity Hinduism
Organized community advocacy groups are lobbying for change? Yes Yes Yes Yes
Have some academics protested against the community’s activism? No No No Yes
Did Education Board bring hostile academics as advisors? No No No Yes
Are advocates of the religion being branded as “chauvinists”, “fundamentalists”, “nationalists”, etc.? No No No Yes
Repeated scrutiny of edits proposed by religious advocacy groups? No No No Yes
Have CDE/SBE predominantly adopted secretive measures to make their final recommendations? No No No Yes
CDE/SBE make conflicting recommendations on multiple edits related to similar topics? No No No Yes
Overseas politics injected by opponents into textbook adoption process to derail the efforts of advocacy groups? No No No Yes

Flawed Process Leads to Flawed Results:
  • There are reasonable grounds to believe that the SBE/CDE were party to hijacking of the Hindu-edits review process by the same people who accused the Hindu advocacy groups of dangerous links.

  • There are reasonable grounds to suspect that whereas the CDE/SBE were not communicative with Hindu parents and Hindu advocacy groups, they kept in communication with hostile academics and hostile political groups that are opposing the Hindu edits (this became apparent when members of these groups praised Dr Ruth Green and Dr Tom Adams for their accessibility and help, something which was apparently denied to Hindu parents and Hindu advocacy groups time and again in the last three months).

  • There are reasonable grounds to believe that the Board actively favored the group lead by Dr Michael Witzel over the Hindu American advocacy groups by overturning the results of public meetings (December 1-2, 2005) and private meetings (06 January 2006) where the results went in favor of Hindu advocacy groups and against Dr Michael Witzel.

  • The Board called several private and secretive meetings to arrive at the final recommendations for Hinduism related edits, which is in violation of the California open meeting state law.

  • The final adopted document is full of errors which are self-evident, and reflects the incompetence of the authorities who prepared it. There are at least 15 pairs of mutually contradictory recommendations made by the State Board that impact 13-20% of all Hindu group proposed corrections.

Law Suits by Hindu American Organizations:
Frustrated in their efforts to obtain parity with other American groups, two Hindu American organizations namely the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), and California Parents for Equalization in Educational Materials (CAPEEM) have filed civil rights cases in the CA State and US Federal courts respectively to challenge this official discrimination against Hindus by the California State Board of Education.

This website is intended to keep readers informed about this fight against prejudice and discrimination directed against Hindus, and urges them to contribute financially in these litigation efforts.