WASHINGTON — A California commission mandated with recommendations and revisions of school textbooks has rejected demands of replacing India with South Asia for pre-1947 references, which had become a major bone of contention from various academic groups in the U.S.
The California Department of Education's Instructional Quality Commission, at its hearing on May 19 — which was marked by the presence of a large number of academicians, teachers and students from both sides — decided not to replace mentions of India with South Asia in the new framework for History Social Science textbooks in California.
During its meeting, the commission 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 May 19, and will be submitted to the State Board of Education to be approved later this year. In July, a final decision will be reached, and a final draft of the framework will be created.
Over a hundred Indian American parents and children testified at the public hearing at the CDE, opposing the proposal, and seeking restoration of the word 'India.'
Earlier this year, the Commission had proposed to replace instances of 'India' by 'South Asia' in its school textbooks at the behest of the South Asia Faculty Group, led by top academicians like professors Kamala Visweswaran of the University of California at San Diego, and Lawrence Cohen and Robert Goldman of the 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.”
"Hinduism should be represented in California K-12 textbooks in a manner comparable to other religions fairly, accurately and equitably," said McGraw.
"This debate concerns a teaching document for K-12 teachers. It should not create unnecessary obstacles for a more constructive understanding of the Indian subcontinent and the world's third largest religion," McGraw said.
"In this regard, ironically, the South Asia Faculty Group's attempt to nuance Indian history caused the opposite effect. Robust academic debate about the politics of India are welcome, but that debate is not appropriately addressed in a K-12 textbook framework narrative in California. Luckily, some of today's decisions reflect that thinking," McGraw said in a statement. Hindu Americans groups have welcomed the decision.
"Coming from an underprivileged community myself, I am really proud that our collective efforts were able to bring the contributions of Sage Vyasa and Sage Valmiki back into the framework," said Sandeep Dedage, coordinator for the Hindu Education Foundation USA.
An India-West staff reporter adds: In a press release issued by the Hindu American Foundation, Samir Kalra, senior director of the group, said, “For years, the American perception of Hinduism and India has been overly simplistic and inaccurate, in part due to the content of California textbooks,” adding, “This CDE textbook revision process has been a protracted effort to correct these inaccuracies. While we have voiced concerns about irregularities in the process, we also deeply appreciate the way this issue has engaged the Hindu American community in the civic process. There are nearly a million Indian and Hindu Americans who call California home, so it’s important for them to see their cultural and religious heritage represented with accuracy and parity.”
According to the HAF release, testimony was emotionally charged at times, with Hindu students testifying about feeling like their identities and heritage were under attack; Dalits shared the pain of being victims of caste-based discrimination.
"We have nothing but the utmost sympathy and respect for the victims of caste discrimination who spoke about their experiences at the hearing,” said Murali Balaji, HAF’s director of education. “The Foundation respects the right for Dalits to self-define.”