yvetterosser

The California Textbook Tamasha: Contested Academic Paradigms and the Study of India

Yvette C. Rosser, Ph.D.

The California Textbook Tamasha:

Contested Academic Paradigms and the Study of India

This paper was originally written in 2006, following the intrusive politicization of the editorial process of the California State Board of Education and the subsequent prejudicial decisions made by the California Textbook Board due to a racist and xenophobic last minute pseudo-academic attack aimed at the Hindu-American citizens of California. What is essential to note is that there were no last minute anti-Islamic or anti-Jewish petitions sent to the CA State Board of Education contending that the Muslims and Jews involved in the editorial process, although second-generation tax-paying citizens of California, were closely associated with genocidal groups in the mother county. This pseudo-academic attack claimed that the ideas and points of view of the Hindu-American citizens were responsible for genocidal fascism in the mother country. The Professors of South Asianism warned of unmentionable inhuman horrors if these hegemonic Hindu-American citizens were to succeed in cleverly injecting Hindutva into the California textbooks. (Hindutva = Hinduized militarized hatred) This is the tone and the gist of the letter hurriedly written by Professor Michael Witzel on Harvard University letterhead and cosigned by dozens of scholars of South Asianism working in American universities.

As stressed repeatedly in the following narrative, written ten years ago, describing the mean-spirited unethical professorial assault directed against Hindu-Americans involved in the democratic process afforded all citizens of California, notably, before signing the inflammatory, accusatory letter, the protesting professors had not read even one of the editorial suggestions requested by the Hindu-American parents of school children in California. Theses misguided professors came screaming “Rape” waving their last-minute letter telling a tale of horror; but they had not reviewed any of the ‘edits’ made by the two Hindu organizations working alongside the Islamic and Jewish groups to remove the bias regarding their religions that may inadvertently appear in the 6th grade textbook about World Civilizations. The professors of South Asianism based their unabashedly racist letter not on the academic value of the editorial requests, but simply on the presumptively assumed political orientation of two of the Hindu groups working with the SBE.

In 2006, the requests submitted to the SBE were of a scholarly nature, correcting obvious, blatant mistakes as well as subtly changing culturally insulting phrases such as “Where’s the Beef?” for the subject heading in bolded font of the section about vegetarianism, which is widely practice among Hindus. Hundreds of corrections had been suggested and accepted, such as correcting a photograph of a Muslim gentleman in a skullcap with his hands cupped performing Namaz, where the caption erroneously said, “A Brahmin saying his prayers.” Correcting errors such as “Hindi is written in the Arabic script that has 18 letters” or that the “Mahabharata was written before the Ramayana”, were unfortunately too frequent. Each suggested ‘edit’ had to be justified. The work was time consuming and exacting.

Months of meticulously studied cooperative effort were derailed on the last day of deliberations by a solitary special delivery letter that was deliberately political, unscholarly, prejudicially pre-biased, and rudely worded. The essence of the letter was based simply and entirely on the fact that Professor Witzel believed that the Hindu-American groups in California were somehow tangentially associated with political groups in India of whom he did not personally approve. Amazingly, he is not even an Indian citizen! He doesn’t vote in India, much less campaign there!  However, his disruptive politicized behavior was without any question based solely on the fact that he presumed that the political orientation of the Hindus involved in the textbook revision process was aligned with a political party in India other than the ones that he preferred while he simply observed Indian politics from his far removed academic citadel in Massachusetts.  His only complaint was that these horrid groups of Hindus were associated with genocide, and their editorial suggestions are thereby tainted by default, editorial suggestions which I remind you, he had not read before writing such trash about his fellow American citizens.

He didn’t give a hoot about the actual editorial changes that those menacing Hindu-Americans had suggested.  He just attacked them specifically based on his strongly held political conviction against a particular governmental dispensations in India, whom he assumed they represented. Witzel led the attack against the hardworking parents of school children in California, based on their presumed politics in the home country, though many of these Hindus were born in the USA and never voted in an Indian election. His attack was certainly not in any way based on the value of the scholarship of the Hindu parents who for months had been working in Sacramento along with representatives of religious other groups to help remove biased or erroneous representations about their religious traditions

Now ten years later, in 2016, during the textbook review process in California, the professors of South Asianism are more organized and have lobbied the California Board of Education to totally eliminate the words “India” and “Hinduism” from the secondary social studies textbooks. See this petition objecting to the total South Asianization of India and India’s obliteration from the history of the world. Note the insistence of the South Asianists in US universities that Hinduism is a recent construct by Muslims and British and there is actually no such thing as Indic or Hindu Civilization, which is a recent overly glorified concept invented by Hindu Nationalists.

Please sign to try to restore some dignity to our spiritual traditions as represented in the textbooks used in American classrooms:

https://www.change.org/p/academia-don-t-replace-india-with-south-asia-in-california-history-textbooks?recruiter=372905288&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

At the end of this essay please see letters from Michel Danino and Vamsee Juluri to the California State Board of Education concerning the textbook editorial process in 2016.

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The California Textbook Tamasha:

Contested Academic Paradigms and the Study of India

2006©

Commitment to professionalism and pluralism, with a conscientious consideration of citizen input, were the hallmarks of California’s 2005 textbook adoption review process – at least, initially. This official approach was indicative of democratically inspired educational methodology until it was purposefully and senselessly derailed by a conservative, autocratic, pseudo-progressive, haughty and dismissively pejorative ‘Ivory Tower’ onslaught—strong words, but mild compared to the hotly worded defamatory tone of the “professional” intervention.

What it Means to Be an American: Community Involvement in a Democratic Process

In 2005, groups of informed and concerned Jewish-American, Muslim-American, and Hindu-American citizens participated in a particularly democratic process through which other minority groups particiapted in the textbook adoption process created by the state of California, working within the prescribed procedures of curriculum review. Through the months, members if these American minority communities met several times with representatives of the California Curriculum Commission. The Muslims, Jews, and Hindus had carefully reviewed the sixth grade social studies textbooks under consideration for adoption in the state. Numerous editorial recommendations were suggested regarding the descriptions of Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism as found in the textbooks. The identified passages were marked for editing due to negative, stereotypical, or erroneous descriptions about religious beliefs and practices.

In late September, representatives of these three groups attended the Curriculum Commission meetings in Sacramento. Prior to that meeting, the Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu organizations had carefully reviewed the textbooks under consideration. They had submitted documentation pointing out stereotypes and misrepresentations regarding their religious traditions. The practitioners and their professional consultants cited certain sentences and paragraphs, which they determined contained erroneous, controversial, and/or racist material. There was concern that these statements, if left in the textbooks, would create xenophobia, or ill-informed sensational images in the minds of adolescent students. There was concern that traces of racism or bias, unchecked in the narratives about minority religions could negatively impact the identity formation of Jewish-American, Hindu-American, and Muslim-American children in the USA’s multi-cultural classrooms.

The Institute for Curriculum Services (ICS) submitted 186 corrections and suggestions regarding representations of Judaism to ensure that the sections on Judaism in the textbooks accurately reflected Jewish sensibilities and did not inadvertently promote anti-Semitism. The Council on Islamic Education (CIE) pointed out subtle errors and proposed alternative wording for sentences in the sections on Islam [in the seventh grade textbooks]. The Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) and the Vedic Foundation (VF) provided feedback about 170 proposed edits in the sections on Hinduism.

After many hours of testimony and the submission of detailed reviews recommending specific corrections, the members of the Curriculum Commission and the Content Review Panel (CRP) spent several weeks studying the suggested edits. They issued a notice on November 8th that stated the “Committee reviewed 684 edits, of which 499 were approved”. These editorial suggestions were recommended to the State Board of Education. Some of the edits were corrections of glaring mistakes, such as found in the Harcourt textbook that stated, “Hindi is written with the Arabic alphabet, which uses 18 letters that stand for sounds.”  This is an obvious error.  Hindi is written in the Devanagari alphabet that has 49 or 52 characters, depending on the language. Some other edits were more theological or sociological in nature. Numerous members from the religious groups made two-minute presentations to underscore their recommendations. The committee was slated to meet again in Sacramento on December first and second to finalize the approved edits.

The Jewish and the Hindu analysts shared several concerns. One was the lack of a capitalization of the word “god” when used for Jewish or Hindu supreme beings. Reviewers from both the Institute for Curriculum Services and the Hindu Education Foundation objected to the use of the word “story” in reference to their scriptures, because, as the ICS wrote, it conveys the perspective that “the events described are fictitious.” HEF pointed out that one textbook included the phrase “gods and goddesses from popular Hindu stories,” and suggested that this terminology be replaced with “various forms of God from Hindu scriptures.”  One textbook stated that, “Dharma is a very important idea in Hinduism.” The Hindu advisors suggested that the word “idea” be replaced by “belief”: “Dharma is a very important belief in Hinduism.” These are simple changes that make the narrative richer, more informative, and more in accordance with the viewpoints of practitioners.

The ICS warned the textbook writers that, “gratuitous material that paints Jews as wicked people who deserve to be punished is not suitable for a public school text book. It brings in a very negative perspective of Jews that can promote anti-Semitism in the classroom and is in violation of adoption criteria … that requires neutrality among the religions.” The Hindu reviewers noted that there were several passages in the textbooks that trivialized their faith and openly mocked Hindu beliefs. An example of this type of unnecessarily humiliating treatment can be found in a passage from the Oxford University Press textbook, “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?” Mocking Hinduism in this context, which should have been an explanatory educational narrative, is completely unjustified and irresponsible and does not lead students in American classrooms towards a holistic and respectful understanding of religions in India. Jesus also told his disciples that when he is remembered by two or more people, he is present, but textbooks would never follow this statement with the caustic comment, “So look around–see the son of god?” Textbooks in India while, explaining Christianity, would never make such a sarcastic remark!  Indians are very sensitive of their minority communities and Christians make up almost 3% of India’s population. Hindus, who comprise about 1% of the U.S. population, also deserve respect.

If American society were presented to children in India using the same sensationalist methodology in which India is presented to children in the USA, what would a child in India think of the United States of America?  In U.S. textbooks, India is frozen in time and a mostly negative appraisal of the past is stressed. After studying about India, American students often think Hindus burn their widows, starve girl babies, and worship rats. Using this same negative paradigm, children in India, after studying about the USA, would think that women stand trail for witchcraft and must march in the streets for their basic rights and, especially, that African-Americans are slaves. Luckily, textbooks in India don’t do this. It would be to our mutual benefit if textbooks in the USA didn’t fall into the trap of using outdated models and theories, and narrations with subtle and not-so-subtle biases.

There are several other examples from the California curriculum process where the citizens’ critiques emphasized the need for a more respectful portrayal of their religions. For example, the ICS suggested that narratives about Judaism should include a discussion of “ethical monotheism” as “Judaism’s key contribution to western thought and values.” Hindus were careful to fully define the word “Dharma”, which is central to their faith. Like the Jewish groups, the Hindu groups requested subtle changes, for instance that the heading “Hindu Beliefs About Multiple Gods” should be replaced with the less sensational and more accurate phrasing: “Hindu Beliefs About Various Forms of God.” The requests were realistic and sensitive. Hindus believe that though “God is one, the forms are many”. This is a universal belief within most schools of Hinduism.

Many of the requests made by the Council on Islamic Education (CIE) regarded the description of Christianity and recommended the addition of introductory phrases such as “according to the Bible” or “as paraphrased from the Gospels”. For example, the CIE requested that the segment in the textbook that discusses the Ten Commandments should state that they are “Paraphrased from Exodus 20:3-17.” The CIE contended that the “current wording does not make clear enough that the wording is paraphrased”. The CIE suggested that the textbooks needed to “add ‘according to the Bible’ in several places, for better attribution. For example, the textbook narrative should be in these terms: ‘After the death of King Saul, according to the Bible, David became king’ and ‘Once in power, according to the Bible, David….’.”

In another example, the Glencoe textbook for grade 6, on page 504 wrote, “The angel told Mary her baby would be called the Son of God.” The review of the edits issued by the State Board of Education on November 8th, stated, “The CIE says the Glencoe text is wrong to state that Mary was told, according to the Bible, that Jesus would be the Son of God. CIE maintains that this claim ‘does not appear in the Gospels.’” The Curriculum Committee, who reviewed the suggested edits, wrote that the “CIE is at best quibbling. The angel tells Mary, according to Luke, ‘Thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High.’ The angel continues: ‘The Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’ (Luke 1:26-38).”  This dialogue indicates that the Curriculum Committee seriously engaged the edits before issuing their recommendations.

Among the approximately ninety-five edits requested by the Council on Islamic Education, over twenty suggested that the text be prefaced with the phrase “According to the Bible” or “according the Qu’ran”. The CIE cited that in the teacher’s edition of the Houghton Mifflin textbook on page 321, the text stated, “The Jews are dispersed: Almost all Jews make their homes in countries outside the Holy Land, and for a long period no Jewish state exists. Beginning in the nineteenth century, some Jews sought to establish a Jewish homeland either within the ancient site of Israel or elsewhere.”  The memorandum issued by the SBE explains that the CIE noticed that, “The current wording implies (incorrectly) that Zionism, indeed Zionism based on Jewish law, has been a continuous political movement since 70 AD. Source for current and confirmed research: Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Controversy of Zion (1996).” The Curriculum Committee approved the edit.

The requests from all three groups were both academically realistic and culturally sensitive and the Curriculum Committee reviewed them for academic veracity. For instance, this sentence appeared in the Holt textbook on page 211-212, “The people of Judah looked down on the Samaritans. They believed that God accepted only the sacrifices from the Temple in Jerusalem. Some did not believe that other people were God’s people, too.” The Jewish perspective, presented by the ICS commented “These statements are of highly questionable accuracy, totally devoid of context and inconsistent with the standards and criteria.” The Jewish advisors suggested alternative phrasing, “The Samaritans and the tribes of Judah lost touch with each other. Over time their religious practices developed separately, and they had little contact.  Today’s Judaism developed from the religious practices of the tribes of Judah.” The Curriculum Committee considered this edit to be reasonable. It was approved in the November 8th memorandum.

Another edits requested by the ICS, which the curriculum committee accepted as justifiable, was more of a total rewrite. This edit concerned a passage in the Holt book on page 212, “Saul displeased God by disobeying some commands, so God chose another king.” The ICS suggested this sentence be replaced by these two sentences, “King David was a musician, poet, religious leader and military leader. He expanded the kingdom and established the capital of Jerusalem as a center of worship.” These suggestions soften and clarify the narrative. For some strange reason, Hindus were criticized unmercifully for working through the same editorial processes.

Because so few details about Hinduism are known by textbook writers and/or social studies teachers, unfortunately, many simplistic and easy to correct errors are often made. For instance, one textbook stated, “As time passed, Indians began to question how the world came into being. These questions led to changes in Brahmanism.” The suggested editorial correction was, “As time passed, Indians began to question how the world came into being. These questions led to changes in contemporary religious ideas.” This conveys more meaning to the student and is more in sync with Hindu self-concepts. “Brahmanism” is not a term that a Hindu would use to describe the Hindu religion, otherwise known as Sanatana Dharma. Brahmanism is a word coined during the colonial era and is rarely used by Hindus and in fact, is usually considered a pejorative. It is generally used only used by the uninformed, or by Indians who write social history from a Marxist perspective.  Referring to Hinduism as “Brahmanism” is tantamount to calling Catholics “Papists”—it is derogatory. (Ironically, as described below, there are those within the academic community who vied for retaining this insulting wording.) These were among the hundreds of editorial changes accepted in the memo issued on Novemner 8th, by the Superintendent of the Curriculum and Instruction Branch.

When “Hindu” is a four-letter-word

On November 8, 2005, Michael Witzel, a professor of Linguistics at Harvard University sent a ‘last-minute’ letter/petition to the California State Board of Education. He vehemently objected to the input from citizens—revealing a contemptuousness of the process inherent in the California textbook adoption procedures. Out of the three religious groups who participated in the textbook review, he singled out the Hindus for condemnation—though, notably, he had not read any of their editorial suggestions prior to his vociferous objections. At the last minute, the letter was sent electronically from the East Coast to a scholar in California, who then delivered it to the commissioners in Sacramento on the final day of the meetings. The letter arrived at approximately the same time as the Curriculum and Instruction Branch issued their list of recommended edits. The objections in Witzel’s petition were unsubstantiated assumptions. They revealed predisposed bias and contained provocatively racist slurs that dirtied the commentary. The letter came as a big surprise to the Curriculum Committee who didn’t know quite what to do. They spun around in circles, and seemingly mesmerized by the Harvard letterhead, then the State Board broke their own Open Meeting rules and singled out one of the three minority religious groups for irregular, extraneous consideration.

In the opening paragraph of his letter, Professor Witzel stated that he was writing at the request of “over four dozen scholars” from around the world. The honorable professor was unaware of the textbook adoption procedures in California until November 5th, when a graduate student wrote him an alarmist letter. In less than three days, Michael Witzel and his informal assistant, Steve Farmer had gathered about fifty signatures from a group of their friends and colleagues to protest against the democratic functioning of the California textbook adoption process—all this, without ever having read even one of the suggested “edits”.  They targeted their assault specifically against Hindu-Americans, not against the Jewish and Islamic citizens of California. This last minute intervention reflects a political agenda, in contrast with accepted educational standards.

The Pejorative Petition

On November 5th, Witzel and Farmer explain that they had received an urgently worded letter from a graduate student concerning the California textbook adoption process. Then the two went into high gear to gather momentum, attempting to create an uproar. Remarkably, it took only three days, from the time he first heard about the situation, for his letter to reach the Curriculum Committee on the final day, signed by dozens of what Witzel referred to as the “most distinguished world experts in the field”.  This was accomplished without any of the signatories ever having read the edits requested by the Hindu-American groups. This furor is seemingly more indicative of the professor’s political agenda and has nothing to do with curriculum development, pluralism in California classrooms, much less the best manner in which to describe the beliefs of Hindus.

