California textbook controversy over Hindu history

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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 Vedic Foundation (VF) and the American Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) complained to California's Curriculum Commission, saying the coverage in sixth grade history textbooks of Indian history and Hinduism was biased against Hinduism, and demanding that the portrayal be revised according to the views of Hinduism and Indian history shared by most Hindus and Indians.[1]

The California Department of Education (CDE) initially resolved the controversy with the help of two content experts: Shiva Bajpai, Professor Emeritus at California State University Northridge, and Michael Witzel, Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University. According to CDE, these scholars came to either an agreement or a compromise on the majority of the edits and corrections to the textbooks in 2006, with some proposed changes accepted and others rejected.[2] Thereafter, the controversy and dispute proceeded to California Federal Court, and was settled in 2009.[3]

Background[edit]

California textbooks' guiding principles

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]

Response to draft textbook

Upon release of a draft of the textbook, 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 January 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.[6] However, 58 of the proposed edits by Hindu groups were challenged by various groups, including Professor Michael Witzel of Harvard University.[7] The challenge created a procedural and legal conflict,[8] was well covered in media, and has been referred to as the California textbook controversy.

Accepted changes

According to the State Board of California, some accepted changes were:

Accepted edits and corrections
Proposed Edit/Correction
(by Hindu groups)
Ad hoc committee action Final SBE/CDE recommendation
Prof Bajpai and Prof. Witzel
Reference
Original textbook draft: “The monkey king Hanuman loved Rama so much that it is said that he is present every time the Ramayana is told. So look around—see any monkeys?”
Proposed correction: Delete “The monkey king” from the first sentence, and the entirety of the second sentence.
Approve edit as written. Confirm Ad Hoc action. [9]
Original textbook draft: On page 149, a mosque was shown inside text about Hinduism.
Proposed correction: Replace photograph with one having a temple in the background. This photo is of a mosque.
Replace photo or crop out the mosque in the background. Remove the picture. [10]
Original textbook draft: “Hindus believed...dharma of their class, society would be in harmony.”
Proposed correction: Replace class with varna.
Approve edit as written. Confirm Ad Hoc action. [11]
Original textbook draft: “A group of people known as the Indo-Aryans arrived in the Indus Valley about 1500 B.C. These people developed a social structure called a caste system.”
Proposed correction: Add a sentence informing students that there is a lot of controversy concerning the category of people known as “Indo-Aryans” and their origin.
Approve edit as written. Confirm Ad Hoc action. Add sentence, “There is controversy concerning the category of people known as the Indo- Aryans and their origins.” [12]
Original textbook draft: A picture showed a Muslim offering prayer, was wrongly captioned as “A Brahman”
Proposed correction: Replace picture, then correct caption to “A Brahmin.”
If the picture indeed depicts a Muslim, replace the illustration with an appropriate picture of a Brahmin. Confirm Ad Hoc action. Publisher should replace the illustration. [13]
Opposed changes

According to the State Board of California, some opposed changes were:

Rejected edits and corrections
Proposed Edit/Correction
(by Hindu groups)
Ad hoc committee action Final SBE/CDE recommendation
Prof Bajpai and Prof. Witzel
Reference
Original textbook draft: “Men had many more rights than women.”
Proposed correction: “Men had different duties (dharma) as well as rights than women. Many women were among the sages to whom the Vedas were revealed.”
Approve edit as written. Defer to the original text. [14]
Original textbook draft: “Once their society had merged with the local population, a late hymn of the Rig Veda described the four castes.”
Proposed correction: Replace with, “A late hymn of the Rig Veda describes the interrelationship and interdependence of the four social classes.”
Approve edit as written. Defer to the original text. [15]
Original textbook draft: A table was titled, “The Caste System”
Proposed correction: Replace table header with, “The Varnas”.
Approve edit as written. Replace “Caste” with “Class”. [15]
Original textbook draft: “...you’ll learn about dharma and the other basic Hindu beliefs: Brahman, multiple gods, karma, and samsara.”
Proposed correction: Replace with “...Hindu beliefs: Bhagwan, Forms of God, karma and maya.”
CDE: are Bhagwan and maya explained in the text? If group’s edit introduces new terminology without context, this may be confusing for students. Defer to the original text. [16]
Original textbook draft: “Around 1500 B.C.E., invaders called Aryans conquered northern India.”
Proposed correction: Replace with, “Around 1500 B.C.E., invaders called Aryans came to northern India.”
Publisher is directed to add a clarifying note that the “Aryan invasion theory” has been contradicted by scholarly evidence. Change to, “In the second millennium B.C.E., invaders called Aryans came to northern India.” [17]

