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Californian Hindu textbook controversy


Californian Hindu textbook controversy

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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


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 around 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. Some 170 edits proposed by two Hindu foundations were initially accepted, supported by the reviewer, appointed by the California's Board of Education, Dr. Shiva Bajpai, Professor Emeritus of History, California State University Northridge. However, 58 of them met with opposition, including major points such as the alleged equal position of women (who merely had 'other rights than men'), the denial of the religious origin and backing of the class (caste) system ever since the earliest Indian text (Rigveda 10.90), alleged monotheism ('God -his name is Bhagwan'), and the denial of the so-called 'Aryan Invasion'.[2][3]

The Californian Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content contain the guiding principles for the textbooks.[4]

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."[5]
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."[5]

Opposition to the edits of the two Hindu foundations

California's Curriculum Commission endorsed most of the changes pushed by Hindu groups, moving the matter along to the state board of education, which usually follows its advice. But then a strong objection to such changes arrived from a group of U.S. scholars, led by Michael Witzel, the Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University.[6] 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.[2] He suggested that the matter be discussed publicly, and that professional advice be taken by the Board.[2] The letter was supported by the signatures of 47 academics in the field of Asian Studies from all over the world.[2]

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 evangelical Christian organization whose claimed official mission is to empower the Dalits, 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."[6]

In addition to this foundation, a number of other organizations took up the matter. The President of the Dalit Freedom Network[7] at the time was Dr. Joseph D'Souza. D’Souza was also the President of the All India Christian Council.[8] D'Souza wrote a letter to the Board of Education on behalf of the Dalit Freedom Network, co-signed by the prominent critics of Hinduism Udit Raj and Kancha Ilaiah,[9][10][11] According to the Friends of South Asia (FOSA), further letters of support came from other Christian organizations like National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, the Dalit Shakti Kendra, and the Dalit Solidarity Forum in the USA.[12] FOSA also writes that further Dalit groups that testified before the SBE in January and February 2006, and are on public record in California, include those with Buddhist 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.[13]

The edits proposed by the VF and HEF were also opposed by a group of organizations that included the FOSA, the Coalition against Communalism (CAC), the Federation of Tamil Sangams in North America,[14] NRI-SAHI|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[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] Another reporter, Rachel McMurdie of the Milpitas Post, the largest newspaper publisher in the San Francisco Bay Area, 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.[18][19]

The State Board of Education decision

After extensive further discussion of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Hindu edits by specialized scholars on 6 January 2006, 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).[20] The subcommittee approved some 70 changes but it rejected proposed major revisions from VF and HEF on monotheism, women's rights, the caste system and migration theories.[21]

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', 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.[22][23][24]

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."[25]

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."[25] Janeshwari Devi of VF said that "The two foundations submitted about 500 proposed changes, and more than 80 percent were not approved."[25] This refers to the initial changes proposed by VF that envisioned the complete rewriting of chapters, which is not allowed per California procedures. [26]

Examples of changes

FOSA, 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 'other' rights than women, and the editing of other sentences dealing with the caste system.[27] 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.[28] FOSA also pointed out that the HEF and VF did not object to several sections referring to untouchability in all the textbooks.[29]


HAF case

On March 10, 2006, the HAF declared it would sue.[30] 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.[31] 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),[32] while also noting that the approval process adopted by the board had not sufficiently been updated to recent changes in California laws.[33]


The California Parents for Equalization of Educational Materials (CAPEEM), a group founded specifically for the California schoolbook case after SBE's March 8 decision, filed a separate lawsuit in Federal Court in Sacramento on March 14. The complaint was filed by Venkat Balasubramani, a Seattle attorney, who has worked in the past with public interest groups.

