The Hindu American Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation declared victory Nov. 9 as the California Board of Education upheld several changes to the state’s elementary school textbooks proposed by the organization.
The changes were approved in September by the state’s Instructional Quality Commission, which looked at drafts of new elementary school textbooks from several publishers.
But an opposing group of Indian Americans – known as the South Asian Histories For All Coalition – stated that the changes upheld by the CBE virtually erased the history of Dalits, Sikhs, and other Indian minorities.
SAHFA noted that several changes recommended in the official guidelines were ignored in the final texts. Most prominently, Dalits – who were described by name in the official guidelines – were not named in the National Geographic World History Ancient Civilizations textbook, which states simply: “At the bottom were slaves, laborers, and artisans. Many centuries later, another group developed that was considered even lower.”
The official guidelines also used the word caste, stating, “A person belonged to a particular…[caste]…primarily by birth.” But the final version of the California Studies Weekly – Social Studies textbook states: “Someone’s position in society was based on his or her nature, or attitude.”
Guru Nanak’s opposition to the caste system and his challenges to Brahmin authoritarianism are also left out of the National Geographic World History Ancient Civilizations textbook, noted SAHFA.
And references to the “Indus Valley Civilization” will now be changed to the “Indus Sarasvati civilization.” The textbooks will also state that women in India have historically held the same rights as men.
“California students deserve a balanced and fact-based history, not a partisan history,” stated SAHFA.
HAF cheered the CBE’s decision, and thanked California state Assemblyman Ash Kalra, the sole Indian American in the California State Legislature, for spearheading the campaign.
HAF noted that it had the support of several politicians, including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who wrote a letter Oct. 31 to State Board of Education president Michael Kirst and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, stating that current California textbooks contain “gross inaccuracies and stereotypical images, perpetuating biased images about Hinduism and Indian culture.”
The textbooks, noted Gabbard, rely on outdated research. Furthermore, “the use of stereotypical images that portray India and Hindus as dirty, primitive and ‘spiritually poor’ are nothing short of egregious, said the congresswoman, noting that this was in violation of the State Education Code, which prohibits local school boards from adopting content which might unfairly portray people based on their religion, national origin, sexuality, or disabilities, among other factors.
Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom also wrote to the Instructional Quality Commission asking its members to ensure that Hindus and Indian Americans were accurately depicted in the state’s textbooks.
HAF has argued that inaccurate portrayals of Hindus and Indian culture in elementary school books has led to bullying of Indian American students. Several young Indian Americans testified before the IQC in September to state that they had been bullied by their peers.