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