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. The Court subsequently removed CDE and SBE as Defendants, because of existing legal rules, however, Judge Frank C. Damrell of the US District Court in the Eastern District Court of California advised CAPEEM to refile and allowed, on August 11/September 28, 2006, a reformulated case to go ahead against some individual members of SBE and CDE.[34][35]

The case then proceeded with the Discovery phase, and CAPEEM requested documents from the SBE and CDE, and issued subpoenas to various persons involved in this case, including the review committee members S. Wolpert, J. Heitzman and M. Witzel. On November 28, 2006, CAPEEM issued an extensive subpoena [36] to Witzel to support their law case of March 2006 against members of CBE/SBE, and followed up with a motion to compel him to deliver. A hearing in Massachusetts District Court was held on July 3, 2007. As per court documents (see No. 07-2286), the court granted Witzel’s motion for a protective order and denied CAPEEM’s motion to compel "because it sought documents and communications that were not relevant and, therefore, not discoverable." CAPEEM appealed that ruling. On July 7, 2008, a three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (No. 07-2286) denied an appeal by CAPEEM and decided that "CAPEEM has not shown that the Massachusetts district court abused its discretion in denying the motion to compel."

On February 25, 2009, the California Federal Court dismissed all CAPEEM claims and demands regarding content, and, as in the HAF case, the Court left the schoolbooks untouched.[37] On June 2, 2009, the Court finally dismissed the case, with prejudice, meaning it cannot be raised again.[38] Concurrently, the Attorney General of California reached a settlement with CAPEEM about their only remaining claim, the "Equal Protection" challenge in the adoption process leading to the adoption of the 2005-2006 textbooks: instead of a ruling on this claim, CAPEEM gets $175,000 to cover their costs[39] With this ruling the case was closed, nearly 5 years after the fact.

See also


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)
  • [14] Decisions of the Curriculum Commission, since rescinded, of December 2, 2005
  • [15] Final edits as proposed by the Dept. of Education and accepted by the sub-Committee, Board of Education, Feb. 27, 2006
  • Vedic Foundation (VF) website
  • Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) website
  • California Parents for Equalization of Educational Materials (CAPEEM)
  • California textbook controversy Links to some articles representing the debate, by Pluralism Project, Harvard Univ.
  • South Asian Faculty Network, USA
  • Friends of South Asia

Media coverage in the United States

  • [17] By Scott Baldauf
  • [18] By Daniel Golden
  • 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
  • [19] After Letter, Prof. Gets Hate E-mail. Harvard Crimson - Cambridge, MA, USA, by Lulu Zhou
  • Board of Education rejects controversial edits of textbooks. Hindu groups push for changes to representation of Indian history by Sawsan Morrar
  • Vote on textbooks upsets some Hindus. Changes they sought rejected by board San Jose Mercury News. by Lisa M. Krieger March 9, 2006
  • Hindu groups lose fight to change textbooks. But decision by state Board of Education is supported by some Hindu Americans San Francisco Chronicle, by Charles Burress] Chronicle, March 10, 2006
  • Hindu group's motion to block texts denied. Judge's decision clears way for publication of sixth-grade history books By Jonathan Jones 04/26/2006

Coverage by the Indian-American Press

  • Suhag Shukla: 'I am not for rewriting Hinduism' Rediff
  • [20] Interview M.Witzel Rediff/India Abroad
  • New America Media
  • California Paadangalil Hindu Madham: Oru Charchai"[The Hindu Religion in California Textbooks: A Controversy. Mani M. Manivannan Thendral Magazine, Jan 2006
  • 'Religious beliefs of small sectarian groups don't belong in history textbooks' News India Times, Feb. 17, 2006
  • Panel Accepts Some Textbook Edits After Compromise India West March 3, 2006
  • Hindu groups sue California Board of Education Refiff. By Suman Guha Mozumder. March 19, 2006

Media coverage in India

  • The Hindutva deluge in California Hindustan Times
  • Times of India 17 January 2006
  • Rajeev Srinivasan
  • Diaspora depressed over deception Organiser
  • A saffron assault abroad Frontline Mag.
  • International Re-written history raises intellectual temper in California Outlook Mag.
  • Yes, 'secular' US seems kinder to Hindus than ‘secular’ India by S. Gurumurthy. Newindpress
  • Text Book Controversy 'A Victory For Community Organizations' Outlook Feb. 28.2006
  • US rejects 'Hindutva lessons' Times of India. By Percy Fernandez, March 20, 2006
  • Hindu organisation flays US court's decision on textbooks
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