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Joint Letter by Friends of South Asia and Coalition Against Communalism (CAC) to Ruth Green (President, California State Board of Education) and Tom Adams (Director, Curriculum Framework and Instructional Resources Division.)

January 5, 2006

Ms. Ruth E. Green
President
California State Board of Education
1430 N Street, Room 5111
Sacramento, California 95814

Dr. Tom Adams
Director
Curriculum Framework and Instructional Resources Division
California State Board of Education
1430 N Street, Room 3207
Sacramento, California 95814

Subject: Grade 6 Curriculum Changes on ancient Indian history and Hinduism

Dear Ms. Green and Mr. Adams,

We write to you as concerned Californians of South Asian origin to express our alarm at the decisions made during the December 1-2, 2005 hearings of the Curriculum Commission concerning Grade 6 History and Social Studies course sections on Ancient India and Hinduism.  We respectfully urge you to reject the changes proposed by Hindu supremacist groups such as the Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation; and support the adoption of changes recommended by the Content Review Panel of Profs. Heitzman, Witzel and Wolpert appointed by the Board.

We see two overarching problems with the changes proposed by the two groups in question:  First, while these groups at best represent only one religious tradition, namely Hinduism, they nonetheless have arrogated to themselves the right to speak as authorities on ancient Indian history as a whole, which in fact was home to a plurality of religions, cultures and peoples.  The second problem concerns the validity of their claim to speak for "all Hindus" in America, as well as Hindus elsewhere.  A brief review of these groups' background reveals their consistent promotion of a sectarian, political agenda, and their current effort is an attempt to hijack the revision process.  This appears to be a clear violation of Title 1, Sec. 60044 (2004) of the California Education Code.

An additional major problem with arguments put forth by these groups concerns their claim that only the opinions of "practicing Hindus" should be allowed to count in determining the appropriate content for the school textbooks. This is like saying that only White Anglo-Saxon Protestants can be involved in setting the curriculum on American History! Their argument is further flawed in several ways: First, it presumes that even respected scholars who are not "practicing Hindus" are inherently ignorant and prejudiced against Hinduism.  We reject this argument. We feel that "non-practicing Hindus" as well as non-Hindus also have a stake in ensuring a fair and non-fundamentalist representation of Hinduism and Indian history.  Second, the Vedic Foundation or the Hindu Education Foundation cannot reserve to themselves the right to define who such "practicing Hindus" might be. We reject the right of any such group to impose their highly sectarian definitions of faith on all Hindus.  In our view, the Vedic Foundation cannot legitimately claim to speak for the Hindu community; and its reactionary ideology does not represent the larger Hindu community any more than white supremacist groups like the "Aryan Nation" represent the views of all White Americans.

Unfortunately, by means of misrepresenting their true agenda, these groups have managed to have their biased recommendations accepted by the Curriculum Commission.  Nevertheless, bona fide scholars of the field have shown their recommendations to be seriously flawed, and we strongly believe that when it comes to the content of textbooks, lobbying by politically motivated interest groups and non-specialist academics should not be allowed to overweigh recommendations by trained academics and scholars of the field.

It is also of relevance to note that the Vedic Foundation's self-styled "devotion to Hinduism" is actually an expression of a narrow and exclusivist vision of the religion that negates great pluralism within Hindu practice, as well as the religious diversity within Indian society. This brand of Hindu chauvinist history is based on a silencing of minority voices and their place in Indian society.  We would also like to bring to your attention that many such Hindu groups have been shown to be linked both ideologically and operationally to the Hindutva extremist forces in India, whom they also fund. These connections have been documented in publications such as "A Foreign Exchange of Hate" which is documented in http://stopfundinghate.org/sacw/index.html.
          
As members of the South Asian diaspora, many of us immigrants ourselves, we and our children live with the experiences of marginalization, and understand well the harm that can be caused to young minds by distortions and errors in text books regarding their religious and socio-cultural heritage.  But, we are also very clear that misrepresenting Hinduism so as to "boost the self-esteem of Hindu students" is entirely the wrong solution. Denying the history of oppression suffered by the lower castes ("the Dalits") in Indian society is akin to denying the historical role of the institution of slavery in American history, and we fail to see how this kind of selective amnesia will help students in California to better understand history.

Our shock and dismay regarding the acceptance by the Curriculum Commission of the edits by the Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation are shared by many eminent scholars and citizens of India, who have sent a letter of protest to the United States Ambassador in India, Dr. David Mulford, a copy of which we are enclosing in the accompanying package.

We also enclose in the package: more background information on the Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation; letters from scholars in India familiar with the ill-fated effort to distort history in NCERT books; reports from the U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Reports on the same subject; recent genetic research that question the basis upon which the Curriculum Commission agreed to some of the edits regarding the origin of Aryans; and letters of protest from numerous Dalit and Adivasi (indigenous people) groups from India about attempts to rewrite ancient Indian history… in California.

In sum, we wholeheartedly agree that, regarding the textbook representation of Indian history, any inaccuracies or biased statements should be promptly corrected.  However, such changes should be made with the reasoned input of knowledgeable scholars in the field, and not provide an opportunity for interested groups to introduce their own biased claims.  There is an instructive parallel here with the recent decision by a federal judge rejecting the attempts of a Pennsylvania school district to inject what his decision called "a particular version of Christianity" into the curriculum, in the form of "Intelligent Design" theory.  Similarly, an academically valid and constitutionally sound policy for California schools should reject the attempt to impose "a particular version of Hinduism" upon the study of Indian history.  Students would be better served by the provision of a balanced curriculum that does justice to the magnificent variety of Indian experiences, societies and cultures.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Signed,

Friends of South Asia (FOSA)
mai[at]friendsofsouthasia.org

Coalition Against Communalism (CAC)
communal_harmony[at]yahoo.com

Other Endorsing Organizations:

Dharma Megha, Michigan

EKTA, Berkeley

Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FeTNA), Chicago
http://www.FeTNA.org

Non-Resident Indians for Secular and Harmonious India (NRI-SAHI), Chicago

NRI Coalition for Justice, New York, New York

Seva International, Michigan

Vedanta Society of East Lansing, Michigan

Vaishnava Center of Enlightenment, Okemos, Michigan


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