In the first paragraph of his alarmist letter, Witzel urged the State Board of Education “to reject the demands of the nationalist Hindu (‘Hindutva’) groups that California textbooks be altered to conform to their religious-political views”.  It was startling to see this unexpected use of the term “Hindutva” applied to American citizens for three reasons. First, it is inapplicable and inappropriate—implying that the loose coalition of Hindu groups have an “ill-concealed political agendas” . Secondly, most members of the California Curriculum Committee probably do not know very much about political contests in India or the definition of “Hindutva” anymore than a member of an educational committee in a state on the west coast of India would understand the nuanced implications of the political term “Neo-con”.  Thirdly, Professor Witzel intended his use of the word “Hindutva” to be an insult, as in the conservative American context the term “liberal” is often used as a pejorative by right wing ideologues. Professor Witzel employed the word “Hindutva” repeatedly in an effort to slur the Hindu groups who participated in the textbook review process in California.

Though the term Neo-Con is tied up with the political use of Christianity, a scholar who is teaching Christianity would never assume that the Neo-Con view was the dominant model. So too, Hindutva is associated with the politicization of Hinduism in the Indian context–it is certainly not the only model of Hinduism for practicing Hindus. Removing stereotypes from textbooks is not a partisan political issue playing out in India’s democratic system– it concerns the education of American children. “Hindutva” is a term with political implications in India, but has absolutely nothing to do with efforts to eliminate racist wording and sensationalist and erroneous information in the textbooks used in California.

“On behalf of [his] colleagues”, Professor Witzel called “attention to four points”: First, he once again employed derogatory language referring to the “the agenda of the groups proposing these changes”—without ever having read through the proposed changes how could he determine the agenda of their authors?  As a professor, he must know that a researcher must first investigate and analyze materials before offering judgment–otherwise it is just a blanket condemnation with no substance, based on assumptions. Unfortunately, this was the unsubstantiated, insulting approach employed in the biased letter sent to the California State Board of Education by Dr. Witzel on November.

In the second paragraph, the professor compared historiographical controversies in India with the processes in California, and decried the “long battle to prevent exactly these kinds of changes from finding a permanent place in history textbooks in India”.  But, once again, since he had not seen the recommend edits, he had absolutely no idea what “kinds of changes” had been suggested in California! In this statement, Witzel is referring to a controversy over history textbooks that occurred in India for several years around the turn of the millennium.  Up until that time, the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in New Delhi had used the same textbooks for over thirty years- since the 1970’s. These NCERT textbooks, which many Hindu-American parents had read while in school in India decades ago, should not be used as litmus to judge textbooks in California in 2006. The issues are very different and should not be conflated or politicized. California textbooks are updated every six years. Since they are not published by the state they are hopefully less susceptible to political whims.

The recent debate in India was not unlike the furor that erupted in the USA in the mid-nineties concerning the U.S. History Standards. In the USA, during the “History Wars” in the late 1980s and 90s, educators and intellectuals from the liberal left and conservative right fought tit for tat battles in the op-ed pages of major newspapers. This is the same sort of scenario that Professor Witzel mentioned concerning a similar controversy in Indian historiography that also saw “an extended battle in the Indian press”.  In the American context, as Sam Wineburg from the University of Washington colorfully described in his book, “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts”,

“The choice between the two seemed absurd but this was exactly what the debate about national history standards had become, ‘George Washington or Bart Simpson,’ asked Senator Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) during the 1995 Congressional debates on this subject: Which figure represents a ‘more important part of our Nation’s history for our children to study? To Gorton, the proposed national standards represented a frontal attack on American civilization, an ‘ideologically driven anti-Western monument to politically correct caricature.’ The Senate, in apparent agreement, rejected the standards 99-1.

The rancor that was exchanged during the debate over the U.S. National History Standards is indicative of the seriousness with which proponents of schools of thought in all nations view their mandates, as if the very survival of the state was at stake. Sam Wineburg amazed that, “In the barroom terms befitting such a brawl, those who wrote the standards were traitors, those who opposed them, racists”. Senator Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential candidate stated that the “national standards were the ‘handiwork of people worse than external enemies’.”  A similar partisan debate played out in India during the late nineties.

When he wrote to the SBE, Michael Witzel employed the same type of sensationalized condemnation, as did Bob Dole on the Senate floor while objecting to the U.S. History Standards. The vulgar use of this strategy against Hindu parents in California is uncalled for and reprehensible. Witzel wrote that revisions proposed for the Hindu contents of the textbooks “are not of a scholarly but of a religious-political nature”. Ironically, before writing the letter, as mentioned many times, he had not read the proposed revisions which stressed a more universalist and humanist orientation. Why would a professor make across-the-board, blanket condemnations without any documentation? This approach goes against all academic sensibilities.

Witzel’s petition stated that the editorial changes, which he had never seen, “do not reflect the views of the majority of specialist [sic] on ancient Indian history nor of mainstream Hindus.” Witzel’s contention that the Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation discriminate against “tens of millions of non-Hindu Indians” is ludicrous, inapplicable, and intentionally insulting. This libelous accusation is tantamount to accusing Zero Mostel of destabilizing the nation.

The professor stated the revisions “that Hindu nationalists are now trying to force into California textbooks” are similar to changes that were “soundly repudiated in the last two years by Indian educators”. Since he has not examined the suggested edits in California, he cannot make any comparisons. Then he referred to the five-year period “in which the central government was under Hindutva control”. Actually, it was a coalition government, the NDA (National Democratic Alliance), headed by the BJP and supported by regional parties. In the late nineties they sought to update the state sponsored textbooks that had been written in the late sixties and early seventies and repeatedly reprinted for over twenty-five years. Their efforts to replace the NCERT (National Council of Education and Training) textbooks resulted in great controversy. A case went all the way to the high court, which ruled that the new textbooks could be produced. A few years later, the NDA lost power in the 2004 election and the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) gained control of the central government. The UPA is a Congress Party led coalition with the support of the Communist Parties of India. One of the first changes they enacted was to cancel the new textbooks and reissue the earlier ones that had been written twenty-five to forty years ago. Eventually, under the guidance of Professor Krishna Kumar, new textbooks were created for all the social studies classes that followed a thematic schema rather than the usual chronological progression. These textbooks, still in use almost two years after the election of Narendra Modi, through organized differently contained similar narratives as the earlier textbooks that did not highlight the knowledge and insight of ancient India, and they continued to employ the Aryan Invasion Theory with no caveats explaining more contemporary research. Regardless, government-sponsored textbooks are subject to the vaguerities of overly politicized historiography.

The debates in India are not unlike the furor that erupted in the USA in the mid-nineties concerning the U.S. History Standards. In the USA, during the “History Wars” in the late 1980s and 90s, educators and intellectuals from the liberal left and conservative right fought tit for tat battles in the op-ed pages of major newspapers. This is the same sort of scenario that Professor Witzel mentioned concerning a similar controversy in Indian historiography that also saw “an extended battle in the Indian press”.  In the American context, as Sam Wineburg from the University of Washington colorfully described in his book, “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts”,

“The choice between the two seemed absurd but this was exactly what the debate about national history standards had become, ‘George Washington or Bart Simpson,’ asked Senator Slade Gorton (R-Wash) during the 1995 Congressional debates on this subject: Which figure represents a ‘more important part of our Nation’s history for our children to study? To Gorton, the proposed national standards represented a frontal attack on American civilization, an ‘ideologically driven anti-Western monument to politically correct caricature.’ The Senate, in apparent agreement, rejected the standards 99-1.”

The rancor that was exchanged during the debate over the U.S. National History Standards is indicative of the seriousness with which proponents of schools of thought in all nations view their mandates, as if the very survival of the state was at stake. Sam Wineburg amazed that, “In the barroom terms befitting such a brawl, those who wrote the standards were traitors, those who opposed them, racists”. Senator Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential candidate stated that the “national standards were the ‘handiwork of people worse than external enemies’.”  A similar partisan debate played out in India during the late nineties.

When he wrote to the California State Board of Education, Michael Witzel employed the same type of sensationalized condemnation, as did Bob Dole on the Senate floor while objecting to the U.S. History Standards. The vulgar use of this strategy against Hindu parents in California is uncalled for and reprehensible. Witzel wrote that revisions proposed for the Hindu contents of the textbooks “are not of a scholarly but of a religious-political nature”. Ironically, before writing the letter, as mentioned earlier, he had not read the proposed revisions which stressed a more universalist and humanist orientation. We must ask why a professor would make across-the-board, blanket condemnations without any documentation? This approach goes against all academic sensibilities.

Professor Witzel then warned the Curriculum Commission that if they approved the edits presented by the Hindu-American groups, “it would trigger an immediate international scandal.” Such fear mongering is reminiscent of the recently disregarded “color-coded threat advisory system” of the Department of Homeland Security. The third issue taken up by the professor concerned the U.S. State Department’s annual reports on International Religious Freedom issued by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.  For several years I have followed the work of this committee, they are also a bit critical of France: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35454.htm

In his fourth and final paragraph, the professor confesses that he obtained all the signatures in only “48 hours” due to massive emailing to his colleagues. He again maintains that “the proposed textbook changes are unscholarly [and] politically and religiously motivated”. All this, and he never reviewed even one of the proposed textbook changes before leading his academic charge against Hindu-Americans. He concluded his letter with another threat that if California’s State Board of Education accepts the textbook edits suggested by Hindu-Americans, it “will lead without fail to an international scandal”. He did not express the same hysteria concerning the changes requested by the Jewish or Muslim groups. His unsupported tirade singled out one group simply because they practice the Hindu religion, not because their editorial suggestions were invalid—after all, he hadn’t read them!.

The letter from Witzel was filled with condemnation and name-calling. It contained nothing academically specific. Certainly, as a scholar of South Asian Studies, he would not suggest that the textbooks retain this error,  “The people of the Indus Valley developed a civilization that lasted for over 500 years.” He knows very well that the IVC lasted far longer than five centuries. He would have to agree with the recommended edit, “The people of the Indus Valley developed a civilization that lasted for over 1300 years.” Correcting such errors is not political and has nothing to do with Hindutva or Neocons, anymore that the changes requested by the Jewish representatives are examples Zionism or the recommended edits from the Islamic group were representative of al Qaida.

The changes requested by the Hindu groups were no different than the kinds of changes requested by the Jewish representatives. For instance, the Jewish group objected to this phrasing, “A prophet is a person who claims to be instructed by God to share God’s words.”  The ICS explained that this is an “inaccurate interpretation of Jewish thought”. They suggested that the text be changed to, “A prophet is a person who the ancient Israelites thought was instructed by God.” Hindus must also be permitted the same rights as the rest of Americans to change inaccurate interpretations about their religion.  One of the textbooks stated, “The Bhagavad Gita describes a discussion between a god and a Vedic warrior…” The Hindus suggested this be replace with, “The Bhagavad Gita describes a discussion between Krishna and Arjuna…” Certainly Dr. Witzel can find nothing wrong with this suggested change. It is scholarly and appropriate.     I reviewed all the changes requested by the American Hindus and they certainly are not “academically incorrect” as per Professor Witzel’s unsubstantiated accusations.  Under  “Religious Epics,” one questionable text stated, “The Ramayana, written later than the Mahabharata…” All scholars of Hinduism know that the Ramayana was written “prior to the Mahabharata”, as per the suggested correction of the Hindu groups. However, unfortunately, this correction was not supported by Witzel and colleagues who were not only critical of the “motives” of the Hindus who made this chronological correction, but dismissive of the intellectual capacity of sixth grade students. In his review of the recommended edits Witzel’s groups wrote, “Who in Sixth Grade cares which epic was ‘written’ first?” Hindus care, just as Christians would care that the Old Testament was written before the New Testament or Muslims would care that the Qu’ran was written before the Hadiths. Professor Witzel easily trivializes the basic and accepted chronology of Hindu epics. He is also flippant about Hindus’ basic beliefs.

 

The only point of possible contention that I could find among the edits requested by HEF and the Vedic Foundation was a reevaluation of the Aryan Invasion Theory. The Hindu groups did not ask that the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) be overturned in the history textbooks, but that recent alternative research is also mentioned.  For example, one of the edits suggested by HEF requested that a sentence be added to the discussion about the Aryan people who “came from the area around the Caspian and the Black seas.” HEF suggested that this paragraph begin with the sentence, “Since the early 19th century it was believed that […] tribes of people called Aryans began to move into the Indus Valley. These Aryan people came from the area around the Caspian and Black Seas. The recent archeological proofs are negating the Aryan invasion theory. The new theory suggests Aryans were not outsiders.” The Hindu groups recommended that contemporary scholarship and changing historiographical paradigms, should be mentioned in circa 2006 textbooks. This change in paradigm is very threatening to scholars such as Michael Witzel who have staked their careers on the Aryan Invasion Theory. However, this expanded discourse is beneficial to students in California who learn that that the tools of the present can help unlock secretes of the past—hence they have the opportunity to “do historiography”.

Though a bit of arcane research, it was important to explain the on-going research to the members of the California Curriculum Committee, and perhaps deflect some of the hate-the-Hindus rhetoric that emerges from this dispute. In Indian historiography a contemptuous mêlée has erupted around what would otherwise seem like a rather dry intellectual debate among antiquarians discussing the distant past– regarding questions about the origin, or geographical homeland of the Vedic Aryans. Were they, as colonial era historians and also Professor Witzel have stridently claimed, nomadic tribes originating in the Russian Steppes who came into the Subcontinent over the Khyber Pass in successive waves, beginning around 1700 BCE, where they encountered and possibly displaced a sedentary Indus Valley, perhaps Dravidian culture? Or were the Aryan family groups indigenous to India, as many scholars of Vedic literature and most archeologists have proposed? There are numerous books and many websites that discuss this on-going debate.

European philologists discovered the rich literary Sanskrit tradition at the end of the eighteenth century; and during the nineteenth constructed the theory of the “Aryan Invasion” based on their study of the etymology of common roots of words, originating from a theoretical Proto-Indo-European parent language. Indologists mined Vedic literature looking for clues to prove the Aryans originally came from outside of the Subcontinent. The colonialist scholars reasoned that such a sophisticated language, related to but more refined than Latin, must have come into India from outside. According to this line of thinking, from its pristine Vedic form, Sanskritic culture gradually degenerated into Hindu idolatry and ritual. Conveniently, the Aryan Invasion provided a pattern of conquests by outsiders, which helped to justify colonial rule over a land that had always been invaded by foreigners–first the Central Asian Aryans, followed by the Kushans, the Huns, the Turks and Afghans, and finally, by sea, came the Europeans. In this way, India was seen as a derivative civilization, always in need of stimulation from outsiders to progress.

Scholars who refute the Aryan Invasion Theory have called into question the methodologies of philologists and Indologists, and their modern and post-modern counterparts. The “inside India” proponents claim that Indologists constructed theories with a political agenda from an unequal relationship of power–from a position of cultural and economic hegemony. They argue that Indologists who are strongly opposed to considering an indigenous origin for the Sanskrit language are using outdated, Eurocentric colonial era paradigms in their analyses, which overlook not only the archeological record, but misread and ignore important references from Vedic literature.

Many Indologists and professors in departments of South Asian Studies are virulently opposed to even discussing this issue. On Internet scholarly discussion groups this topic elicits insults rather than discourse. Over the past thirty years many scholars, such as the well-known Indian historian Romila Thapar, have revised their versions of the invasion theory and now advocate the Aryan Migration Theory– the Aryan tribes came as nomadic pastoralists in waves over the course of centuries as opposed to the earlier model, which estimated the invasion must have occurred in approximately 1500BC.

Employing alternative research methodologies and reevaluating passages from the Vedas, scholars who are questioning the Aryan Invasion/Migration Theory have pointed out what they perceive as flaws in the early Indological interpretations. Several scholars have computed ancient astronomical correlations based on the procession of the equinoxes with seasonal astrological references from the Rg Veda and the Mahabharata. These scholars, who are often outside the field of history, have used computers to chart eclipses and other celestial events referenced in the Mahabharata and using mathematical calculations, have been able to track the positioning of the moon, Jupiter and Mars in relation to the sun to the exact events described in the ancient texts. Though interesting and cloaked in the scientific method, such research is usually dismissed by mainstream Indological scholars, without review. Others, especially archaeologists, have taken into consideration the vast data that have emerged in the past few decades from discoveries at IVC sites along the bed of the dried up Saraswati/Ghaggar River and across large areas of Northern India and the Gujarati coastal area. Scholars in several disciplines have for several decades seriously challenged the Aryan Invasion/Migration Theory.

The proponents of an inside India origin for the Aryans have suggested that the civilization that created the cities, trading routes, and seaports of the Indus Valley Civilization were in fact, the same cultural/linguistic group whose predecessors produced the Vedas. They are thus the same historical group as the “Harappans” and by extension, ancestors of the contemporary inhabitants of the Indian Subcontinent. This of course could only have occurred if the writing of the Vedas was associated with the urban areas of the Indus Valley Civilization. Such a theory pushes the date of the Vedas back several thousand years from what was assumed by traditional Indologists, who dated them from around 1200 B.C.E. (It is well known that the scholars of the colonial era assumed that the earth was created in 4000 BCE, based on a Biblical timetable. They extrapolated backwards to date the Vedas. Obviously the earth is billions of years older.)

Reinterpreting data, and applying new theories and technologies to old historical problems is the usual and accepted methodology of the history profession and serves to further research.  But, when it comes to the Aryan Invasion Theory, well-established tenured Indologists have little patience for challenges to their pet theory. Quite often, in this debate—as happened in the California textbook confrontation– rather than calling methodologies and textual references into question, a common response against arguments supporting an “inside India” origin of the Aryans, is to politically discredit the research by accusing the scholars of hyper Hindu-centric nationalism. However, there are numerous Western, non-Hindu scholars who are seriously rethinking the plausibility of the invasion theory. Yet, even they are accused of supporting disdainful political agendas. What makes this particular debate so remarkable, besides the vivid and hot hyperbole, is the sheer remoteness of the historical narrative in question. What is truly remarkable is that qualified scholars refuse to consider and carefully examine alternative paradigms and only engage them with hyperbolic insults.