Opposition to the edits of the two Hindu foundations[edit]

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.[18] 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.[7] He suggested that the matter be discussed publicly, and that professional advice be taken by the Board.[7] The letter was supported by the signatures of 47 academics in the field of Asian Studies from all over the world.[7]

Dan Golden of the Wall Street Journal described[18] the effort of the two Hindu foundations, as similar to those by Jewish, Islamic and Christian foundations. Each group, claims Dan Golden, vie for changes in texts for elementary and secondary schools to cast their faiths in a better light or in sensitive manner before children. In case of Hindu groups, The Wall Street Journal article described part of the motivation and response to be:

Some Hindu students say they're humiliated in school because texts dwell on customs such as ostracism of untouchables and an old tradition, rarely observed today, of "sati" - widows immolating themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres. Trisha Pasricha, a high-school junior in a Houston suburb, says she used to deny being Hindu to classmates because she was tired of refuting stereotypes perpetuated by textbooks and teachers. "The textbooks bring up all these obscure practices, like bride burning, and act like they happen every day," she says.

—Dan Golden, [18]

(On December 2) the Curriculum Commission voted to support most of the changes sought by the Hindu foundations. "We have to err on the side of sensitivity toward religion," a commission member, Stan Metzenberg, said at the time. 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 advocacy group for untouchables, wrote to the education board that the proposed Vedic and Hindu Education Foundation changes reflect "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.

—Dan Golden, [18]

In addition to this foundation, a number of other organizations took up the matter. The President of the Dalit Freedom Network[19] at the time was Dr. Joseph D'Souza. D’Souza was also the President of the All India Christian Council.[20] 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,[21][22][23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

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,[26] Non Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India (NRI-SAHI), 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[27] 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.[28]

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.[29] 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.[30][31]

The State Board of Education decision[edit]

After extensive further discussion of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Hindu edits by specialized scholars on January 6, 2006, and after several public SBE meetings, a decision was reached on February 27, 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).[32] 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.[33]

On March 8, 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.[34][35][36]

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."[37]

A public relations 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."[37] Janeshwari Devi of VF said that "The two foundations submitted about 500 proposed changes, and more than 80 percent were not approved."[37] This refers to the initial changes proposed by VF that envisioned the complete rewriting of chapters, which is not allowed per California procedures. [38]

Lawsuits[edit]

HAF case[edit]

On March 10, 2006, the HAF declared it would sue.[39] 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.[40] 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),[41] while also noting that the approval process adopted by the board had not sufficiently been updated to recent changes in California laws.[42]

CAPEEM case[edit]

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.[43][44]

