California textbook controversy over Hindu history

California textbook controversy over Hindu history

A controversy in the US state of California concerning the portrayal of Hinduism in history textbooks began in 2005. Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu groups complained that their religions were in part incorrectly or negatively portrayed.

The Texas based Vedic Foundation (VF) and the American Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) complained to California's Curriculum Commission, saying the coverage in sixth grade history textbooks of Indian history and Hinduism was biased against Hinduism, and demanding that the portrayal be revised according to the views of Hinduism and Indian history allegedly shared by most Hindus and Indians.Fact|date=February 2007


Christian, Jewish, Islamic and the two Hindu groups submitted their edits in autumn 2005. After intensive scholarly discussions, over 500 changes proposed by Jewish and Christian groups and 100 changes proposed by Muslims were accepted by the California Department of Education (CDE) and the State Board of Education (SBE); these scholarly discussions extended to Jan. 6, 2006. The 170 edits proposed by Hindus were largely accepted, though 58 of them met with opposition.Witzel, Michael. [ Letter to California Board of Education] (November 8, 2005).] [ California Curriculum Commission Accepts Most Hindu Changes to Sixth Grade Textbooks] Hindu Press International]

The Californian "Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content" contain the guiding principles for the textbooks. [Developed by the Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division California Department of Education Adopted by the California State Board of Education Published by the California Department of Education (2001)] :They say: "The standards will be achieved by depicting, when appropriate, the diversity of religious beliefs held in the United States and California, as well as in other societies, without displaying bias toward or prejudice against any of those beliefs or religious beliefs in general.""Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content" Developed by the Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division California Department of Education Adopted by the California State Board of Education Published by the California Department of Education (2001)]

:They also say: "No religious belief or practice may be held up to ridicule and no religious group may be portrayed as inferior.", and "Any explanation or description of a religious belief or practice should be presented in a manner that does not encourage or discourage belief or indoctrinate the student in any particular religious belief."

Opposition to the edits of the two Hindu foundations

Late in the process, Michael E. J. Witzel, a Harvard Sanskrit professor "unexpectedly intervened". [ New Battleground In Textbook Wars: Religion in History] The Wall Street Journal] Witzel, along with his colleague Steve Farmer, was informed about the edits proposed by VF and HEF by a person claiming to be a graduate student of Indian origin at a California university. Witzel wrote a letter to the California Board of Education, protesting against the changes. He suggested that the matter be discussed publicly, and that professional advice be taken by the Board. The letter was supported by the signatures of 47 academics in the field of Asian Studies from all over the world.

Dan Golden of the Wall Street Journal described the developments as follows:

:"The game wasn't over. Other Hindu groups — including members of the 'untouchables' caste — entered the fray on Mr. Witzel's behalf. The Dalit Freedom Network, an advocacy group for untouchables, wrote to the education board that the proposed Vedic and Hindu Education Foundation changes reflected "a view of Indian history that softens...the violent truth of caste-based discrimination in India.... Do not allow politically-minded revisionists to change Indian history."

The Dalit Freedom Network is part of a Colorado based Christian missionary organization run by Dr. Joseph D'Souza, leader of the "All India Christian Council".

He later sent a letter to the Board of Education on behalf of the Dalit Freedom Network. It was co-signed by Udit Raj and Kancha Ilaiah, [ Opening the safety valve] WORLD Magazine] both prominent Indian critics of Hinduism. [ Dalits convert to Islam, Buddhism and Christianity] The Milli Gazette] [ The Rediff Interview/Dr Kancha Ilaiah] Rediff] Further letters of support came from Christian missionary organizations like
National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, the Dalit Shakti Kendra, and the Dalit Solidarity Forum in the USA. [ Letters supporting FOSA/CAC's position on the California textbook controversy] Friends of South Asia] Dalit groups that testified before the SBE in January and February 2006, and are on public record in California, include those with Buddhist Ambedkarite backgrounds, such as the Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace, Indian Buddhist Association of America, New Republic India, as well as Californian Dalit Sikh temples such as the Guru Ravi Dass Gurdwara. [] Friends of South Asia] .