The dispute over the Aryan Invasion Theory plays out in India in an almost identical pattern, where many scholars, including Euro-Americans and Indian leftists, have labeled those who question the Aryan Invasion Theory as Hindu Fundamentalists, even terrorists. They are also referred to by the pejorative term Saffron, in reference to the ochre color of a saint’s robes and the flag used by the RSS. Scholars who are personally committed or professionally attached to the Aryan Invasion/Migration Theory are quick to accuse proponents of the Indigenous Aryan Theory of promoting racism, rabid nationalism, xenophobia, and other social ills. They claim that if the Saffronites succeed in proving that the Aryans were not outsiders, it will make it easier to vilify Indian Muslims as foreigners. Ironically, many caste conscious (read: color conscious) Hindu elites in India also support the Aryan Invasion theory because they prefer to see themselves as racially distinct from indigenous groups. Therefore an Indo-European homeland makes them feel more Caucasian, which they consider to be racially superior to a darker hue of skin tone, which they associate with South Indians and tribal peoples. This type of skin tone based racism can be found in all societies and even within families.

An article that appeared in an Indian magazine Frontline[1] reporting about the 61st session of the Indian History Congress (IHC), held in Kolkata [2]from January 2 to 4, 2001, expressed “concern over attempts to distort history in school textbooks and thus subvert secular education”. The well-known Marxist historian, and eminent scholar from Aligarh University, Professor Irfan Habib is quoted in the article where, in mocking tones, he evaluates the historical debate,

“According to the Sangh Parivar the Aryans did not come to India, they were from North India, in fact, more specifically, from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. This is ridiculous, and it has reached such a point that whoever says that the Aryans came to India are labeled racists and those who say that they were from India are hailed as patriots.[3]

As Habib mentioned, those who support the Aryan Invasion Theory are labeled neo-colonial and anti-Indian, and “racists” by scholars “hailed as patriots” who support the indigenous Aryan theory. Supporters of the AIT in turn label scholars whose work refutes it, “obscurantists”, “deluded”, and commonly, “fascists”. A simplistic polarized understanding–racist/humanist, patriot/traitor– emerges from dogmatic attachment to a particular historical perspective. This methodology of refutation through pejorative labeling is the primary strategy employed by scholars who support the AIT. This reductive approach that elides the issues by creating political straw dogs is destructive. This either/or compartmentalization highlights the dynamic process of contesting historiographies, but it leaves little room for discussion.

[Note: In 2016, Irfan Habib is still searching for the Saraswati River: http://indiafacts.org/irfan-habib-still-searching-for-the-saraswati-river/ ]

The politically charged nature of this debate has provoked normally sophisticated and erudite Sanskrit scholars, even at institutions such as Harvard, to insinuate that supporters of the “Autochtonous Aryan” theory are fascists or at best New Age adherents to neo-Hindu obscurantism. There must be more room allowed for doubt and an exploration of the historical hedges necessary for scholarly discourse. Not all scholars who question the Aryan Invasion theory are Hindus. Professor Kazanas, a scholar of Sanskrit in Athens, Greece pointed out,

“The situation whereby the Aryans are indigenous and compose the bulk of the [Rg Veda] in the 4th millennium in Saptasindhu is a very simple one and in harmony with the archaeological data in the region. Scholars who think that this simple situation is at odds with their linguistic theories need do no more than reexamine these theories, which necessitate the further theory of the Aryan immigration, which theory generates complexities and problems and is in conflict with the data of archaeology. After all it is not as though these linguistic theories are without problems of their own or that in their present form they harmonize with archaeological data anywhere else in the Eurasian belt involved.”

The philologists are defending the Indo-European forts and ready to fight it out with the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), whom they have dubbed Hindu nationalists. Many Euro-American scholars are threatened by this changing paradigm and have drawn their ideological battle lines. Kazanas continues,

“Instead of emitting such strident emotional cries and witch-hunt slogans, Prof Witzel and his followers had better re-examine their unfounded linguistic assumptions and recall the words of Edmund Leach [‘Aryan Invasions over four millennia’ in Culture through Time, (ed) E. Ohnuki-Tierney, Stanford Univ Press, Stanford 1990, pg 227-45], who was neither an Indian nationalist technocrat, nor a New-Age writer, but a solid, mainstream pillar of the academic establishment. He wrote: ‘Because of their commitment to a unilineal segmentary history of language development that needed to be mapped onto the ground, the philologists took it for granted that proto-Indo-Iranian was a language that had originated outside either India or Iran. From this we derived the myth of the Aryan invasions.’ Then that provost of King’s College, Cambridge, added that to shift the Aryan invasion theory, which he dismissed contemptuously, ‘is like trying to cut down a 300-year-old oak tree with a pen-knife. But the job will have to be done one day.’”

It is this dynamic nature of the discipline that is at the heart of true historical research. Students should not be denied to see historiography in action by learning the empowering lesson that tools of the present can unlock the secrets of the past! Regardless of the controversies, the battle over history is ultimately a very democratic process that is constantly pushing the envelope of knowledge by illuminating little known facts and presenting alternative interpretations. Often scholars outside the field make breakthrough discoveries that create a framework or timetable upon which historical hypotheses can be re-explored and re-articulated.

There is the inevitable backlash created by a paradigm shift from those who are dedicated or attached to the earlier paradigm. We all know what happened to Galileo– he had to recant that the earth was round. This reluctance to accept new paradigms (new information) has been seen throughout history and in many disciplines. For example, research in neuroscience in the mid 1970’s discovered that the central nervous system could affect the immune system– and the new science, psychoneuroimmunology was born.  Even with continuing research studies confirming these findings, providing further evidence that not only the brain, but what we think and feel affects the immune system, it was not until 20 years later that textbooks in the healthcare field began to include psychoneuroimmunology and the power of the body-mind connection to affect health. The changing theory of the Aryan invasion has similar potential and foot-dragging resistance–where sympathetic scholars risk excommunication.

Professor Witzel’s near rabid and almost irrational letter that was sent to the California curriculum authorities was replete with pejoratives and lacked substantive analysis regarding any of the approved edits. Unfortunately, the views of one hostile professor upset the multi-faceted, months long, professionally designed, democratic process that the State of California implemented in the textbook adoption procedures. When the agreed upon edits in the sections on Hinduism were suddenly subjected to hostile scrutiny in closed meetings, due to a inflammatory letter, then no ethnic minority is safe frfom this kind of assault. The approved edits for the sections of Judaism and Islam were left in tack. However the edits submitted by the Hindus, that had been subjected to the same scrutiny and had been carefully approved, were stopped in their tracks by Witzel’s last minute politically charged petition. The editorial suggestions made by the Hindus over the past six months, were torn apart and subjected to an additional round of critiques conducted by non-Hindus based solely on the hotly worded letter written with an obvious anti-Hindu agenda.

On the same day that Witzel’s infamous letter arrived, on November 8th, the SBE proclamation was made public, based on citizen input and professional and bureaucratic review. Though you would think that rescinding certain approved editorial suggestions would require a public process, or some kind of consultation with the citizens upon whose testimony the approved edits were based. No consultation occurred prior to rescinding the decision of the textbook board. Also, there is the embarrassing problem that if the edits approved for the Hindus are retroactively disallowed and the edits approved for the Jews and Muslims are allowed to remain–this is blatant discrimination. Nonetheless, the Hindu citizens of California were singled out for discrimination because of one hostile letter, on Harvard letterhead, sent in haste to the Curriculum Committee.

Could it have happened this way? Imagine a group inspired by their academic investigations into the veracity of the Exodus story in the Bible. Such a motivated group may have unintentional anti-Semitic tendencies as they argue that the “Exodus story was produced for theological reasons: to give an origin and history to a people and distinguish them from others by claiming a divine destiny.” (http://www.truthbeknown.com/exodus.htm) The ICS reviewed the Jewish portions of the textbooks and suggested that  “It is essential to clarify that the Passover observance is: “more than a meal and not a celebration of the tenth plague; rather, it commemorates the Exodus.” The ICS requested these edits: “Jewish families hold a special ceremony called the Seder.  During this service, families retell the Exodus story, [add these words: express sorrow for the plagues God sent to the Egyptians,] and eat certain foods. [remove these words: such as matzoh, a bread Israelites ate during the Exodus.] [Add this sentence: “Jews observe Passover for eight days in memory of the Exodus when their ancestors escaped from Egyptian slavery.]” Because there are scholars who refute the Exodus story will the SBE retract their approved edits if the anti-Exodus group arrived in a heated letter? Before rescinding the approved edits would the SBE further confer with the ICS? This is a hypothetical absurdity, but exactly what happened to the Hindu-Americans.

This negativist, defeatist view of India through the lens of the drainpipe inspector, is in its dying throws. The level of fury evoked by a few simple culturally sympathetic editorial changes in sixth grade textbooks, indicates a heightened paranoia on the part of those making the accusations. Though the writers of the abrasive letter had not seen the suggestions of the Hindu advisors prior to writing their vehement critique and across-the-board rejection of the proposed edits, ironically, these same scholarly critics were immediately retained by the SBE to evaluate the editorial suggestions that they had already condemned sight unseen. The organizations representing practioners, who had presented at the public meetings for several months, were not consulted.

The Hindu educational organizations involved in the public process of correcting perceived bias and errors in textbooks, were not political organizations. Most are spiritual practitioners of the Hindu tradition who live in the USA. As American Hindus, raising children in America’s multicultural environment, they seek a more representative description of their religious traditions in their children’s textbooks. The Hindu educational organizations never expected to be subjected to scorn and ridicule for publicly stating their religious perspectives. The professor who wrote to condemn the Hindus of California said that their perspectives “do not reflect the views of the majority of specialist [sic] on ancient India.” However, their perspectives represent the views of tens of thousands of Hindu Americans and tens of millions of Hindus in India. These are the people who comprise “mainstream Hindus.” Professor Witzel’s letter accused these Hindu-Americans of discrimination against “tens of millions of non-Hindu Indians”– a charge that is ludicrous, inapplicable, and intentionally insulting.

NOTE: Some of the above text may be included in several of these forwarded email letters from Yvette Rosser to members of the California Textbook Board.  Yvette Rosser had communicated with several members of the textbook board for six months prior to Witzel’s intervention. For over six months she had been involved in the process of submitting suggested changes in the wording of the textbooks regards to the narrative about India and Hinduism as found in the sixth grade World Civilizations textbooks in California.

California’s Textbook Review Process: the Hindu Perspective

Compiled from Letters Written in 2005 by Yvette Rosser to California Department of Education

November 20, 2005

To:  Sue Stickel, Deputy Superintendent, Curriculum and Instruction Branch, Ruth Green, State Board of Education, Dr. Rebecca Parker, Mr. Tom Adams and to the Members of the Curriculum Commission, Members of the Content Review Panel (CRP), and the California Department of Education (CDE), et al,

Greetings,

Commitment to both professionalism and pluralism, as well as a conscientious consideration of citizen input were the hallmarks of California’s recent textbook adoption review process. This democratic approach is indicative of excellent educational methodology. In late September several informed and concerned groups of Americans met with the members of the Curriculum Commission and offered recommendations regarding the social studies textbooks under consideration in California. The passages identified in the textbooks, which required editing, were negative or erroneous descriptions about the religious beliefs and practices of Jews, Muslims, and Hindus.

For two days, representatives of these three groups met with the Curriculum Commission. They pointed out misrepresentations in the textbooks and stereotypes regarding their religious traditions. The sentences and paragraphs sited for editing were determined by the practitioners to be erroneous, controversial, and/or racist. There was concern that these statements, if left in the textbooks, would create xenophobic or ill-informed sensational images in the minds of adolescent students and also negatively impact the identity formation of Jewish-American, Hindu-American, and Muslim-American children.

The Institute for Curriculum Services (ICS) submitted corrections and suggestions regarding representations of Judaism to ensure that the sections on Judaism in the textbooks accurately reflected Jewish sensibilities and did not inadvertently promote anti-Semitism. The Council on Islamic Education (CIE) pointed out various errors and proposed alternative wording for certain parts of the sections on Islam. The Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) and the Vedic Foundation (VF) provided feedback about the sections on Hinduism.

After many hours of testimony and the submission of detailed requests recommending specific edits and corrections, the Curriculum Commission and the Content Review Panel (CRP) reviewed the edits and reported to the California State Board of Education (SBE). According to a notice issued by the Board of Education on November 8th, “the Ad Hoc Committee reviewed 684 edits, of which 499 were approved and added to the Curriculum Commission’s recommendation to the SBE.” Some of the edits were corrections of glaring mistakes, such as one textbook that stated, “Hindi is written with the Arabic alphabet, which uses 18 letters that stand for sounds.”  This is an obvious error.  Hindi is written in the Devanagari alphabet that has 52 characters. There were other historiological corrections and some were of a more sensitive interpersonal nature reflective of the intimacy of practitioners.

Two areas of concern shared by the Jewish and the Hindu analysts was the lack of a capitalization of the word “god” when used for Jewish or Hindu supreme beings.  Both the Institute for Curriculum Services and the Hindu Education Foundation reviewers objected to the use of the word “story” in reference to their scriptures, because “it conveys the idea that the events described are fictitious.” HEF pointed out that one textbook mentioned “gods and goddesses from popular Hindu stories,” and suggested that this terminology be replace with “various forms of God from Hindu scriptures.”  Another textbook stated that, “Dharma is a very important idea in Hinduism.” The advisors suggested that the word “idea” be replaced by “belief”. These are simple changes that make the narrative more informative and more in accordance with the beliefs and practices of the practitioners.

The ICS warned the textbook writers that, “gratuitous material that paints Jews as wicked people who deserve to be punished is not suitable for a public school text book. It brings in a very negative perspective of Jews that can promote anti-Semitism in the classroom and is in violation of adoption criteria #10 that requires neutrality among the religions.”  The Hindu scholars noted that there were several passages in the textbooks that trivialized their faith and openly mocked Hindu beliefs. For example: “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?”  Making fun of Hinduism in this context is completely unjustified and irresponsible and does not lead students in American classrooms towards a holistic and respectful understanding of religions in India.

There are several other examples where the citizens’ critiques emphasized the need for a more respectful portrayal of their religions. For example, the ICS suggested that narratives about Judaism should include a discussion of “ethical monotheism” as “Judaism’s key contribution to western thought and values.” Hindus were careful to fully define the word “Dharma”, which is central to their faith. Like the Jewish groups, the Hindu groups requested subtle changes such as the heading “Hindu Beliefs About Multiple Gods” should be replaced with the less sensational and more accurate phrasing: “Hindu Beliefs About Various Forms of God.” The requests from all three groups were realistic and sensitive.

Because so few details about Hinduism are known by textbook writers and/or social studies teachers, unfortunately many simplistic and easy to correct errors are often made. For instance, one textbook stated, “As time passed, Indians began to question how the world came into being. These questions led to changes in Brahmanism.” The suggested editorial change was, “As time passed, Indians began to question how the world came into being. These questions led to changes in contemporary religious ideas.” This conveys more meaning to the student and is more in sync with Hindu self-concepts. “Brahmanism” is not a term that a Hindu would ever use. It was coined during the colonial era and is not used by Hindus to self-describe their religion.  These were among the changes accepted in the November memo issued by Sue Stickel, Deputy Superintendent Curriculum and Instruction Branch.

On November 8, a professor wrote a letter to the California State Board of Education. He vehemently objected to the input from citizens—revealing a contemptuousness of the process inherent in the California textbook adoption procedures. Out of the three groups who participated in the curriculum review, he singled out the Hindus for condemnation—without even having read their editorial suggestions.  Below I address the perspectives raised in his letter, which must have come as a big surprise to the Curriculum Committee.

In the opening statement of his letter, the professor wrote that he was writing at the request of “over four dozen scholars” from around the world. Tellingly, the honorable professor was unaware of the textbook adoption procedures in California until November 5th, when a graduate student wrote him an alarmist letter.  Please note that within three days, Doctors Witzel and Farmer had gathered signatures from a group of their friends and colleagues to protest against the democratic functioning of the California textbooks adoption process—all this, without ever having read the suggested edits.

Before writing the letter, Professor Witzel did not have an opportunity to examine the list of recommended textbook edits because they had not yet been made public by your office. He targeted his assault specifically against Hindu-Americans, not against the Jewish and Islamic citizens of California.  Below I engage his letter and will try to explain the issues, some of which may be obscure and academic.

The politically motivated anti-Hindu correspondence, issued from out of the academic blue, should not be allowed to infringe on the rights of American citizens—just because they are Hindus.  It would seem that the professor has a political agenda, in contrast with accepted educational standards.

On November 5th, when Dr. Witzel received the urgently worded letter from a graduate student concerning the California textbook adoption process, he and his colleague, Steve Farmer, went into high gear to gather momentum, attempting to create an uproar. It is astonishing that in only three days he sent his letter to the Curriculum Committee on behalf of dozens of the “most distinguished world experts in the field”.  All this was accomplished without any of the signatories ever having read one word from the requested edits submitted by the Hindu-American groups. This furor is indicative of the professor’s political agenda and has nothing to do with curriculum development, pluralism in California classrooms, or the beliefs of Hindu-Americans.

In his first paragraph, the professor urged the State Board of Education “to reject the demands of the nationalist Hindu (‘Hindutva’) groups that California textbooks be altered to conform to their religious-political views”.  I was startled to see this unexpected use of the term “Hindutva” applied to American citizens for three reasons. First, it is inapplicable and inappropriate—implying that the Vedic Foundation has “ill-concealed political agendas” is as absurd as linking Buddhism to bulimia.  Secondly, most members of the California Curriculum Committee probably do not know much about political contests in India or the definition of “Hindutva” anymore than a member of an educational committee in a state on the west coast of India would understand the nuanced implications of the political term “Neo-con”.  Thirdly, Professor Witzel intended his use of the word “Hindutva” to be an insult, as in the American context the term “liberal” is often used as a pejorative by right wing groups. Professor Witzel employed it in an effort to slur the Hindu groups who participated in the textbook review process in California.

Though the term Neo-Con is tied up with the political use of Christianity, a scholar who is teaching Christianity would never assume that the Neo-Con view was the dominant model. So too, Hindutva is associated with the politicization of Hinduism in the Indian context–it is certainly not the only model of Hinduism for practicing Hindus. This is not a partisan political issue playing out in India’s democratic system– it concerns the education of American children. “Hindutva” is a term with political implications in India, but has absolutely nothing to do with efforts to eliminate racist wording and sensationalist and erroneous information in the textbooks under consideration in California.