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 [45] 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 denied the plaintiff CAPEEM motion for partial summary judgment, and partly granted and partly denied the defendant Members of the California State Board of Education's motion.[46] On June 2, 2009, the Court ruled that good cause having been shown, and pursuant to United States' Rule of Civil Procedures, it accepts the Plaintiff's and Defendant's Settlement and General Release Agreement.[47] Concurrently, the Attorney General of California reached a settlement with CAPEEM where CAPEEM received $175,000 from the California State Board of Education, and both parties agreed to release each other from all claims and both parties agreed not to appeal.[3] With this ruling the legal case on California textbook controversy over Hindu history was closed.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ here
  2. ^ Edits and Corrections List State Board of Education, California, United States (2006), pp 96-126
  3. ^ a b Case 2:06-cv-00532-FCD-KJM,Document 220, Filed 06/02/2009, see clause 1, 3, and 6-20
  4. ^ Developed by the Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division California Department of Education Adopted by the California State Board of Education Published by the California Department of Education (2001)
  5. ^ a b Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content Developed by the Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division California Department of Education Adopted by the California State Board of Education Published by the California Department of Education (2001)
  6. ^ California Curriculum Commission Accepts Most Hindu Changes to Sixth Grade Textbooks Hindu Press International
  7. ^ a b c d Witzel, Michael. Letter to California Board of Education (November 8, 2005).
  8. ^ New Battleground In Textbook Wars: Religion in History The Wall Street Journal (January 25, 2006)
  9. ^ Edits and Corrections List State Board of Education, California, United States (2006), pp 107
  10. ^ Edits and Corrections List State Board of Education, California, United States (2006), pp 125
  11. ^ Edits and Corrections List State Board of Education, California, United States (2006), pp 124
  12. ^ Edits and Corrections List State Board of Education, California, United States (2006), pp 108
  13. ^ Edits and Corrections List State Board of Education, California, United States (2006), pp 112-113
  14. ^ Edits and Corrections List State Board of Education, California, United States (2006), pp 94
  15. ^ a b Edits and Corrections List State Board of Education, California, United States (2006), pp 109
  16. ^ Edits and Corrections List State Board of Education, California, United States (2006), pp 121
  17. ^ Edits and Corrections List State Board of Education, California, United States (2006), pp 111
  18. ^ a b c d New Battleground In Textbook Wars: Religion in History Hindu, Islamic, Jewish Groups Fault Portrayals of Events And Often Win Changes, The Wall Street Journal (January 25, 2006)
  19. ^ "The Dalit Freedom Network (www.dalitnetwork.org) was formed in 2003 to assist the Dalits in the areas of education, social justice, economic development, and healthcare" , On the Side of the Angels: Justice, Human Rights, and Kingdom Mission, pp 89, Biblica, 2007-06-01
  20. ^ The DFN website explicitly notes that "DFN partners only with All India Christian Council (AICC) members who are actively involved in the transformation and emancipation of the Dalit-Bahujan people, not with the AICC as a whole."[1]
  21. ^ Opening the safety valve WORLD Magazine
  22. ^ Dalits convert to Islam, Buddhism and Christianity The Milli Gazette
  23. ^ The Rediff Interview/Dr Kancha Ilaiah Rediff
  24. ^ Letters supporting FOSA/CAC's position on the California textbook controversy Friends of South Asia
  25. ^ [2] Friends of South Asia
  26. ^ Letter to California State Board Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America
  27. ^ South Asia Area Center Title VI Report on California Textbooks Unknown
  28. ^ "Vote on textbooks upsets some Hindus". Archived from the original on July 12, 2006. 
  29. ^ Textbooks And Hinduism - Why Accuracy Matters - NAM[dead link]
  30. ^ "Overseas Hindu body says Hinduism under threat". Archived from the original on January 11, 2006. 
  31. ^ [3][dead link]
  32. ^ "March 2005 Agenda Item 19 Addendum - Meeting Agendas (CA State Board of Education)" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  33. ^ "Committee sends textbook edits to state board". Inside Bay Area. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  34. ^ Indiawest Online[dead link]
  35. ^ [4][dead link] [5][dead link]
  36. ^ [6][dead link]
  37. ^ a b c Charles Burress (2006-03-10). "SACRAMENTO / Hindu groups lose fight to change textbooks / But decision by state Board of Education is supported by some Hindu Americans". Sfgate.com. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  38. ^ Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission, document CC-003 (03/04/04), dated November 22, 2005.
  39. ^ Hindu group intends to sue state over textbook revisions | Oakland Tribune | Find Articles at BNET.com[dead link]
  40. ^ Hindu group's motion to block texts denied | Oakland Tribune | Find Articles at BNET.com[dead link]
  41. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20061018163334/http://www.saccourt.com/courtrooms/trulings/dept19/sep1d19--06cs00386.doc
  42. ^ "US text row resolved by Indian-India-The Times of India". Articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com. 2006-09-09. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  43. ^ "Press Room". Capeem.org. 2006-08-11. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  44. ^ "Press Room" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  45. ^ "Legal Documents". Capeem.org. Retrieved 2014-06-23. 
  46. ^ (Case 2:06-cv-00532-FCD-KJM, Document 212, Filed 02/26/2009) can be found at: [7], see conclusion p. 62-63
  47. ^ "Case 2:06-cv-00532-FCD-KJM, Document 221, Filed 06/03/2009" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-06-23. 

External links[edit]

Media coverage in the United States[edit]

Coverage by the Indian-American Press[edit]

Media coverage in India[edit]