The edits proposed by the VF and HEF were also opposed by a group of organizations that included the Friends of South Asia (FOSA), the Coalition against Communalism (CAC), the Federation of Tamil Sangams in North America, [ Letter to California State Board] Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America] Non Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India, the Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment, and the Indian American Public Education Advisory Council (IPAC).

Forty-seven professional South Asian scholars from universities all over the world and some major American Departments of South Asian Studies [ South Asia Area Center Title VI Report on California Textbooks] Unknown] as well as some 150 Indian American professors -signed the original letter of opposition to the proposals of the two Foundations. Seventeen members of the California Legislature wrote a letter of support for the scholars. [ These documents have been made available on the website of the South Asia Faculty Network. [] ]

Soon after Witzel's intervention, Viji Sundaram, a reporter for India-West, wrote that the scholarly consensus behind Prof. Witzel's petition was likely to have influenced the Board of Education's decision to review the changes suggested by the Hindu groups. [ [ Textbooks And Hinduism - Why Accuracy Matters - NAM ] ] Another reporter, Rachel McMurdie of the Milpitas Post, pointed out the parentage and close links between the VF and HEF and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as well as the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the American branch of the Indian organization RSS. [ [,0008.htm] Dead link|date=May 2008] [ [] Dead link|date=May 2008]

The State Board of Education decision

After extensive further discussion of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Hindu edits by specialized scholars on Jan. 6, and after several public SBE meetings, a decision was reached on 27 February 2006. After listening to 3 hours of public comment and after receiving 1500 pages of written comment, a five member panel of the Board adopted a recommendation of accepting the actions on the edits proposed by the staff of the California Department of Education (CDE). [ [ History-Social Science Edits and Corrections - Current & Past Agendas (CA State Board of Education) ] ] The subcommittee approved some 70 changes but it rejected proposed revisions from VF and HEF on monotheism, women's rights, the caste system and migration theories. [ [ Committee sends textbook edits to state board - Inside Bay Area ] ]

On 8 March 2006, the full Board agreed with the February 27 decision, voting (9 to zero, 2 abstentions) to reaffirm only the changes approved on February 27, and to overturn the rest of the changes suggested by the HEF and VF, with two exceptions: the Aryan Migration Theory would be mentioned as disputed by scholars, and the Vedas would be referred to as sacred texts, rather than songs or poems. Most parties expressed qualified satisfaction with the decision; however, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), that had not participated in the revisions, threatened the board with a lawsuit. [ [ Indiawest Online ] ] [] [] []

Ruth Green, past president of the SBE, said that the ruling "represents our best efforts. Many ideological fault lines have played out here. These beliefs are deeply held." [ SACRAMENTO / Hindu groups lose fight to change textbooks / But decision by state Board of Education is supported by some Hindu Americans ] ]

A PR firm hired by the VF and the HEF stated that, "What is at stake here is the embarrassment and humiliation that these Hindu children (in America) continue to face because of the way textbooks portray their faith and culture." Janeshwari Devi of VF said that "The two foundations submitted about 500 proposed changes, and more than 80 percent were not approved."

Examples of changes

The full text of changes proposed by the CDE after deliberations extending to January and February 2006, and subsequently adopted by SBE on March 8, 2006 is available at []

Friends of South Asia, an activist group opposed the HEF and the VF, and took issue with several of the earlier edits, including the removal of sentences from the textbooks that claimed that men had more rights than women, and the editing of other sentences dealing with the caste system. [ [ Details of Proposed Textbook Edits: Controversial Changes to California History Textbooks ] ] The Hindu Education Foundation responded by pointing out that several of the edits relating to untouchability — though not all of the ones FOSA objected to — were approved by the Witzel group. [] FOSA also pointed out that the HEF and VF did not object to several sections referring to untouchability in all the textbooks. [“California Vistas, Ancient Civilizations”, by Macmillan/McGraw Hill – , “Ancient Civilizations” by Harcourt School Publishers, “Ancient Civilizations” by Holt, “Ancient Civilizations” by McGraw Hill, Glencoe., “History Alive, the Ancient World” by Teachers’ Curriculum Institute, Houghton Mifflin and McDougel Littell, “The Ancient South Asian World” by Oxford University Press- [] .]