“On behalf of [his] colleagues”, the professor called “attention to four points” which I will briefly attempt to engage and explain: (1) He once again employed derogatory language referring to the “the agenda of the groups proposing these changes”—without ever having read through the proposed changes how can he determine their agenda?  I have a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction, and professionally, I must emphatically insist that a researcher first investigate and analyze materials before offering judgment–otherwise it is just a blanket condemnation with no substance, based on assumptions.  Unfortunately, this is the unsubstantiated, insulting approach employed in the baseless letter sent to the California State Board of Education by Dr. Witzel on November 8th.

The professor then discussed controversies in historiography in India, and the “long battle to prevent exactly these kinds of changes from finding a permanent place in history textbooks in India”.  Interestingly, this recent debate in India was not unlike the furor that erupted in the USA in the mid-nineties concerning the U.S. History Standards. The rewriting of history is not unique to India. History battles are being waged from Israel and Palestine to the Balkans and the countries of the former Soviet Block.

In the USA, during the “History Wars” in the late 1980s and 90s, educators and intellectuals from the liberal left and conservative right fought tit for tat battles in the op-ed pages of major newspapers. This is the same sort of scenario that Professor Witzel mentioned concerning a similar controversy in Indian historiography that also saw “an extended battle in the Indian press”.

In the American context, as Sam Wineburg from the University of Washington colorfully describes in his book, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts,

“The choice between the two seemed absurd but this was exactly what the debate about national history standards had become, ‘George Washington or Bart Simpson,’ asked Senator Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) during the 1995 Congressional debates on this subject: Which figure represents a ‘more important part of our Nation’s history for our children to study? To Gorton, the proposed national standards represented a frontal attack on American civilization, an ‘ideologically driven anti-Western monument to politically correct caricature.’ The Senate, in apparent agreement, rejected the standards 99-1.”

The rancor that was exchanged during the debate over the U.S. National History Standards is indicative of the seriousness with which proponents of schools of thought in all nations view their mandates, as if the very survival of the state was at stake. Sam Wineburg amazed that, “In the barroom terms befitting such a brawl, those who wrote the standards were traitors, those who opposed them, racists”. Senator Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential candidate stated that the “national standards were the ‘handiwork of people worse than external enemies’.”  A similar partisan debate played out in India during the late nineties.

When he wrote to the SBE, Michael Witzel employed the same type of sensationalized condemnation as did Bob Dole on the Senate floor while objecting to the U.S. History Standards, Witzel wrote that revisions proposed for the Hindu contents of the textbooks “are not of a scholarly but of a religious-political nature”. Ironically, he had not read the proposed revisions which stressed a more universalist and humanist orientation. How could a professor make  such across-the-board, blanket condemnations without any documentation? This approach goes against all academic sensibilities.

Witzel stated that the editorial changes, which, as mentioned, he had never seen, “do not reflect the views of the majority of specialist [sic] on ancient Indian history nor of mainstream Hindus.” Witzel’s contention that the Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation discriminate against “tens of millions of non-Hindu Indians” is ludicrous, inapplicable, and intentionally insulting. This libelous accusation is tantamount to accusing Zero Mostel of destabilizing the nation.

The next issue the professor raised (paragraph #2), stated the revisions “that Hindu nationalists are now trying to force into California textbooks” are similar to changes that were “soundly repudiated in the last two years by Indian educators”. Since he has not examined the suggested edits in California, he cannot make any comparisons. He referred to the five-year period “in which the central government was under Hindutva control”. Actually, it was a coalition government, the NDA (National Democratic Alliance), headed by the BJP and supported by regional parties. In the late nineties they sought to update the state sponsored textbooks that had been written in the early seventies and repeatedly reprinted for over twenty years. Their efforts to replace the NCERT (National Council of Education and Training) textbooks resulted in great controversy. A case went all the way to the high court, which ruled that the new textbooks could be produced. A few years later, the NDA lost power in an election and the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) gained control of the central government. The UPA is a Congress Party led coalition with the support of the Communist Parties of India. One of the first changes they enacted was to cancel the new textbooks and reissue the ones written in 1975. Luckily, the USA does not have government-sponsored textbooks that are subject to the vaguerities of overly politicized historiography.

Professor Witzel then warned the Curriculum Commission that if they considered the edits presented by the Hindu-American groups, “it would trigger an immediate international scandal.” Such fear mongering is reminiscent of the recently disregarded “color-coded threat advisory system” of the Department of Homeland Security. The third issue taken up by the professor concerned the U.S. State Department’s annual reports on International Religious Freedom issued by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.  For several years I have followed the work of this committee, they are also a bit critical of France: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35454.htm

In his fourth and final paragraph, the professor confesses that he obtained all the signatures in only “48 hours”, due to massive emailing to his colleagues. He again maintains that “the proposed textbook changes are unscholarly [and] politically and religiously motivated”. All this, and he never reviewed even one of the proposed textbook changes before leading his academic charge against Hindu-Americans.

He concluded his letter with another threat that if California’s State Board of Education accepts the textbook edits suggested by Hindu-Americans, it “will lead without fail to an international scandal”. He did not express the same hysteria concerning the changes requested by the Jewish or Muslim groups. His unsupported tirade singled out one group simply because they are Hindus, not because their editorial suggestions were invalid.

The letter from Witzel was an across-the-board condemnation and name-calling. It contained nothing academically specific. I am curious as to what items exactly would he recommend should not be changed? Certainly, as a scholar of South Asian Studies, he would not suggest that the textbooks retain this:  “The people of the Indus Valley developed a civilization that lasted for over 500 years.” He knows very well that the IVC lasted far longer than five centuries. He would have to agree with the recommended edit, “The people of the Indus Valley developed a civilization that lasted for over 1300 years.” Correcting such errors is not political and has nothing to do with Hindutva or Neocons anymore that the changes requested by the Jewish representatives are examples Zionism.

The changes requested by the Hindu groups are no different than the kinds of changes requested by the Jewish group. For instance, the Jewish group objected to this phrasing, “A prophet is a person who claims to be instructed by God to share God’s words.”  The ICS explained that this is an “inaccurate interpretation of Jewish thought”. They suggested that the text be changed to, “A prophet is a person who the ancient Israelites thought was instructed by God.” Can Hindus also be permitted the same rights as the rest of Americans to change inaccurate interpretations about their religion?  One of the textbooks stated, “The Bhagavad Gita describes a discussion between a god and a Vedic warrior…” The Hindu groups suggested that this be replace with, “The Bhagavad Gita describes a discussion between Krishna and Arjuna…” Certainly Dr. Witzel can find nothing wrong with this suggested change. It is scholarly and appropriate. I reviewed all the changes requested by the American Hindus and they are not “academically incorrect” as per Professor Witzel’s unsubstantiated accusation.  In this statement under  “Religious Epics,” the current text stated, “The Ramayana, written later than the Mahabharata…” All scholars of Hinduism know that the “The Ramayana, [was] written prior to the Mahabharata…”, as per the suggested correction of the Hindu reviewers.

The only point of possible contention that I could find among the edits requested by HEF and the Vedic Foundation was a reevaluation of the Aryan Invasion Theory. The Hindu groups did not ask that the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) be over turned in the history textbooks, but that recent research be mentioned.  For example, one of the edits suggested by HEF requested that a sentence be added to the discussion about the Aryan people who “came from the area around the Caspian and the Black seas.” HEF suggested that this paragraph could begin with the sentence, “Since the early 19th century it was believed that […] tribes of people called Aryans began to move into the Indus Valley. These Aryan people came from the area around the Caspian and Black Seas. The recent archeological proofs are negating the Aryan invasion theory. The new theory suggests Aryans were not the outsiders.” The VF and HEF are simply asking that contemporary scholarship and changing historiographical paradigms are mentioned in the 2006 textbook. This change in paradigm is very threatening to scholars such as Michael Witzel who have staked their careers on the Aryan Invasion Theory; hence the vituperative letter.

In conclusion to this long email, I would hope that the almost irrational letter sent to the California curriculum authorities from Professor Witzel will not impact your decisions on the textbook edits. His letter was replete with pejoratives and lacked substantive analysis regarding any of the approved edits. I sincerely hope that the views of one hostile professor will not upset the multi-pronged, professionally designed, democratic process that the State of California implemented in the textbook adoption procedures.

If the agreed upon edits in the sections on Hinduism are suddenly denied due to the inflammatory letter, then no ethnic minority is safe from this kind of assault. If the edits remain that were approved for the sections of Judaism and Islam, then I will assume that the edits approved for the sections on Hinduism will also remain in tact. If not, it is a travesty, discriminatory, and short-sighted. I am assured that you will give due consideration to the situation.

My apologies for such a long letter, thank you very much. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write or call: 512 xxx.

All the best,

Dr. Yvette C. Rosser

PhD-Curriculum and Instruction

MA&BA-South Asian Studies

Teaching Certifications- Social Studies & English

 

—————-

 

This is the next letter that I wrote to the members of the Curriculum Committee:

 

6th Grade Social Studies Textbooks-approved edits

Yesterday I sent you a long letter regarding edits in the sixth grade textbooks. I appreciate your commitment to professionalism and pluralism.  In your months of deliberative procedures you paid attention to the learning criteria as well as the sensibilities of religious minorities in our communities. After due process the SBE decided to edit several negative or erroneous descriptions about the religious beliefs and practices of Jews, Muslims, and Hindus from our children’s textbooks.

After two days of testimony and weeks of study, the SBE issued a notice on November 8th, that the Ad Hoc Committee had reviewed 684 edits, and approved 499.  Shortly after these edits were announced a highly incendiary letter arrived from a professor. He singled out the Hindu-American community, using pejorxatives against them and making ungrounded assumptions, with a blanket condemnation of all the suggested editorial changes made by the Hindu-American citizens who testified before the California Curriculum Committee.

 

Before writing his rather racist and rude letter, the professor did not have the opportunity to review any of the edits, yet he stated that the “proposed revisions are not of a scholarly but of a religious-political nature” and “do not reflect the views of the majority of specialist on ancient Indian history nor of mainstream Hindus.” He pronounced judgment without reviewing the materials. Certainly, as a scholar of Sanskrit he must know that Hindi is written in the Devanagari alphabet that has 52 characters, whereas the Harcourt textbook stated that, “Hindi is written with the Arabic alphabet, which uses 18 letters…”  Other edits were of a more sensitive interpersonal nature reflective of the intimacy of practitioners. Since Professor Witzel is well known within the Hindu-American community for his mocking tone and aggressive stance, he would not be a good source of editorial advice concerning “the intimacy of practitioners”

 

I sincerely hope that last-minute misinformed efforts by biased academics cannot derail a state approved process in which testimony was taken from dozens of citizens, who submitted documents; followed by a clearly laid out procedure in which several reports were made within the SBE and a final judgment was issued. This was the case on November 8th before the letter arrived from Dr. Witzel. I am greatly concerned that the decision of the SBE will be withdrawn regarding the representation of Hinduism in 6th grade social studies textbooks. Does this also mean that the changes approved in the sections on Judaism and Islam will also be rescinded? Will the whole process have to be repeated?

 

I assume, once a proclamation is made public, based on citizen input and professional and bureaucratic review, that recalling certain sections would require a public process, or some kind of consultation with the citizens upon whose testimony the approved edits were based. There is also the embarrassing problem that if the edits requested by the Hindus are retroactively disallowed and the edits requested by the Jews and Muslims are allowed to remain–this is blatant discrimination. The SBE must ensure that the Hindu citizens of California are not singled out for discrimination because of a random letter to the Curriculum Committee.

 

It could as well as been a group inspired by their academic investigations into the veracity of the Exodus story in the Bible. Such a motivated group may have unintentional anti-Semitic tendencies as they argue that the “Exodus story was produced for theological reasons: to give an origin and history to a people and distinguish them from others by claiming a divine destiny.” (http://www.truthbeknown.com/exodus.htm) The ICS reviewed the Jewish portion of the textbooks and suggested that  “It is essential to clarify that the Passover observance is: “more than a meal and not a celebration of the tenth plague; rather, it commemorates the Exodus.” The ICS requested these edits: “Jewish families hold a special ceremony called the Seder.  During this service, families retell the Exodus story, [add these words: express sorrow for the plagues God sent to the Egyptians,] and eat certain foods. [remove these words: such as matzoh, a bread Israelites ate during the Exodus.] [Add this sentence: “Jews observe Passover for eight days in memory of the Exodus when their ancestors escaped from Egyptian slavery.]” Because there are scholars who refute the Exodus story will you retract your approved edits if they wrote you a heated letter? Before rescinding the approved edits would you confer with the ICS?

 

I ask these important questions because of an email letter sent out on Friday, Nov. 11, at 8:33am written by Steve Farmer to the yahoo discussion group of which he and Michael Witzel are cofounders and moderators, The Indo-Eurasian Research Group:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Indo-Eurasian_research/Group

 

Under the subject line, “California Hindutva textbook fiasco ends well!”, Dr. Farmer wrote:

[…]

In California this Wednesday the State Board of Education demonstrated that science can still win — by decisively voting _not_ to give into Hindutva pressures to change California textbooks.

 

Events that started on this List just last Saturday, resulting in a letter we put together signed by 50 top international researchers, turned the tide.

 

It is now 6:30 am in California. Michael and I will have a detailed report of what went on this week in California — both at the Board meeting on Wednesday and behind the scenes — by the end of the day.

 

Thanks — and congratulations! — to Arun Vajpayee, the brave graduate student who got the ball rolling last Saturday, and to the scores of researchers on the List who helped in California!

 

The BBC Hindutva issue is next….

 

Best,

Steve

 

—end  of forwarded letter—

 

Is this true? Is it that simple to undo weeks of SBE work and hours of citizen testimony? Did your office “decisively” and suddenly vote to rescind the approved edits? Did someone in your office really send Steve Farmer and Michael Witzel a “detailed report of what went on … in California — both at the Board meeting on Wednesday and behind the scenes”? If so, did they also send the same notice to the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) who submitted numerous briefs? Could I also please receive a copy of that “detailed report”?

 

I will willingly offer advice or help pro bono to solve this problem in any way possible. I have a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction and MA & BA In South Asian Studies and I am highly motivated regarding this topic.  Please let me know if the SBE backtracked regarding the notice of recommendations issued by Sue Stickel on November 8th, the Deputy Superintendent Curriculum and Instruction Branch. If so, were all the edits cancelled or only those regarding Hinduism?

 

Thank you, I hope to hear from you at your earliest convenience.

All the best,

 

Yvette C. Rosser, PhD

 

In his letter above, Steve Farmer is referring to the BBC website about Hinduism:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/history/history5.shtml

 

The Aryan Invasion Theory

One of the most controversial ideas about Hindu history is the Aryan invasion theory.

 

This theory, originally devised by F. Max Muller in 1848, traces the history of Hinduism to the invasion of India’s indigenous people by lighter skinned Aryans around 1500 BCE.

 

The theory was reinforced by other research over the next 120 years, and became the accepted history of Hinduism, not only in the West but in India.

 

There is now ample evidence to show that Muller, and those who followed him, were wrong.

 

Why isn’t the theory no longer accepted?

The Aryan invasion theory was based on archaeological, linguistic and ethnological evidence, that has been overturned.

 

Later research has either discredited this evidence, or provided new evidence that combined with the earlier evidence makes other explanations more likely.

 

Modern historians of the area no longer believe that such invasions had such great influence on Indian history. It’s now generally accepted that Indian history shows a continuity of progress from the earliest times to today.

 

The changes brought to India by other cultures are not denied by modern historians, but they are no longer thought to be a major ingredient in the development of Hinduism.

 

Dangers of the theory

The Aryan invasion theory denies the Indian origin of India’s predominant culture, but gives the credit for Indian culture to invaders from elsewhere.

 

It even teaches that some of the most revered books of Hindu scripture are not actually Indian, and it devalues India’s culture by portraying it as less ancient than it actually is.

 

The theory was not just wrong, it included unacceptably racist ideas:

 

* it suggested that Indian culture was not a culture in its own right, but a synthesis of elements from other cultures

* it implied that Hinduism was not an authentically Indian religion but the result of cultural imperialism

* it suggested that Indian culture was static, and only changed under outside influences

* it suggested that the dark-skinned Dravidian people of the South of India had got their faith from light-skinned Aryan invaders

* it implied that indigenous people were incapable of creatively developing their faith

* it suggested that indigenous peoples could only acquire new religious and cultural ideas from other races, by invasion or other processes

* it accepted that race was a biologically based concept (rather than, at least in part, a social construct) that provided a sensible way of ranking people in a hierarchy, which provided a partial basis for the caste system

* it provided a basis for racism in the Imperial context by suggesting that the peoples of Northern India were descended from invaders from Europe and so racially closer to the British Raj

* it gave a historical precedent to justify the role and status of the British Raj, who could argue that they were transforming India for the better in the same way that the Aryans had done thousands of years earlier

* it downgraded the intellectual status of India and its people by giving a falsely late date to elements of Indian science and culture.

 

—–

 

Wouldn’t BBC be a better informant than professors who “dirtied the water”?

 

 

 

Date: Wed, 23 Nov 2005 04:51:25 -0800 (PST)

From: Yvette Rosser, yvetterosser@xx.com

Subject: Academic advisors on Hinduism for California textbooks

To: “Dr. Rebecca Parker” … “Dr, Tom Adams” …

 

Greetings Dr. Parker and Dr. Adams,

On the telephone yesterday, Dr. Parker and I discussed the fact that the SBE has retained an academic adviser, a professor of Indian Studies who can review the sections on Hinduism and give scholarly advice to approve or reject the suggested edits. Of course, this has to happen quickly in order for the new textbooks to be in the classrooms in the fall.

 

I that context, I would like to point out that there is a tremendous divergence in approach to the study of India, as this recent adoption process of social studies textbooks made obvious. Please be certain that the professor you retained in an advisory role is not adversarial to Hindu ethos.

 

A good litmus of this imperative is that you please be sure that his or her name does not appear on the petition circulated by Professor Witzel. As Dr. Parker and I discussed, the petition is mean-spirited name-calling and has no substance, it does not engage the academic issues concerning the edits, it is a blanket condemnation written sight-unseen.

