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Feb 21, 2006


FOSA/CAC Position

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Letter to the California State Board of Education
from Dr. Ashwini K Rao, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy, Huntington's Disease Center, Columbia University

Glee Johnson
State Board of Education
1430 “N” Street, Room 5111
Sacramento, CA 95814

Cc: Jack O’Connell, Superintendent
California Department of Education

Dr. Thomas Adams, Director
Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division
California Department of Education

Dear Ms. Johnson and members of the Board of Education,

I am writing to you as an Indian academic to express my grave concern with the decision of the Curriculum Commission to accept many of the changes to middle school textbooks proposed by the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) and the Vedic Foundation (VF). As someone who has been closely involved as an educator/facilitator for South Asian youth workshops in the US for the past seven years, I am distressed by the commission’s decision. While I agree with the Board’s guideline to develop accurate textbooks for sixth grade students, I firmly believe that educational materials should be grounded in objective scholarship and be historically accurate.

In examining some of the changes recommended by the HEF and the VF, I am concerned that most of the changes are based on a narrow extremist and upper caste vision of Hindu history, most of which are historically inaccurate and unfortunately betray a sectarian political agenda.

Obfuscation of Reality
The history of Hinduism is rich in multiple traditions, of which brahminism is only one. One of the major changes that HEF and VF have recommended concerns removal of sections pertaining to the Caste system, particularly as it relates to the treatment of Dalits (untouchables), especially in HEF edits numbers 17,31, 51,52 and 62. I would urge the board to retain the original text in all these cases.

Historically, the caste system has been a blot on Hinduism as is has systematically been used to oppress the lower castes and groups of people (such as Dalits) who fall outside the caste varna. Acknowledgement of the problems with a rigid hierarchical structure such as the caste system is a step in attempting to eliminate discrimination based on caste, and is historically accurate. Eliminating these references obfuscates the reality in which lower caste and Dalit communities with are treated with contempt, even in the present. Take, for instance, the recent news story of a young Dalit girl who was paraded naked only because her elder brother was in love with an upper caste girl [www.ndtv.com- news story on February 14, 2006]. Unfortunately, this is only one example of the violence that Dalits face from upper caste Hindus. In the US, some of the advisors of the HEF (including Dr. Kalyanaraman) have sent anti-Dalit hate mail on their listserves. No wonder that the HEF and VF want to eliminate all references to Dalits in Indian history, because to do so would highlight their complicity in the abuse of Dalit Human rights.

Representation of Hindus and Indians in the US
My second point concerns the claim of the HEF and VF to speak for all Hindus and Indians in the US. These organizations and their leaders are part of a larger network of Hindu extremist organizations (such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, and the Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh) whose aim is to turn India into a Hindu nation. The larger network of these extremist organizations and their counterparts in India (such as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh or RSS) have been implicated in sectarian violence against minority Christian and Muslim communities and lower caste Hindus and Dalits. The worst form of violence was recently unleashed against Muslims in the western state of Gujarat (known as the laboratory of Hindutva, the extremist Hindu ideology of RSS organizations) in 2002.

It is clear that the changes that HEF and VF recommend are based on a purely sectarian political agenda, with little or no objective scholarship of Indian or Hindu History. As an Indian Hindu academic, I am extremely concerned that fringe extremist groups such as the HEF and VF are allowed to speak in our name. I would like to register my protest and urge the board to nominate well known scholars who will present accurate information without any ideological, political agendas. I would also like to urge the board to entertain the comments of several community based organizations that better represent the diverse multicultural Indian diaspora.

As an educator, I am deeply aware of the responsibility of teaching history accurately and objectively, even under circumstances in which history does not reflect well on our communities. As educators we should not hide behind false reconstructions of history. I sincerely hope that the state board accepts my statement and concerns.

Thank you for your consideration.


Dr. Ashwini K. Rao
Assistant Professor
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