HAF case

On March 10, 2006, the HAF declared it would sue. [ [ Hindu group intends to sue state over textbook revisions | Oakland Tribune | Find Articles at ] ] It did so at Sacramento on March 16.

The judge denied HAF's motions for a temporary restraining order and for a preliminary injunction to stop the printing and distribution of several textbooks. [ [ Hindu group's motion to block texts denied | Oakland Tribune | Find Articles at ] ] The court ultimately ruled in favour of retaining the textbooks as approved by SBE in March 2006, providing extensive discussion and justification of the most contended issues (Women's rights, Dalits, Aryan invasion, Hinduism as monotheistic religion), [] while also noting that the approval process adopted by the board had not sufficiently been updated to recent changes in California laws. [ [ US text row resolved by Indian-India-The Times of India ] ]


The California Parents for Equalization of Educational Materials (CAPEEM), a group founded specifically for the Californian schoolbook case after SBE's March 8 decision, filed a separate lawsuit in a Federal Court in Sacramento on March 14.

The Counsel for the officials of the State Board of Education (SBE) and the California Department of Education (CDE) rejected the validity of CAPEEM's claims, and while the Court rejected a case against SBE and CDE due to existing legal rules, Judge Frank C. Damrell of the US District Court in the Eastern District Court of California allowed, on August 11/September 28, 2006, a reformulated case to go ahead against some individual members of SBE and CDE. [ [ Press Room ] ]

The complaint was filed by Venkat Balasubramani, an attorney who has worked in the past with public interest groups, including ACLU, on civil rights matters. [ [ Multicultural Resources ] ]

As of June 2007, the case still is in the "Discovery" phase, and CAPEEM announced it will request documents from the SBE and CDE, and subpoena various interested parties to strengthen its case. CAPEEM scored a major victory on March 25th 2008, when Judge Frank C. Damrell, Jr. of the United States District Court of the Eastern District of California rejected the defendants' motion to dismiss CAPEEM's lawsuit to correct alleged inaccuracies in sixth grade history textbooks. [ [ Legal Documents] ]

ee also

*Anti-bias curriculum
*Hinduism and creationism
*NCERT controversy
*Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District
*Haqeeqat (book)


External links

* [ Standards for evaluating instructional materials for social content (California Department of Education; for Religion : Code 60044)]
* [ The changes approved by the Ad Hoc committee Sept.28-Oct. 30]
* [ Review of criticism of Hindu edits by CRP (Dr.s Witzel, Heitzman, Wolpert), Nov. 2005] By Hindu Education Foundation
* [ List of Proposed Edits To California 6th Grade Ancient History Texts with Recommendations of the CRP (Dr.s Witzel, Heitzman, Wolpert)]
* [ California textbook controversy] Links to some articles representing both sides of the debate, by Pluralism Project, Harvard Univ.

Media coverage in the United States

* [ Scholars, faithful debate textbooks' portrayal of Hinduism. State to hear opinions on proposed changes] by Lisa M. Krieger, Feb. 18,2006
* [ Textbook edits upset area Hindus. Local group threatens lawsuit against state if education board approves proposed changes] by Jonathan Jones, Feb. 26, 2006
* [ Groups seeking textbook revisions: Lessons on life in ancient India stir education hearing] by Charles Burress
* [ Board of Education rejects controversial edits of textbooks. Hindu groups push for changes to representation of Indian history] by Sawsan Morrar
* [ Textbooks and Hinduism -- Why Accuracy Matters] By Viji Sundaram, New America Media

Media coverage in India

* [ Interview with HAF counsel Suhag A Shukla]
* [ Endemic discrimination against Hindus] Rajeev Srinivasan
* [ Diaspora depressed over deception] "Organiser"
* [ Yes, 'secular' US seems kinder to Hindus than ‘secular’ India] by S. Gurumurthy. "Newindpress"
*Vishal Agarwal, "Misrepresentation of Ancient India in American School Textbooks", History Today, Journal of the Indian History and Culture Society, Vol 7 (2006-2007); pp. 72-89.

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