 

I was actually a bit shocked to see that some well-known professors such as Dr. Stanley Wolpert and Dr. Fred Smith, signed such an unsubstantiated petition. I suppose it was worded so sensationally that they signed as a political point. The professors must have assumed that Dr. Witzel had reviewed the suggested edits and THEN sent out the strongly worded petition. They must have trusted the petition was based on academic overview of the materials… or else why would they sign something without first reviewing the materials in question?

 

I would strongly suggest that the scholar whom you retain to review the section on Hinduism is NOT one of the signatories. If they signed the petition, that would be a conflict of interest. They would be predisposed in the case and their judgments would be compromised.

 

During the curriculum review process, Shiva Bajpai, Director of Asian Studies at California State University, Northridge and specialist on ancient Indian history consulted with the groups who proposed the edits. His understanding of the textual references are more in line with the sensibilities of practicing Hindus. I suggest you retain his services. Definitely do not depend on one of the professors who signed the petition—such prejudicial pre-assumptions would appear very strange and taint the process.

 

As we noted, in the OUP textbook was this unprofessional statement: “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?”

 

This made me wonder, what if textbooks in India while, explaining Christianity, wrote “Christ says ‘Whenever two are gathered together in my name, I am there also.’ See Jesus around?” That would NEVER happen in India. They are very sensitive of their minority communities and Christians make up about 2.3% of India’s population.

 

I have also wondered what a child in India would think of the USA if America were presented to children in India in the same sensational manner that India is presented to children in the USA. In U.S. textbooks, India is frozen in time and a mostly negative approach to the past is stressed. After studying about India, American students think they burn their widows, starve girl babies, and worship rats.

 

Using this same negative approach, children in India, after studying about the USA, would think that women were often accused of witchcraft and that they still had to march in the streets to get rights and that African-Americans were slaves. Luckily, textbooks in India don’t do this. Let us be sure that our textbooks don’t fall into the trap of using old models and narrations with subtle biases.

 

Thank you for your attention. I apologize for the long letters, but I hope they have been informative and useful. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

All the best,

Yvette C. Rosser

Fax sent to #: (916) xxx on February 20, 2006

 

Paul Seave,

Chief Counsel,

State Board of Education

 

Glee Johnson,

President of the State Board of Education

 

Members, State Board of Education

 

I am writing to express the mounting concern of Hindu-American citizens who share grave misgivings about the manner in which Hinduism is presented to their children in Social Studies textbooks. According to the SBE Standards, education should “instill in each child a sense of pride in his or her heritage [and] develop a feeling of self-worth” and “enable all students to become aware and accepting of religious diversity”. Importantly, Social Studies education should “eradicate the roots of prejudice”. Remarkably, and contrary to the stated standards, there is a documented predominance of negativity applied to Hinduism, a subtle but ubiquitous critical slant that is absent in the presentation of other religious traditions written for adolescent California school children.

 

Hindu-Americans, who attended secondary school in the USA, have personally experienced this ubiquitous, if unintentional bias. Indian-American high school and university students took part in a study a few years ago, “Stereotypes in Schooling: Negative Pressures in the American Educational System on Hindu Identity Formation”. The Indian-American students complained about a predominance of sensationalism in the textbook approach to their heritage. One student, interviewed during her senior year in high school stated, “… middle schoolers have very open minds. Some of my friends from middle school are now very racist [….] a friend … admitted that if he hadn’t been taught [negative things] about [India] he wouldn’t be the way he is now. He has a closed mind [as result of the way that] World history was taught to us.”

 

(Note: New reference data added Jan. 2016, earlier URL from 2001 no longer active): https://yvetterosser.com/2015/04/13/stereotypes-in-schooling-negative-pressures-in-the-american-educational-system-by-yvette-c-rosser-phd/

 

https://yvetterosser.com/2015/04/13/stereotypes-in-schooling-negative-pressures-in-the-american-educational-system-continued-by-yvette-c-rosser-phd/

 

Several years ago a teenage Indian-American student wrote an essay, My Experience in Middle School and High School Social Studies Classes, “Every day, young [Indian-American] children and teenagers are unreasonably tormented because of our perceived background. The school textbooks are half the cause. The average American doesn’t know … about India, and with the help of poorly researched textbooks, they learn nonsense. […] The sheer embarrassment of the situation is enough to make [Hindu] students everywhere wish we could have been ‘normal’ by American standards….” The student concludes her essay with a query, “But why do we put up with it? Jewish, African-American, and Orientals all have organizations against defamation and they are represented correctly in the textbooks. Why aren’t we? […] we should be able to at least correct the blatant misinterpretation of our culture.” This high school student then beseeches Hindu-American parents to contact the State Board of Education because “deshi” children “are being ridiculed everywhere in America because of what today’s modern student is learning. It’s not going to change unless we become part of the solution.” http://www.mcwret.org/hicad/Essay%20by%20Trisha%20Pasricha.htm

 

Hindu parents in California worked for months to interface within the pedagogical process prescribed by the SBE, in an effort to be part of the solution and work to rescue third-generation Hindu children from lingering misinformation and stereotypes. Many of the parents who are involved in this process are second generation Indian-Americans and they themselves endured the biased textbooks a decade ago. Now that they are adults with children of their own, they are motivated to solve the pervasive problem—so, they turned to the State Board of Education and followed the procedures, step by step working to remove bias that has skewed the narrative about their heritage.

 

Undoubtedly you are keenly aware of the on-going controversy concerning the content on ancient India and Hinduism in sixth grade Social Studies textbooks. Hindus all over California, and across the USA, have watched this process unfold. It was ironic, dismissive, and in violation of standard processes, that the SBE accepted at face value, the biased, last-minute derailment efforts of Professor Michael Witzel, a scholar who is often antagonistic towards contemporary practitioners. In a recent letter to his colleagues, he wrote, “The Hindus in North America (HINAs) are not just hiina,‘lost, abandoned’, but they (understandably) cling to their homeland in all manners they can come up with. ‘Reforming’ our schoolbooks according to an imagined Golden Age (Ram Raj), hoary India is just one of the expressions we can observe.” Witzel uses a Sanskrit word hiina to disparage American Hindus as lost and abandoned. This Sanskrit word carries derogatory meanings such as inferior, insecure, lowly and defective. Witzel mocks Hindu-Americans for “building crematoria”, for building “many temples”, having “Sunday schools” and sending our “daughters to study Classical Indian dance” which he erroneously claims is not a “highly regarded occupation back home”. He then mocks marriage customs and religious rituals, adding that such behaviors “add to the heady brew” that he dislikes in Hindu-Americans who can too easily adapt to the American environment while maintaining their ethnicity.

 

Dr Witzel imposes his own imagined stereotypes on the Indian-American community. If he had said these words about another minority group, he would have been called a racist—but, instead, surprisingly, he was formally invited into the process by the SBE. Witzel is among a group of scholars who are afraid that “the study of Indic religion and culture is being ‘hijacked’ by practicing Hindus.” Professor Witzel wrote his letter to the SBE without examining the textbooks. He had not read the editorial suggestions prior to his strident condemnation since his letter was sent to the SBE before the approved edits were issued. In his letter he made no references to specific content, but simply strove to paint all of the editorial suggestions with the same broad stroke of denigration—sight unseen. In the process of attempting to tar the Hindu-American parents in California, he accused them of atrocities and blamed them for riots that occurred in India a few years ago. These Hindu-American parents had nothing to do with violence in India, and in fact rarely have the opportunity to visit the land of their ancestry since they have families and employment in the USA. Accusing the parents of California school children of genocide in order to discredit them is a misdirected and reprehensible strategy.

 

In their textbooks, Hindu children are subjected to a negative emphasis on many issues including women’s rights, whereas gendered issues are treated more sympathetically in sections on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The textbooks state that in Hinduism women are inferior. In ‘Ancient Civilization’, published by Holt, on page 154 is written, “Hinduism also taught that women were inferior to men. As a result, Hindu women were not allowed to read the Vedas or other sacred texts”. No such remarks are made for any other cultures or religions in the textbooks. Ancient Hinduism is unfairly singled out and judged per modern standards, using presentism, applying contemporary ideals, which have not been realized even in contemporary societies, to evaluate the past. It is questionable that women could not read the Vedas in the entire period of ancient India that these textbooks cover. There are numerous examples of women authors and teachers in ancient India. Amazingly, when Hindu groups in California asked the SBE to harmonize the description of women’s rights in ancient India with similar descriptions given for Judeo-Christian and Islamic societies, they are insulted and dismissed with pejorative labels by those who wish to retain the anti-Hindu status quo.

 

The Hindu parents involved in the editorial process wanted their children to know that Hindu women were honored in ancient India, long before Indira Gandhi became modern India’s manifestation of feminine empowerment. In ancient India and also at the present time, many women in Hinduism are highly revered saints. For an excellent analysis of the textbook treatment of women in Hinduism, please see this essay, Women and Hinduism in U.S. Textbooks, written by David Freedholm, a high school history teacher: http://creative.sulekha.com/women-and-hinduism-in-u-s-textbooks_103415_blog

 

As mentioned, before writing his protest letter to the Curriculum Committee, Dr. Witzel did not read the textbooks–even the sections on Hinduism. Neither did he, nor his co-signatories, investigate the representation of other religious traditions in the textbooks. Those narratives did not discuss historical legacies such as slavery, colonialism, and misogyny, which at one time were part of the history of Christianity and Islam. On the other hand, social practices like untouchability and “sati” are often presented as integral to Hindu religious customs. Textbooks usually fail to mention that these sorts of discriminatory and sexist social customs were also prevalent in other early non-Hindu societies. Importantly, the textbooks do not mention that many Hindu sacred texts, such as the “Ramayana”, were authored by “low caste” members of the society, or that since independence, several of India’s Presidents have been from formerly “untouchable” castes.

 

Contextualizing social oppression and sexism within the discourse of human rights, a teacher/textbooks could relate inequities in India to similar problems in Western society, and thereby avoid stereotyping class-based discrimination and gender violence as uniquely Hindu. Using “sati” to narrate Hinduism is tantamount to viewing Christianity through the lens of witch burning in medieval Europe. I am very curious to know if Professor Witzel seeks to deny Hindus the right to describe their own religion according to their beliefs. Textbooks narratives are not about the supremacy of one tradition over another. The Hindu groups requested subtle changes, such as the heading “Hindu Beliefs About Multiple Gods” should be replaced with the less sensational and more accurate phrasing: “Hindu Beliefs About Various Forms of God.” The requests were realistic and sensitive. Hindus believe that though “God is one, the forms are many”.

 

Many simplistic and easy to correct errors are often made in modern curriculum materials. For instance, one textbook stated, “As time passed, Indians began to question how the world came into being. These questions led to changes in Brahmanism.” The suggested editorial change was, “As time passed, Indians began to question how the world came into being. These questions led to changes in contemporary religious ideas.” This conveys more meaning to the student and is more in sync with Hindu self-concepts. “Brahmanism” is not a term that a Hindu would ever use. It was coined during the colonial era and is not used by Hindus to self-describe their religion, and in fact, is usually considered an insult. Referring to Hinduism as “Brahmanism” is tantamount to calling Catholics “Papists”—it is derogatory. Yet, tellingly, Professor Witzel vied for retaining that insulting wording.

 

Both the petitions, from Dr. Witzel and from FOSA, compared the process in California to the recent controversies over the historical narrative in textbooks in India. The National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in New Delhi has used the very same textbooks for over thirty years. These textbooks, which many Hindu-American parents read while in school in India decades ago, should not be used as litmus to judge textbooks in California in 2006. The issues are very different and should not be conflated or politicized.

 

I was appalled that Professor Witzel concluded his letter with a threat that if California’s State Board of Education accepts the textbook edits suggested by Hindu-Americans, it “will lead without fail to an international scandal”. He did not express the same hysteria concerning the changes requested by the Jewish or Muslim groups. His unsupported tirade singled out one group simply because they are Hindus, not because their editorial suggestions were invalid. Certainly, as a scholar of South Asian Studies, he would not suggest that the textbooks retain this: “The people of the Indus Valley developed a civilization that lasted for over 500 years.” He knows very well that the IVC lasted far longer than five centuries. He would have to agree with the recommended edit, “The people of the Indus Valley developed a civilization that lasted for over 1300 years.” Correcting such errors is not political and has nothing to do with Hindutva or Neocons anymore that the changes requested by the Jewish representatives regarding Exodus are examples Zionism.

 

A simplistic polarized understanding–racist/humanist, patriot/traitor– emerges from dogmatic attachment to a particular historical perspective. This attitude of “you’re either with us or against us” that was used by President George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, was also expressed by Senator Bob Dole on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1995 during his very vocal and hyper patriotic condemnation of the overly multicultural stance he perceived in the U.S. History Standards. This either/or compartmentalization highlights the dynamic process of contesting historiographies, but it leaves little room for debate. The vulgar use of this strategy against Hindu parents in California is uncalled for and reprehensible.

 

In conclusion, I would like to call your attention to a recent article by a second generation Indian-American: Forgetting the Child – the Heart of the Matter, by Niraj Mohanka 10 February 2006: http://www.india-forum.com/articles/90/1

 

“[….] These textbooks have dozens of factual errors related to India and Hinduism. For e.g., Hindi is said to be written in the Arabic alphabet! But even worse, they present an obsessively negative picture of ancient India, include clichéd pictures of scavengers and untouchables cleaning latrines, scrawny cows eating garbage on streets (with gratuitous remarks like “Where is the Beef”, or statements like “even if Hindus are starving, they will not eat beef”). Students are taught that only Hinduism ill-treats women or other men. For other religions, these topics are either not discussed, or white-washed. Or even if issues of slavery and gender inequality are mentioned, they are de-linked from the respective religions, and treated only as distant historical and/or social issues. Hindu religious beliefs are presented in ridiculous terms like “according to the Karma theory, if you do bad deeds, you may be reborn as a pig or an insect”, whereas the teachings (“revelations”) of other religions are taught in a very profound manner. Hindu holy books are just “poems”, ‘songs’ (like Madonna’s pop-songs?), or “myths” whereas the Bible and the Quran are “revealed scriptures” whose accounts are historical facts. The list of such errors of fact, bias and disparity with other faiths in these textbooks is endless.

 

“But wait, there’s more. If, by chance, there is anything positive in Hindu culture, it is neglected. No mention is made of the fact that Hindus alone worship God in Her Feminine Form. No mention is made of the fact that Hindus were the only society where slavery did not exist. No mention is made of the fact that religious wars were rare in Hindu society. No mention is made of the fact that many ‘untouchables’ compiled the greatest of Hindu scriptures, and became Hinduism’s most famous saints. And certainly no mention of the fact that India was historically the most tolerant nation in accepting differing religious beliefs in the world – not just ‘tolerating’, but welcoming Jews, Zoroastrians, Atheists, ‘heretical Christians’, ‘Qaramatian Muslims’ and others who fled persecution elsewhere.

 

“It does not take a psychiatrist to understand or imagine what a disastrous effect such a negative description of Hindu and Indian heritage could have on the minds of an 11 year old child, especially if she or he is a Hindu or of Indian descent. These students will be made to feel ashamed of their heritage, and may become objects of ridicule and contempt by their classmates. They would either want to deny their heritage completely, causing a lot of friction with their elders, or even develop feelings of shame, embarrassment and inferiority.

 

“Peer pressure and acceptance becomes increasingly strong and irresistible in teenage years, and it is inappropriate to subject sixth grade students (10-12 years) to such a predominantly negative and patently biased presentation of their heritage. While it is desirable at the College level to expose students to both sides of the story, impressionable and delicate sixth grade students should be taught material that is positive, and reinforces a sense of self-confidence and pride in what they are. After all, is this not the basic purpose of teaching world cultures to 11 year old children?

 

“But certain scholars with a track record of India-bashing and anti-Hinduism are insisting that in the name of historical accuracy, Hindu-American students should be subjected to such an obsessive negative coverage of their heritage. Why don’t they use the same yardstick for other cultures and religions? There is so much good in all cultures and civilizations. Why just dig out all the mud in Hinduism and throw it on innocent faces? Is it surprising that these same scholars and ideologues have actually done nothing in the past to improve narratives on India and Hinduism in textbooks?

 

“And how many of these academics are school teachers in the first place? Do they even realize that elementary school children do not deserve to be treated as cannon fodder in their divisive and sterile University level academic debates? Do they understand that 11 year old children should not be subjected to negative, repulsive and contentious issues in an obsessive manner, as these textbooks do with regard to Hinduism?

 

“These issues are very personal for me because I was that unfortunate 11 year old child. As an Indian-American born and brought up in Upstate New York in the 1970s, I was one of very few Hindus in my entire school system. Even outside of History or Social Studies classes, I was often teased and asked “What tribe I’m from?” Occasionally, I was told to “go back to my country” even though America was and is my country. During Social Studies class, I was forced to learn about the ‘Aryan Invasion’ theory which involved ‘Aryans’ (white people) conquering India and suppressing the black natives (Dravidians) thereby inventing a new religion called ‘Hinduism’ which was built primarily upon the infamous and evil ‘caste system’ (very much akin to the apartheid system). I had to agree with this theory in order to get a good grade in my class. It did not matter that the theory didn’t make any sense and completely disagreed with everything I was taught by my parents about India’s ancient heritage – which was continuous and did not recall any invasion or migration of foreigners who created the religion and subjugated all the natives. In the past ten years, I’ve read a copious amount of research to show that this ‘Aryan Invasion or Migration’ theory has no basis in archaeology or anthropology or in the thousands of scriptures of Sanathana Dharma (Hinduism). I cannot think of a more racist theory that is still being taught today. I certainly do not want my children to be taught about some ‘master Aryan race’ that conquered India.

 

“My frustration with the way my heritage was taught to me was not limited to racism however. There was also a total obsession with poverty too. I had a teacher once who went to India for two weeks and then showed the entire school her slides from that trip. She spent one week photographing the people living in the slums of Calcutta and the other week at the Taj Mahal. Needless to say, I got a lot of questions about India being one huge, gigantic slum with one nice stone building in the middle. The fact that I had visited India many times and seen a completely different picture didn’t matter. The teacher was right and I was left embarrassed and ashamed…and silent. Those events were not forgotten after just a few years, but rather they have stayed with me my entire life. I have made every effort to make my children proud of their heritage and religion, but it does not help if the educational system is completely against me.

