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FOSA/CAC to participate in California State Board of Education Public Hearing
Board staff rejects many contentious textbook changes proposed by the Hindu Nationalist groups
Special committee to decide on controversial textbook changes on February 27th 2006

Sacramento, California, Feb 24th 2006: A special committee constituted by the California State Board of Education has announced a public hearing on February 27th 2006 to review the proposed textbooks changes (edits) for the upcoming 6th, 7th and 8th grade history-social science textbooks, and to allow the scholars and community groups to present their concerns about them. The focus of this meeting is expected to be the ongoing discussion of the controversial edits on ancient India initially proposed by two organizations, the Vedic Foundation (VF) and the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), who are accused by several South Asian community groups of pushing sectarian agendas.  In preparation for the meeting, the staff of the California Department of Education (CDE) and the State Board of Education (SBE) have taken an unprecedented step of releasing their own recommendations on these controversial edits, rejecting many of those proposed by the HEF/VF.  All these edits will be reviewed by the special committee of the State Board of Education at the upcoming meeting.
Two civil rights advocacy groups, the Friends of South Asia (FOSA) and the Coalition Against Communalism (CAC) will be among the many community groups from South Asia participating in this hearing to ensure that a broad representation of views is heard and to urge that disputes over the content of the textbooks be deferred to South Asian scholars for resolution. The original edits proposed by VF/HEF purged all non-Vedic representation of Hinduism from the texts and introduced suspect theories on the origin of Aryans that are not supported by contemporary scholarship.  These groups also sought to erase all mention of the caste system, Dalits (formerly known as “untouchables”) and patriarchy in Ancient India, effectively denying the histories of the vast majority of Indians.
Due to the intervention of many academic scholars and community groups who opposed these sectarian edits, the staff of the CDE and SBE have re-evaluated the original edits proposed by the VF/HEF and have rejected many of them. Instead, the staff of the SBE/CDE have issued an interim list of edits which will be the subject of discussion of the Feb 27th hearing. Over sixty of the VF/HEF original changes that pertained to the origins of the Aryans, the characterization of the caste system and the exclusion of Dalit history from the texts, as well as the censoring of all non-Vedic concepts and histories related to Hinduism have now been rejected by the staff.
“The HEF and VF submitted edits claiming to only remove inaccuracies and negative stereotypes of Hinduism from the textbooks, but instead they introduced highly contentious and ideological content in these texts,” explains Sanjeev Mahajan of FOSA.  “We are happy to note that with this set of recommendations of the CDE/SBE Staff, many of the inaccuracies and stereotypes have been removed, while little of the controversial text reflecting sectarian ideology of the VF/HEF has been accepted.” Mahajan plans to attend the hearing next week to ensure that the controversial text stays out.
Girish Agrawal of CAC injects a note of caution with the reminder that some of the proposed staff edits relating to Dalits are still problematic.  Agrawal, author of the book “Dalits and the Law” elaborates, “In one of the books, the HEF proposed deleting all references to untouchability in India.  The staff recommendation overrules the HEF edit but introduces language that suggests that untouchability was practiced because  untouchables performed dirty work like handling dead bodies. This introduction of a false cause and effect relationship is potentially extremely dangerous and needs to be brought to the attention of the Board.”
The attempted erasure of caste system from the history of India by HEF/VF has drawn the ire of many community groups, especially those with substantial membership across diverse castes.  “Teaching narrow, parochial and sanitized histories to our children is no way of making them broad-minded” comments Thillai Kumaran, a parent and representative for the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FETNA) – which is opposed to these VF/HEF changes.
Purnima Bose, another concerned parent and scholar, agreed with Kumaran, “The HEF/VF’s attempts to present Hinduism as a monotheistic religion in the textbooks reduce a complex and rich tradition in order to make Hinduism more palatable for western religious sensibilities. Children can only benefit from being exposed to diverse world views, and will be better equipped to face the challenges of an increasingly intricate world.”

The coalition issuing this alert includes Friends of South Asia (FOSA), an organization working toward a multicultural, pluralistic, and hate-free South Asia, and Coalition Against Communalism (CAC), an Indian American organization which promotes religious tolerance in the Indian diaspora.

For further information on this press release, please contact mail[at]friendsofsouthasia.org

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