 

“The obsessively negative and discriminatory manner in which American school textbooks treat our religious and cultural heritage is simply unacceptable. During a talk at Harvard University on February 3, 2005, Professor Michael Witzel insists on retention of these negative descriptions of India and Hinduism in sixth grade school textbooks and instead of wanting to help the thousands of Hindu parents in this country, he along with many of his peers in academia are actually threatening to continue their anti-India and anti-Hinduism crusade beyond California. He stated at that talk, “We have been late in California, but wait for Texas two years from now. It will be much more messy”. He mocks at the genuine protests of thousands of Hindu-American parents in California as “motivated by Hindutva nationalism”, and arrogantly connects them with thousands of murders in Gujarat in 2002. Why this politicizing and demonization of Hindu parents who simply want their children to grow up not hating themselves? [….]

 

“As a proud 2nd generation Indian-American with three school-going children today, I want to remind all those out there who seek to corrupt this issue with politics or hatred that I and many thousands of concerned parents like me, will do whatever we can to protect our children from bigotry and discrimination. The truth is that this issue is not about academics versus “right-wing, Hindu fanatics.” This is not even about anti-India and anti-Hindu academics versus concerned parents. At the heart of this textbook controversy is my child …and your child …and every child. Enough is enough.”

 

I hope that the information contained in this letter is of use to you in your deliberations. Thank you very much for your kind attention to this matter.

 

Sincerely yours,

Yvette C. Rosser, PhD

 

 

 

Stereotypes, Errors In Calif. Textbooks

Published in IndiaWest, 22nd December 2005

 

Dear Editor,

In reference to the article, “Controversy Erupts over Curriculum Changes in Calif. Textbooks” (I-W, Dec. 2), there were some errors in the report. In September, Jewish, Islamic, and Hindu groups met with the California Curriculum Commission. They pointed out stereotypes and errors in the textbooks. They were concerned that controversial and racist statements could create xenophobia in the minds of American students and also negatively impact the identity formation of Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim-American children.

 

The Commission reviewed the recommendations and issued a notice on Nov. 8 approving 499 of the 684 edits. Some of the edits were corrections of glaring mistakes, such as: “Hindi is written with the Arabic alphabet.” Jewish and Hindu analysts were both concerned by the lack of capitalization of the word “god.” ICS (Institute for Curriculum Services, representing Jewish perspectives) and the HEF (Hindu Education Foundation) objected to the word “story” in reference to their scriptures, because “it conveys the idea that the events described are fictitious.”

 

The ICS warned, “gratuitous material that paints Jews as wicked people who deserve to be punished is not suitable for a public school text book. It brings in a very negative perspective of Jews that can promote anti-Semitism in the classroom…” The Hindu scholars noted several passages that mocked and trivialized their faith: “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?” Making fun of Hinduism does not lead American students towards a respectful understanding of religions in India.

 

The ICS suggested narratives about Judaism should include “ethical monotheism” as “Judaism’s key contribution to western thought and values.” Hindus carefully defined the word “Dharma”-central to their faith. Like the Jewish groups, the Hindu groups requested subtle changes such as the heading, “Hindu Beliefs About Multiple Gods,” should be replaced with the more accurate: “Hindu Beliefs About Various Forms of God.” The requests from all three groups were realistic.

 

On Nov. 8, a professor from Harvard University sent a hastily written letter to the State Board of Education. He vehemently objected to the input from a particular group of American citizens-revealing a contemptuousness of the democratic process. Out of the three groups, he singled out Hindus for condemnation. Since he had not read their editorial suggestions, his critique was based on preexisting bias, not data. He targeted his assault specifically against Hindu-Americans, not against Jewish and Islamic citizens of California. The anti-Hindu correspondence was a momentary surprise for the Curriculum Committee, who initially invited the professors into the process. Then, on closer examination, most of the anti-Hindu editorial “corrections” suggested by the professors were ultimately rejected by the Curriculum Committee and the majority of the editorial decisions, made before the professors intruded, were retained. The State of California did not allow biased professors with a political agenda to infringe on the rights of American citizens-just because they are Hindus.

 

Many members of the Curriculum Committee were astonished at the flippant attitude of the self-appointed critics of Hinduism. One textbook stated “The Ramayana [was] written later than the Mahabharata.” HEF corrected this error: “The Ramayana [was] written prior to the Mahabharata.” The professors commented, “Who in Sixth Grade cares which epic was ‘written’ first?” This shows a blatant disregard for fact, also a disregard for the intellectual abilities of twelve year old American children. Luckily, after their initial shock at the hate-mail sent from such a high-sounding source, the Curriculum Committee saw through the bias and slander and granted most of the earlier editorial changes that put the textbook descriptions of Hinduism on the same objective level as Islam and Judaism.

 

Yvette C. Rosser, Ph.D.,

Curriculum and Instruction

MA & BA, South Asian Studies

 

 

Glee Johnson,

President

California State Board of Education

and to The Honorable Members of the California State Board of Education

Fax: (916) xxx

Feb 9, 2006

 

Greetings,

Since this letter is one among thousands you have received about ancient India and Hinduism in sixth grade textbooks, I will be very brief as I make three points:

 

  1. In the last-minute interjection from Professor Witzel, there was a noticeable amount of condescension if not hostility towards Hindus and Hinduism, in addition to unabashed name-calling. This in itself should cause alarm. You would not invite known anti-Semites to oversee the edits about Judaism. Though Daniel Pipes is a good scholar and on the board of the U.S. Institute for peace, the Muslim families in California would not want Daniel Pipes– a known critic of Islam–to determine the narrative about their religious traditions written for California’s Muslim children and their classmates. The same applies regarding Michael Witzel’s selectively radical interpretation of Hinduism negatively juxtaposed against the evolving self–image of sensitive adolescent Hindu children in California.
  2. Each segment in the textbooks describing different religious traditions must be subjected to the same criteria. The section on Islam does not highlight that in the Qu’ran a woman’s word is worth half of a man’s in a court of law, the section on Christianity does not discuss the inquisition and the burning of witches. A negative slant is used solely for describing Hinduism. This must be changed so that all the religions are covered using the same positive approach, appropriate for eleven and twelve year olds. This strategy of fairness must also be applied to the state’s editorial process. The edits proposed by the Hindus must be considered from within a holistic perspective and not subjected to deconstructing, negating academic scrutiny, while in contrast, the other religious traditions were spared this third tier criticism.
  3. As an educator, I know how important it is that children are shown respect, which can determine their achievement. Sixth graders are receptive and open-minded and they have very good memories. For many of these adolescent students, this may be one of the few times that they are introduced to the religions of their fellow classmates/citizens. They will go through life with those impressions. At this formative stage, the images should be positive. More in-depth studies that explore nuances can be undertaken in high school or college. Don’t let the textbooks negatively impact the children of California. And please don’t subject sixth grade Hindu children to degrading narratives about their traditions.

 

Thank you very much. Please do not hesitate to contact me:

 

Yvette Rosser

(512) xxx-xxxx

 

 

——End of “Textbook Tamasha” paper written in 2006—–

 

There are countless URLs, re: California Textbook Controversy.

Hundreds of Websites can be accessed, searching Google with four words:

California Hindu textbook controversy. Many of these websites are sponsored by Indian Christians who mention the textbook tamasha as an example of the hegemonic Hindus trying to sabotage California’s secular democratic society, just as those hegemonic Hindus have done in India.

 

It is interesting to note that after the Witzel attack, his chamcha Farmer helped provide transportation for Christian Dalits living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to travel to Sacramento to testify against the proposed textbook changes. I spoke to one of my contacts at the California Board of Education who mentioned the testimony of the Dalits “from Colorado”. She complained that Hindus were so mixed in their perspectives that no textbook could contain such dramatic differences in opinion. She was surprised, when I explained that the Dalits from Colorado were not only Christian but they belonged to a sect of Christianity that despises and abuses Hinduism as part of their liturgy.

 

Wikipedia’s page is very thorough and provides information about ensuing lawsuits by HAF (Hindu American Foundation) and other interventions on behalf of the Hindus in California. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_textbook_controversy_over_Hindu_history

 

Welcome to 2016!

See this letter written from Professor Vamsee Juluri after the South Asianist Scholars sent in the attached letter recommending that the California Board of Education eliminate the word India from the textbooks and substitute India with South Asia. Additionally, they recommended substituting the word Hinduism with the phrase religion in South Asia.

 

Dr. Juluri’s letter:

 

February 28, 2016

 

Dr. Thomas Adams, Executive Director

Instructional Quality Commission

Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division (CFIRD)

California Department of Education

1430 N Street, Room 3207 Sacramento, CA 95814

 

Dear Dr. Adams,

 

I write to offer a few points that might help elucidate the big picture and what is at stake with the Indian history portions of the new HSS draft given the complex and detailed suggestions made by several groups. Since my last submission to you in October 2015, I have reviewed other submissions given to you, including those by Prof. Bajpai and Acharya Arumugaswami and Mr. Tushar Pandya, and the somewhat puzzling ones offered by South Asia faculty led by Prof. Kamala Visweswaran. In the light of all of these, and my own detailed suggestions, I wish to share the following observations.

 

It is quite clear, despite variations in minutiae of language and phrase, that several scholars, parents, and Hindu American community leaders have asked just one thing of you: which is to ensure that this truly ugly episode in the history of America’s fight against discrimination comes to an end, and Hindus can stop being objectified, vilified and condescended to by the ghosts of a long-gone colonial and racist past.
While I am sure you have every intention to do so, I also understand the challenges you have faced given the peculiar resistance that has been offered against these changes because of an entrenched and defensive attitude among some university professors wedded to an old worldview whose credibility is rapidly being chipped away by new discoveries and arguments. It is only a matter of time before the history of Hindus is decolonized in academia in the same manner that the story of Native Americans, African Americans, and other minority communities has been done. For now, you are in the position of making sure that the poison of pseudo-science and myth that has lingered so far does not continue to infest the minds of another generation of young Californians.

 

We Indian Americans may not have been made to sit at the back of the bus, but we are, today, being told to sit at the back of the class, year after year, subject to the taunts and lies of our history books. This must change.

 

There are on the whole just three basic facts that need to be recognized, and need to guide your final editorial decisions. I restate the main arguments here with reference to claims and counterclaims in the various submissions to you so your minds are clear and undistracted by the heavy reading burden we have all placed on you. These are just the facts you should bear in mind:

 

  • India exists
  • Hinduism exists
  • Hinduism’s core ideas, practices, texts, commentaries, and institutions are not reducible to caste and gender discrimination.

 

1) India exists

You are familiar no doubt with how in the aftermath of colonialism and decolonization, several groups of people have struggled to reject the offensive and oppressive names given to them by the colonial discourse. You might recall how hard African Americans have struggled to throw off the names that were routinely used to demean them as a people. Indian Americans are quite frankly feeling the same way with the rabid insistence by some philosophically far-out academicians to insist on calling them “South Asians” instead. By all means, one is free to identify as a South Asian where appropriate. But if supposedly learned scholars make it sound like a crime to say one is an Indian, or talk about Indian history, or ancient India, then there is something seriously wrong with knowledge and attitude. History books have for far too long denied the integrity and significance of India in world history (what did Columbus go looking for after all, “South Asia”?).  When you begin your revisions, please remember: you should not be making the Indus-Saraswati Valley lesson seem like an exception to a vast, uninhabited, “terra nullis” – and you should not be perpetuating the old colonial myth of Hinduism as having “invaded” India at all.  Children should feel the presence, integrity and continuity of India and the Indian people from the first line they read in their history books, and not be left with a vague feeling that neither the Harappans, nor the Vedic Hindus, were somehow disconnected to the Hindu Americans of today. Children should be taught to respect the existence of a people and a land they have lived in for thousands of years; and approach the two oldest legacies of their civilization accurately, and as the fountainhead of the India that we have today.  If the people of Western and Northern Europe could claim a religion from the people of Western Asia as their civilizational fountainhead, why is it so difficult to accept that the people of India today view their ancient philosophies and civilizations in much the same way. Imagine if Irish American students read in their books that Ireland never existed, or Muslim American students were taught in class that Islam was not even a religion… it is a terrifying existential denial no child must be exposed to.

 

Hinduism exists

As one of the letters to you from the Uberoi Foundation has logically pointed out, over seven hundred million people in India checked the box marked “Hindu” in the 2011 census. Does the voice of the people matter more or the mere delusions of a small cult in the ivory tower that mistakes the philosophical questioning of categories in the classroom for real-world existential claims? It should be quite clear to you that there has been a desperate and pathetic attempt in academia to project a fantastic notion that either Hinduism was never “organized” till the 13th century, or even that Hinduism is not “organized” enough to be called Hinduism even today! This is a delusion that stems from the 19th century colonial narratives on India written by motivated and racially-biased Indologists from Germany and England. If you believe that Hinduism was brought to India by a small group of invading horsemen as recently as 1500 BCE, you will no doubt also believe that there is no connection at all between the different gods and goddesses are worshipped in pretty much the same forms from one far end of the subcontinent to the other. Your final narrative, I hope, will purge any drop of doubt or aspersion on the existence or integrity of Hinduism, or of its deep and millennia-old connection to the landscape of India (I do hope you have seen Diana Eck’s India: A Sacred Geography, as I had earlier suggested). You should respect the reality of millions of living Hindus, and freely use the word “Hindu” where appropriate instead of ludicrous colonial era racist constructs like “Aryans” and even more ludicrous neo-colonial academic fantasies that deny the existence of Hinduism.

 

Hinduism’s core ideas are not reducible to caste and gender discrimination

Traditional Vedic scholars (scholars who have studied the Vedas within the framework of living philosophical traditions in centuries-old religious institutions known as peethams and mathas – and not Eurocentric colonial philologists who study multiple mistranslations of Sanskrit words like dead relics that is) respectfully do not claim starting dates for the Vedas or for the philosophy we now call Hinduism. It is an ancient sensibility, and while modern historians in India work around it to offer various theories on their origins, it is clear that the 19th century fantasies about the Vedic people having invaded India in 1500 BCE are no longer accepted by anyone but the most entrenched ideologues. In any case, what traditional Vedic scholars might tell you is this: there has been an incredibly complex philosophy which has been constantly debated, commented on, practiced, for several hundred years now in India. And at the heart of this philosophy is a discourse about life, language, meaning, nature, energy, creation, transformation, dissolution, and renewal. Hinduism must be approaching at the most fundamental level as a living cosmology, then an ethically concerned social and political philosophy, expressed in a myriad of vibrant and diverse practices, and only then, if at all, with ideas that arguably had a bearing on social hierarchies (and, if and only if, other religions are also critiqued with the same proportion and intensity for their implications for causing hierarchies, exclusions, genocides and holocausts).  I strongly urge you to read Tushar Pandya’s statement on varna-ashrama dharma, and to also follow his counsel on this: what three centuries of British scholars couldn’t decipher shouldn’t be burdened on 6th graders either!

 

I hope you will kindly keep these key elements of the big picture in mind in order to produce a more truthful template for future generations of students. In the present form, even with the small improvements in the 2015 draft, students are likely to still get the opposite of this picture: ancient India is one big empty space, with one civilization of buildings in Indus Valley, a nomadic and violent cult invades (or even “migrates”) and imposes Hinduism which is nothing more than caste and gender discrimination, and then nothing much happens in India, no zero is discovered, no astronomy, no geometry, no medicine and surgery, no architecture, no literature, no sculpture, no global trade and cultural expansion, no legacy to the modern world at all beyond being irredeemable savages. That is your present story, and it is not the reality of the past or the present.

 

India is the second most populated country in the world. India is the seventh biggest country in the world. Indians have been here and a part of American life for almost two generations now. Indian Americans are Americans too. You have it in your hands now to do something better, and earn the gratitude of generations of future students and teachers and parents.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Vamsee Juluri, Ph. D.

Professor of Media Studies and Asian Studies

 

—-

DON’T FORGET TO SIGN THE PETITION:

https://www.change.org/p/academia-don-t-replace-india-with-south-asia-in-california-history-textbooks?recruiter=372905288&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

 

—–

NOTE added 3/2016:

 

Each decade that this supposedly objective editorial process is initiated by the State Of California, the Hindus participating in the step by step process, are subjected to additional scrutiny not endured by Jews or Muslims or Christians involved in the multistep process designed by the CA State Board of Education. Amazingly it is the professors of South

Asia Studies at American universities who vehemently object to the perspectives of practicing Hindu Americans. Their obstructionism must be bypassed… and their petty aDharmic arguments made irrelevant.

 

The essential part of a doable proposal is pasted below:

 

“Removing the Bias from the Content on India in Secondary Social Studies Textbooks,” outlines an effective strategy for impacting the manner in which Hinduism is taught in American secondary classrooms.  This project will develop publisher-specific versions of the chapters on India and present them to the corporations that market the top-selling textbooks in the nation. These chapters will be rewritten versions of their own textbooks, using their format, but totally revised to remove the unfair, negative, demeaning, ethno-centric presentations about the Hindu traditions. The textbooks appear

especially biased when the narratives about Hinduism are compared to the more respectful treatment of other religious traditions, such as Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

 

Each publisher of textbooks has a particular style that is retained as their trademark signature through the years– though facts such as demographic information will be updated, new scientific discoveries may be added, and certain details changed. For new

editions, the publishers rarely have the textbooks completely rewritten. Often the same photographs will appear in three different editions of the textbook, spanning more than two decades of classroom use.

 

Because of this, the most efficient and productive method to get the textbooks changed is to rewrite their chapters, sticking to their particular format. The textbooks are based on curriculum mandates or standards and the narratives have to follow those directives.

 

Teacher’s editions must also be amended where the teacher is given information and ideas about classroom activities. This project will rewrite the narratives about Hinduism in the eight or nine top selling textbooks to remove the bias and errors.  It will also suggest alternative pictures and/or rewrite the captions. The text narrative will be original, but reflective of the earlier version.

 

These recreated chapters will then be given to the publishers as models for correcting their textbooks. The chapters in question are more likely to be improved using this strategy since the samples that will be provided conform to the publishers’ formats and styles, and the publishers can implement the changes with ease. Some of the narratives will have to be completely rewritten because they are so bad and nothing can be salvaged. But the length and the topic and the style must correspond to the original. With this effort, done carefully and professionally, the publishers will see how simple it is to revise the new editions in order to eliminate the bias perceived by 21st century Hindus living in America.

 

Some of the activities in the textbooks are relevant. The Holt books have a segment called “linking to today”, where they show such ideas as the connection between Gandhi and MLK. Holt has a focus on “analyzing visuals”. Prentice Hall has an emphasis on vocabulary building. The Prentice book has a very good artwork on Indus Valley architecture. Some of the accompanying graphics and captions are uninformative and trivial in the Prentice book… but those captions can be altered to be more relevant.

 

This is a proposal that will be effective. We can completely update the material, keeping the publisher’s format, their style of presentation, etc. The “style” is usually carried over into all of a particular publisher’s other textbooks, US History, Geography, Government, etc. If we do their work for them, they will have no excuse not to eradicate the bias from the next editions. They will see how easy it is to make fundamental changes without crimping their style and also staying within the mandates prescribed by the school boards. As Professor Manian observed, “most of the textbooks [rely] on out-dated sources and presented erroneous material.”

——

Could take years to complete the entire project. But the first go round in 2006 with the California textbooks happened ten years ago and now it is worse than it was then!!  India is now being kicked off the globe and Hinduism is no longer one of the world’s great religious traditions. We must take an alternative strategy rather than simply jumping through their hoops that are then pulled away, every decade.

 

 

2-24 South Asia Faculty Cover Letter

 

February 24, 2016

 

Dear Members of the Instructional Quality Commission and the California Board of Education, We write to submit extended corrections to the current draft curriculum framework; these

edits supersede those we submitted on November 18, 2015 (the rest of the report stands). We are aware of objections to our report by groups espousing Hindu nationalist views.i Since we have tried to make our recommendations, and the rationale for them clear, we leave it to the IQC to decide whether the edits we suggest are appropriate to grade level and of academic integrity. We are also available to answer any questions the IQC or the History-Social Science evaluators might have on the edits we have submitted.

 

We recommend that “the religion of Ancient India” be used throughout the framework for the 6th grade curriculum, rather than “Hinduism or “the religion of India.” Gods,” “goddesses,” and “deities” should be in lower case throughout, and Brahmin, the name of a

group of people, should be capitalized throughout.  We wish to clarify that while “Ancient India” is the accepted usage among Indologists, in other fields, pre-modern South Asia is the common term of reference. Since there is no standardized usage across fields, it is difficult for us to recommend a single standard term for use in the curriculum framework. After careful review, we have settled on a context dependent approach for the use of the terms, “Ancient India,’ ‘India,’

‘Indian subcontinent’ and ‘South Asia,’ as we explain in the edits.  The use of terms like

“Ancient India” and “India” in the current version of the draft framework, particularly for grades

6 and 7 is at times misleading. Although  “Ancient India” is common in the source material, when discussing the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), we believe it will cause less confusion to students to refer to the “Early Civilization of South Asia or “Ancient South Asia” because much of the Indus Valley is now in modern Pakistan. Conflating “Ancient India” with the modern nation-state of India deprives students from learning about the shared civilizational heritage of India and Pakistan.ii

 

We note that the argument in favor of the “Indus-Sarasvati” concept tends to invoke hard- to-evaluate arguments from geology—the appendix to our report of November 18th, 2015 is

meant only to index trends in the technical literature.  The geo-archeological evidence also cannot by definition, show signs of migration—it can neither prove nor falsify Aryan migration into pre-modern South Asia.  And the genetic evidence on this point is inconclusive at this moment in time. Attempting to privilege or weight genetic and geological findings, as some interest groups do, draws attention away from the strongest line of linguistic argument: first that the material finds of the IVC do not show the horses, horse-drawn chariots and chariot-warfare that the Veda describes abundantly; and second, that no linguist asserts that India is the homeland of the Indo-European languages (i.e. that ancient Persian, Greek, Latin—cousin languages of Sanskrit—originated in the IVC). The appendices represent our attempt to summarize complex specialist material to aid the commission in evaluating the scholarly

 

consensus around key concepts, we do not feel this technical material belongs in the framework or the textbooks.

 

Finally, it is not acceptable to delete from the curriculum framework, mention of caste or the phenomenon of untouchability. The Rg Veda itself contains evidence of a hierarchically organized society, with an entire group of people outside its pale. Again, the existence of caste or hierarchical organization does not make pre/modern South Asian society an outlier among

human societies. Many of the most important and vibrant forms of Hinduism—the bhakti and Puranic traditions–those with which a majority of Hindus identify– emerge well after the Vedic period, and could be more profitably explored in the framework.    Scholarly disagreement over the date that Hinduism emerges as an organized religion must be leavened by people’s right to shape a tradition to their own needs. But this right, inserted into a statewide curriculum framework, must not go so far that it infringes upon the rights of others who are injured or discriminated by aspects of this tradition. The idea that “Sanathana Dharma” defines Hinduism is in fact a relatively recent, and narrow, one. When we consider how Hinduism (indeed, any religion) is practiced today, there are so many strands and such a variety of beliefs and practices that someone belonging to one form of Hinduism may be unaware of other forms of Hindu practice. The input from one particular strand of Hinduism today is important for understanding that unique interpretation of Hinduism, but that is only one view within a very large mosaic of Hindu beliefs and practices. Moreover, the study of a religion, especially in historical terms, is

not defined by membership in it.

 

We are surprised by some of the hostile comments we have received. One member of this committee, and one its consultants have been recognized by the Government of India for the contributions of their scholarship; two of the most  eminent Indus Valley archeologists are also committee members.  Some of us are members of devout Hindu families, while others on the committee have made the study of the texts or practices of Hinduism a lifelong project. It may be worth underscoring what we see as a positive reflection of our work: members of the committee have been raised in Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish faiths (while some

may follow no faith at all).  We take this to be the most genuine testimony of the pluralist sensitivity and objectivity of our recommendations.

 

Please do not hesitate to call on us if you require further information or clarification of our edits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

i It may be important to note that Michel Danino, of the International Forum for India’s Heritage does not have a Ph.D. He is of course entitled to his opinion, but he has no certified competence to assess matters of social/scientific, historical, or philological interpretation.

 

ii To some extent this is also an issue for thinking about classical, early modern, medieval, or colonial India, but in these sections of the framework we have by and large left the references to “India” intact,  replacing with “South Asia” or Indian subcontinent when disciplinary convention seemed to confuse the point being made.

 

 

Yours Sincerely,

 

 

 

  1. Chris Chekuri, Associate Professor, History Department, San Francisco State University.

 

  1. Shahzad Bashir, Lysbeth Warren Anderson Professor of Islamic Studies, Department of Religious

Studies at Stanford University.

 

  1. Robert Goldman, Catherine and William L. Magistretti Distinguished Professor of South and Southeast

Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley.

 

  1. Stephanie Jamison, Distinguished Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures and of Indo-European

Studies, University of California, Los Angeles.

 

  1. Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. (Field

Director and Co-Director of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project since 1986).

 

  1. Gurinder Singh Mann, former Kundan Kaur Kapany Chair in Sikh Studies and Professor Emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara.

 

  1. Projit B. Mukarji, Meyerson Assistant Professor of History & Sociology of Science, University of

Pennsylvania.

 

  1. Vijaya Nagarajan, Associate Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of San Francisco.

 

  1. Shailaja Paik, Assistant Professor of South Asian History, University of Cincinnati.

 

  1. Ramnarayan Rawat, Professor of History, University of Delaware.

 

  1. Sudipta Sen, Professor of History, University of California, Davis.

 

  1. Banu Subramaniam, Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

 

  1. Thomas R. Trautmann, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Michigan.

 

  1. Kamala Visweswaran, Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego.

 

  1. Rita P. Wright, Professor of Anthropology, New York University, and member of the NYU Center for

Human Origins.

 

Ex-Officio Members of the Committee

 

 

 

Lawrence Cohen, Professor of Anthropology and Sarah Kailath Chair of India Studies, Director of the

Institute for South Asia Studies, University of California, Berkeley

 

Akhil Gupta, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for India and South Asia, University of California, Los Angeles

 

Thomas Hansen, Reliance-Dhirubhai Ambani Professor of South Asian Studies and Anthropology, Director, Center for South Asia, Stanford University

 

Smriti Srinivas, Director, Middle East/South Asia Studies Program, University of California, Davis

 

 

 

Consultants

 

 

 

Asad Q. Ahmad, Associate Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley

 

Shampa Chatterjee, Research Associate Professor of Physiology in the Institute for Environmental

Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.

 

Kathleen D. Morrison, Neukom Family Professor, Chair of the Department of Anthropology and

Committee on Southern Asian Studies, University of Chicago.

 

Sheldon Pollock, Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies, Columbia University

 

Luis González-Reimann, Ph. D. and Lecturer, South Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley

 

 

Michel Danino’s Reply

 

Michel Danino

Gues professor, IIT Gandhinagar

80 Swarnambika Layout

Ramnagar

COIMBATORE – 641 009

(Tamil Nadu) India

Tel : 91-422-6451096 (Res) /

(0)9843056120

Email: micheldanino@gmail.com

& michel_danino@yahoo.com

Coimbatore,

12 March 2016

 

 

 

To:

 

The South Asia Faculty Textbook

Committee Members and Consultants

 

 

 

Respected professors and scholars,

 

I have been forwarded  a copy of your letter to the Instructional  Quality Commission and the California Board of Education dated February 24. It has been instructive to me for several reasons.

 

The  first  is  that  I  have  had  the  honour  of  being  singled  out  for  a  personal comment: “It may be important to note that Michel Danino, of the International Forum for India’s Heritage does not have a Ph.D. He is of course entitled to his opinion, but he has   no  certified   competence   to  assess   matters   of  social/scientific,   historical,   or philological interpretation.” (Endnote 1) It is quite correct that I do not hold a PhD; but the implication that it is necessary to do so in order to acquire a “certified competence to assess” historical matters is strange in the extreme. May I remind you how:

 

Ø  The formidable  U.S. archaeologist  Eric Thompson  held that the Mayan script consisted mostly of ideograms of a mystical or religious nature. He was proved wrong.

 

Ø  The distinguished British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans held that the Linear B writing system did not encode Greek; he was proved wrong (by the non-PhD holder Michael Ventris).

 

Ø  Closer to our times and concerns, the British archaeologist  Mortimer  Wheeler argued forcefully that skeletons found in Mohenjo-daro’s  streets were relics of a massacre by invading Aryans; he was proved wrong.

 

Ø  The  medievalist  historian  Prof.  Irfan  Habib,  eager  to produce  archaeological evidence for Aryan invasions into India, writes: “Gumla [and] Rana Ghundai were  destroyed  with  such  violence  as  to  leave  traces  in  the  archaeological record. Similar traces of arson are found also at … Nal and the Indus border settlement of Dabar-kot. The inference, then, seems irresistible: that there were invasions  from the west which overwhelmed,  first, the Helmand  cities, then, the late Kot-Diji culture and, finally, the Indus civilization.”1   Prof. Habib fails to realize  that all those  evidences  for arson  apply  to the transition  from  the

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early to the Mature phase, not to the end of the Mature phase; if we go by his “evidence”, we should therefore have to place the Aryan invasions just before the Mature phase!

 

Ø   The eminent  historian  Prof. Romila  Thapar  Prof. Thapar  errs similarly  when she asserts  that “some  settlements  in the north-west  and Punjab  might  have been subjected to raids and skirmishes, such as are described in the Rig-Veda, or for which there appears to be occasional evidence at some sites, for example Kot   Diji.”2     She   also   finds   that   following   the   decline   of   the   Harappan civilization,  continuities  “were restricted  to mythologies,  rituals and concepts of  tradition,  since  the  material  culture  does  not  show  continuities.”3    Prof. Thapar   seems   unaware   that   since   the   days   of   Marshall   and   Mackay, archaeologists  have filled hundreds of pages documenting  the material legacy of the Harappan civilization, especially in the fields of technologies, crafts, art, iconography, and metrology.

 

Ø  Prof. D.N. Jha, a historian  of ancient  India, writes,  “It is likely that the early Aryans had some consciousness  of their distinctive physical appearance. They were generally fair, the indigenous  people dark in complexion.  The colour of the  skin  may  have  been  an  important  mark  of  their  identity.”4    This  is,  of course, a throwback to 19th-century  racial theories about the Aryans; Prof. Jha does  not  appear   to  know  that  post-WWII   scholarship   has  rejected   such theories, and that all passages from the Rig-Veda supposedly referring to skin colour  have  been  shown  to  be  unreliable  (for  instance  by  M.  Schetelich,  G. Erdosy or H.H. Hock).

 

Ø   The   Sanskritist   Prof.   Michael   Witzel,   mistranslating   a  passage   from   the Baudhāyana Śrautasūtra, found in it a “direct statement” of the “immigration of Indo-Aryans  into South Asia.”5  His translation  was proved wrong by several scholars,  from  Dr.  Koenraad  Elst  to Prof.  B.B.  Lal.  In the  same  paper,  Prof. Witzel also stated that according the Rig-Veda, some of the Vedic clans “have

‘crossed many rivers’, and ‘have gone through narrow passages’,  which once

again  indicates  the  mountainous  terrain  of Afghanistan.”6   This  was  another brave attempt to produce literary evidence for the Indo-Aryan migrations into the subcontinent. However, upon crosschecking (I do not repeat the references here  but  am  ready  to  supply  them  if  desired),  I found  that  the  above  two quotations turned out to be nonexistent. In the first case, he juxtaposed several hymns  which  speak  of crossing  a river,  in the  singular;  no hymn  speaks  of “crossing many rivers”; in the second, all that the hymn says is “we have come into a pathless country; the broad earth has become narrow”, which becomes “narrow passages” (in the plural) in Prof. Witzel’s interpretation, and therefore a reference to Afghanistan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ø  Prof. Kancha  Ilaiah,  a political  scientist  and a strong  supporter  of the Aryan invasion theory in its violent and racial 19th-century version, asserts that “The buffalo is a Dravidian animal, whereas the cow is an Aryan animal. The buffalo is a black animal and we are black people. … [Aryans] brought the cow along with them.”7  Prof. Ilaiah does not appear to know that domesticated cattle is in evidence in the Neolithic phases of Mehrgarh into the 7th or 6th millennium BCE.

 

 

I could go on and on, but I hope I have made my point that holding a PhD or chair  professorship   is  no  guarantee  of  “certified  competence”,   no  guarantee  also against errors or even howlers. That apart, it is most strange that you should present your theories as an established final truth (even though few among you are experts in Indian protohistory or early history), and do not recognize the tentative and subjective nature of archaeological  and historical models and interpretations,  which have always had a short shelf-life (or half-life if you prefer). If some among you are convinced that their  current  conclusions  and  theories  will  live  to  be  confirmed  twenty  years  from today, I must congratulate them on their optimism.

 

Secondly, I note that your “important” note on me is attached to a sentence on “groups   espousing   Hindu   nationalist   views”.   This   attempt   to   portray   me,   by implication,  as a “Hindu nationalist” is little more than a diversionary  tactic to avoid discussing  the scholarly  arguments  I presented  in my notes  (which  you  kindly  call “opinions”). For your information, I have no association or affiliation with any group, “nationalist”  or not. My only current affiliation is with Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar,  where  I  have  been  a guest  professor  for  almost  five  years  and  have helped set up an Archaeological  Sciences Centre (where Prof. Mark Kenoyer recently stayed  as  a scholar-in-residence).   I have  also  been  a long-time  admirer  of the  high achievements  of  ancient  and  classical  Indian  civilization,  which  led  me  to  take  up residence in India some four decades ago and eventually acquire Indian citizenship — if this constitutes “Hindu nationalism”, then I plead guilty. You complain in your letter about unspecified “hostile comments we have received”; if you did receive such hostile comments,  I will support  your complaint,  but would  ask you not to indulge  in the same clumsy ad-hominem attacks yourselves.

 

I  was  approached  with  a  request  to  assess  a  draft  chapter  on  India  of  the revision to the California Framework  for History-Social  Studies currently under way. In addition, I wrote on 19 November a few critical comments on your 22-page “South Asia   Studies   Faculty   Review   of   Proposed   California   Curriculum   Framework” submitted to the Instructional Quality Commission. I decided to do so as I found your representation to the IQC intellectually and academically flawed:

 

  1. It sought to give a false impression  that mainstream  academics  had reached a virtual  unanimity  on  the  questions  addressed,  especially  the  validity  of  the

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indo-Aryan  invasion or migration  into the India subcontinent.  However, such unanimity can be projected only by eclipsing the rejection of such a scenario by many eminent experts, such as, in this case, Edmund Leach, Kenneth A.R. Kennedy, Jim Shaffer, Jean-François Jarrige, Henri-Paul Francfort, Peter G. Johansen, Toomas Kivisild, Angela Marcantonio (also non-mainstream but nevertheless solid scholars, such as Koenraad Elst or Nicholas Kazanas). I could add many respected  Indian archaeologists,  such as the late Dr V.N. Misra or Prof.  B.B.  Lal,  but  I suspect  from  your  representations,  which  do  not  cite  a single  Indian  archaeologist,  that  you  are  not  exceedingly  interested  in  their views.  Be  that  as  it  may,  it  is  not  sound  scholarly  practice  to  pretend  that divergent viewpoints do not exist.

 

  1. It concealed or misrepresented  findings at several points, as your present letter again does, for instance when you assert that no remains of the horse have been found at Indus sites, while remains (either of bones or teeth) have actually been identified at no fewer than 12 sites by respected archaeologists  from Dr. Bhola Nath  to  Prof.  P.K.  Mathews   or  Prof.  Pramod  Joglekar,   whose  work  you completely  blank out (I will not proceed here with the evidence: you can find extensive details in a recent paper of mine on the issue8). The same attitude was displayed when you dealt with genetics (cherry picking would be an apt description; you can see a detailed review of recent studies by the geneticist Dr. B.M. Reddy,9  and a fairly detailed discussion  of the available evidence in two papers of mine, one of them forthcoming10).

 

 

I find a few more shortcomings in your present letter:

 

  1. You write that “The geo-archeological  evidence also cannot by definition, show signs of migration—it  can neither prove nor falsify Aryan migration  into pre- modern   South   Asia.”   If   that   is   so,   why   have   generations   of   linguists, archaeologists   and  Indo-Europeanists   tried  so  hard  to  find  precisely  such evidence?  Will you offer a detailed critique,  for instance,  of the work of Prof. Asko  Parpola,   who  has  written   numerous   books  and  papers   tracing   the incoming  Aryans  not only on the subcontinent  but beyond,  stage  after stage through   a  multiplicity   of  material   cultures?   And  why  do  you  contradict yourselves  by asserting  that, in “more recent work”, “Kenoyer  also considers the archeological  record of the Painted Grey Ware culture (1200-800 BCE) and the Northern  Black Polished  Ware culture (700-300 BCE) to be convincing  for correlating  it to Vedic  culture”?  Can archaeological  evidence  identify  “Vedic culture” or not? And if it can, what are the “convincing”  criteria used by Prof. Kenoyer  in the case of PGW to establish  its “Vedic” character?  And why did numerous mainstream scholars opt instead for Cemetery H, Gandhara Grave or Pirak cultures as evidence of “Aryan” settlements?

 

 

 

 

 

 

It would have been more honest and accurate to state that proponents of the Aryan migration theory having failed to find support for it in archaeology have decided to look for evidence elsewhere — for such is the historical fact of the dilution of a violent, massive Aryan invasion (still favoured by many Indian historians, see the late R.S. Sharma’s work, for instance) into a milder scenario of a largely peaceful immigration, limited enough (sometimes reduced to a “trickle”) to conveniently escape detection on the ground.

 

  1. Your statement that “no linguist asserts that India is the homeland of the Indo- European  languages”  is  disingenuous,  as  it  conceals  the  lack  of  agreement among  linguists  as to an original  PIE homeland,  even  after  two  centuries  of search, and, more importantly, as to the arborescent model or even the validity of an IE family of languages.  As I showed  in my note of 18 November  2015, from N.S. Trubetskoy  to Angela  Marcantonio  or April McMahon,  we have a number  of  eminent  dissenters  as  to  the  validity  of  PIE  or  the  need  for  a homeland at all.

 

Neither your earlier 22-page review nor your current letter do justice to these complex  issues;  you  content  yourselves  with  presenting  a nonexistent  “consensus”, using the classic fallacy of argument from authority.

 

Let me end with Edmund  Leach, whose path-breaking  1989 paper11  has been studiously ignored by all proponents of the Aryan scenario: “Why do serious scholars persist  in believing  in the Aryan  invasions?  … Who finds it attractive?  Why has the development  of early Sanskrit  come to be so dogmatically  associated  with an Aryan invasion? … The Aryan invasions never happened at all. Of course no one is going to believe that.”

 

 

With best regards, Michel Danino

 

 

 

 

1       Irfan Habib, The Indus Civilization, vol. 2 in A People’s History of India, Tulika Books, 2nd edn, New Delhi,

2003, p. 64.

 

2       Romila Thapar, The Penguin History of Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300, Penguin Books, New

Delhi, 2002, p. 88.

 

3       Ibid.

 

4       D.N. Jha, Ancient India in Historical Outline, Manohar, New Delhi, 2nd edn, 1998, p. 49.

 

5        Michael Witzel, “Rgvedic history: poets, chieftains and polities”, in George Erdosy, (ed.), The Indo- Aryans of Ancient South Asia: Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity, Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1995, pp. 320–321.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6       Ibid., p. 322.

 

7       Kancha Ilaiah, in “The Rediff Interview / Dr Kancha Ilaiah”, 17 January 2000.

 

8        Michel Danino, “The Horse and the Aryan Debate”, in D.K. Chakrabarti & Makkhan Lal, (eds), History of Ancient India, vol. 3: The  Texts, Political History and  Administration till c.  200 BC, Vivekananda International Foundation & Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 30–43.

9        B.M. Reddy, “People of India: implications of recent DNA studies”, in D.K. Chakrabarti & Makkhan Lal, (eds), History of Ancient India, vol. 1: Prehistoric Roots, Vivekananda International Foundation & Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2014, pp 28–58.

10     Michel Danino, “Genetics and the Aryan Issue”, in D.K. Chakrabarti & Makkhan Lal, (eds), History of Ancient India, vol. 3: The Texts, Political History and Administration till c. 200 BC, Vivekananda International Foundation & Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 44–64; “Aryans and the Indus Civilization: Archaeological, Skeletal, and Molecular Evidence”, in Gwen Robbins Schug & Subhash R. Walimbe, (eds), A Companion to South Asia in the Past, Wiley–Blackwell, forthcoming 2016, pp. 205-224.

11     Edmund Leach, “Aryan invasions over the millennia” in Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, (ed.), Culture through

Time: Anthropological Approaches, Stanford University Press, 1990, p. 227–245.

 

Statement on Teaching Approaches and Experiences

Vamsee Juluri

 

 

I wish to explain a little more about my training, experience and approach to history, given that my engagement with it is interdisciplinary (which is one reason perhaps I have been able to see these often tense Indian history debates in California and in India with new eyes, and with a global view sympathetic to both academia’s concern for intellectual rigor and the community’s concerns about fair treatment of Hinduism).

 

I did my Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1999 with a specialization in critical cultural studies and postcolonial studies, audience research, and globalization studies. From the time of my graduate studies, I have been deeply engaged with debates on popular and academic historiography, and with the question of how history is narrated in classroom and in the more informal space of media and popular culture. For example, in my Global Media and Culture seminar, which I have been teaching at USF for close to 15 years, we analyze closely how world history is narrated today, and move from there to discussions of topics in contemporary global culture such as representations of diversity and otherness, migration, terrorism and the “clash of civilizations” idea. Our seminars are informed by the work of scholars such as Edward Said, Samir Amin, Howard Zinn, Tzvetan Todorov, Mahatma Gandhi and others. I am therefore deeply aware of colonial and postcolonial dilemmas in historiography, and the ongoing struggle by historians and educators to broaden the teaching of history to become more inclusive and truly reflective of global diversity.

 

One good thing I find is that students these days are very aware of some of these concerns by the time they come to college, which means that the California standards have been effective in some areas of world history, such as the colonial encounter with Native America. Unfortunately, Indian history is a different matter. All students seem to have learn about India in school is the following: ancient India had an Aryan Invasion and a caste system, then fast forward to Akbar and the Mughals, and then Gandhi. The profoundly deep and interconnected ways in which Indian thought, mathematics, science and culture, not to mention trade and commerce, have been fundamental to the rise of the modern world-system are barely taught in schools today (Andre Gunder Frank’s essay India in the World Economy is a classic resource on this). It is only at the senior year college level that students get to appreciate that world history cannot be understood accurately without India’s place in it (after all, both Columbus and Vasco da Gama set out on that “prize,” didn’t they, leading to the global economy, for good and for bad, that we have today). This, naturally, is a disservice not only to Indian Americans, but to everyone else who has to be knowledgeable about India as it quickly rises to global economic and cultural prominence again in the 21st century.

 

I don’t understand the reason for this complete absence of even basic historical training at the school level about India’s place in world history. Whether it’s a consolation, or a cause of more sorrow, this problem is not peculiar to California. There is a problem, more broadly, in the “India story” in academia and media which is completely at odds with the growing economic relevance of India today in the global digital economy and with the rise of its “soft power” through its diaspora, yoga, and of course, Bollywood. Indian-Americans are a successful community, well-settled in American life and creating companies and jobs, building bridges with new and old country through culture and business, and yet we have only recently woken up with a start to realize that we don’t own our history; in California, and even in India, for 68 years after independence, we were still being taught a repackaged version of “scholarship” that was current in, say, the 1890s!

 

This was the dilemma that inspired my most recent book, Rearming Hinduism (please excuse the seemingly militant title, it refers to the cover image of a fantastic sculpture of a lion-god whose right arm is missing, broken during the sacking of the magnificent Vijayanagara empire capital of Hampi in 1565). In this book, which is partly a critique of dominant paradigms in South Asian historiography, and partly a contemporary manifesto for modern Hinduism to view the present and future in an environmentally and socially grounded ethic, I lay out the problems with how academia and the Hindu community have failed to engage positively with each other, and how we can move forward.  The California textbooks issue does find mention in it briefly; the contentious 2006 debates that I followed closely in the press were partly an inspiration for the book. In these nine years, I have examined the evidence on all sides closely, and my conclusion is basically this: what we are living through is essentially a paradigm shift in academia.

 

As I discuss in Chapter 1 of my book, one reason that this moment exploded rather suddenly in recent years was the fact that unlike African American studies, Chicano/a studies, Women’s studies and other fields which emerged in opposition to older Eurocentric paradigms in academia, the study of Hinduism (and India to an extent) did not go through such a period of decolonization. This was for two reasons: 1) when the academic upheavals took place in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s the Indian American community was hardly a presence in colleges unlike other minorities, since this was very soon after the 1965 immigration act that permitted Indian migration and 2) the scholars from India who did enter U.S. academia in social sciences were mostly trained in what was the dominant paradigm in Indian social science then, a Nehruvian-era secular-Marxist approach. The Marxist approach was very effective in giving a voice to Indian minorities (“subalterns”) in India and abroad, but it did not pay any attention to the need to decolonize the very important category of Hindu identity from the way it had been constructed by Eurocentric scholars in the 19th century. As a result, this old, pseudo-scientific, and often racist “knowledge” about India became deeply entwined in current academic paradigms like postcolonial theory and South Asia studies broadly. At its core, it believes in denying the majority of people in India a sense of belonging with their own land, sacred flora and fauna, customs and tradition. It argues, in essence, that Hindus are invaders and occupiers of their own country! Worse, some scholars draw odious comparison between Hindus and Nazi Germany, even (see my discussion of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History in my book).

 

It might seem hard to believe that distinguished academicians make such claims, but this is the strange truth of academia, and of academia on the cusp of a paradigm shift. The energy for this shift is coming from the community, from Hindu American children and their parents. They may not be trained in the social sciences, but they are well-educated professionals, many of them engineers, doctors and scientists, and they are figuring out very quickly what the problem is. In academia too, there is a slow but tangible acknowledgment of the need for introspection (please see my recent letter and counter-petition published on Academe). The issue is not simply one of “progressive academicians representing liberal Hindus” versus “right-wing Hindu fanatics seeking to whitewash history lessons and oppress minorities in India,” as it was made out to be by the press in 2006. The academic paradigm shift that is beginning now is related to a much bigger sense of civilizational rediscovery in India and the diaspora. (Please see my short article on this issue in the journal Foreign Affairs when you get a chance). It is a generational change at its core. Most Hindu parents today grew up when India was a socialist post-colony not yet prepared to challenge the effects of cultural colonization by British rule; when I was in school in India in the 1970s for example, we learned very little about the richness of Hindu thought, art, architecture, cosmology (the work of ancient Indian astronomers and mathematicians like Aryabhatta), bio-philosophies (Ayurveda and Yoga), statecraft, and ethics. What little we knew about our past, we picked up from family and movies. Our history curriculum in India to made us feel bad about who we were– just like the California textbooks–but not any longer, hopefully!

 

I have reviewed the new draft, and also some suggestions that have probably already come to you from some of the well-informed leaders of the community who have been active in this process. I believe that the new draft you have is largely positive and a step in the right direction. The dropping of the ridiculous word “Aryan” is a good step; no one in India has called themselves one in millennia, nor do we know for sure if this was indeed a fundamental category of identity even in the ancient world! It is a remnant of twisted racial thinking, when colonial ideologies of race supremacy, social Darwinism, and “civilizing missions” dominated social thought. However, there are still a few concerns I wish to bring to your attention, so that the lessons reflect the best of current thinking, and also stay on course with where the paradigm is beginning to head towards now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments on HSS September 2015 Draft

Vamsee Juluri

Professor of Media Studies and Asian Studies

University of San Francisco

 

 

 

 

1) Environment and History (lines 781-796)

 

I don’t have any concerns about this section as such, but I have been writing about this issue more generally and would like to share some ideas as it’s more of a deeper issue with how European and non-European civilizations are studied.

 

What I have noticed is that lessons on Judeo-Christian history tend to situate human agency explicitly (through a discussion of the religious worldview of the era, its philosophy, and such, and how it inspired its members to build their civilizations), while lessons on India, China and elsewhere tend to present the civilization as a mere by-product of the environment (rivers, soil, monsoons etc.).

 

At the moment, we don’t know too much about worldview of the Harappans, except the important resemblances to Hinduism such as the meditation Shiva-like seal, the Namaste gesture, and such. For now, this approach might be okay, but in the future it would be better if China, India and other civilizations too had an agential account (rooted in a culture’s sense of itself) rather than an objectified one.

 

I have written about this issue in my book and elsewhere. One direction might come from the new research being done in animal studies, ethics, and cultural studies about the history of human understanding and engagement with nature generally, and animals in particular. You may find my article on the Bill Gates- supported Big History project useful on this point.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vamsee-juluri/why-we-fail-to-see-life-as-life-sees-itself_b_5801984.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) “Indian history entered the Vedic age” (lines 810-821)

 

Present draft:

 

Indian history then entered the Vedic period (ca. 1500-500 BCE), an era named for the Vedas, Sanskrit religious texts passed on for generations through a complex oral tradition. In that period, people speaking Indic languages, which are part of the larger Indo-European family of languages, entered South Asia, probably by way of Iran. Gradually, Indic languages, including Sanskrit, spread across northern India. They included the ancestors of such modern languages as Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali. The early Indic speakers were most likely animal herders. They may have arrived in India in scattered bands, later intermarrying with populations perhaps ancestral to those who speak Dravidian languages, such as Tamil and Telagu (SIC.) in southern India and Sri Lanka today. In the same era, nomads who spoke Indo-Iranian languages moved into Persia.  Indic, Iranian, and most European languages are related.

 

Comments:

 

The new draft, if I may be frank, simply continues to waste valuable learning space here. The word “Aryan” has been rightly dropped, but the flawed “Aryan invasion” narrative is still very much intact. This is harmful for two reasons; first, it perpetuates the denial of Hinduism’s indigenousness and deep attachment to the sacred geography of India (please see Diana Eck’s India: A Sacred Geography, and also Chapter 3 “The Myth of Aryan Origins” in my book for its critique of pre-modern “colonization” narratives), and second, it “objectifies” the Vedic people as mere “animal herders” without engaging even a little bit with the Vedic worldview and culture, which is very much open knowledge since many of the texts continue to be chanted, experienced, and studied to this day.

 

For evidence of challenges to the “Aryan (or any other)” invasion/migration idea, there are several useful sources. Trautman’s The Aryan Debates is a good overview from a few years ago, but does not address several new arguments currently being discussed in Indian history circles. However, scholars such as Klaus Klostermaier on the other hand have accepted as early as two decades ago that “the certainty seems to be growing that the Indus civilization was carried by the Vedic Indians, who were not invaders from Southern Russia but indigenous for an unknown period of time in the Central Himalayan regions” (p. 38). It might not be very long before this becomes the mainstream view in academia, given the increasing amount of evidence based on genetics, archaeology, archaeo-astronomy and other fields. My view is that this has been largely delayed so far only because of needless political struggles about secularism and Hindu nationalism back in India.

 

Regarding the Vedic cultural worldview, this too is an ongoing intellectual debate, since there are vast differences in how the same words in the Vedic texts are interpreted differently in Hindu philosophical and theological traditions, and in Western philology and academic circles. For example, the dominant academic view of scholars like D.N. Jha believes that the Vedic texts show evidence of beef-eating by the Vedic people, while traditional Sanskrit scholars in India argue otherwise. The Italian scholar and Indologist Roberto Calasso, on the other hand, offers an interesting interpretation: he views the Vedic hymns about cows as suggesting a deep ethical, emotional, and metaphysical struggle in the Vedic people about the question of taking a life to survive, and that of a bovine in particular. He views the Vedic culture as marking the period of early human history when humans began to turn from being prey to large animals to becoming hunters themselves (which probably situates the earliest verses even further back in time). His humble introduction to the Vedic era may be useful for us here, since so little is known: “They were remote beings… We cannot be sure where they lived. When: more than three thousand years ago, though dates vary considerably between one scholar and the other. Area: the north of the Indian subcontinent, but with no exact boundaries” (p. 3).

 

I would like to offer the following lines instead by way of an alternative.  I think its important that once the dubious notion of an Aryan invasion has been rejected, we must also move away from this sort of “invasion narrative” of people and languages “penetrating” and “colonizing” different parts of India, and offer some facts which are meaningful to students, and draw a connection between past and present in an engaging manner.

 

Suggested Text:

 

The decline of the Harappan cities coincides with the rise of what is called the Vedic period in Indian history. This period is named for the Vedas, ancient texts in the Sanskrit language. There are four Vedas, and the oldest, the Rig Veda, contains about 10,000 verses. The Vedas were passed on through oral tradition. Many verses from them continue to be chanted in Hindu religious ceremonies to this day, such as the Gayatri Mantra, which expresses a desire for intelligence. The Vedas reflect the close relationship that existed between the Vedic people and nature, and suggest that the cow was an important part of their economy and culture. There has been considerable debate among historians about the origins of the Vedic people and the time of composition of the Vedas. There is however increasing agreement that by sometime between 2500-1500 BCE, the location of the Vedic people can be precisely identified as the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. 

 

References:

Diana Eck. (2012). India: A Sacred Geography. New York: Harmony.

Klaus Klostermaier. (1994). A Survey of Hinduism. Albany: SUNY.

Roberto Calasso. (2013). Ardor. New York: Penguin/Allen Lane.

Thomas Trautmann (2005). The Aryan Debates. New Delhi: OUP.

I also highly recommend:

Sanjeev Sanyal (2012). Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography. New Delhi: Penguin India. Sanyal logically presents genetic and archaeological discoveries and lays to rest whatever credence one might still want to give to the Aryan Invasion Theory. There is also an easy to read Young Adult version of the book that could be a model for the lesson plans here. (The Incredible History of India’s Geography, Puffin Books)

 

 

  1. “Later Vedic Period” (lines 820-887)

 

Present Draft:

 

Later in the Vedic period, new commercial towns arose along the Ganges, India’s second great river system. In this era, Vedic culture (or Brahmanism in the existing standards) emerged as a belief system that combined the beliefs of Indic speakers with those of older populations. Teachers focus students on the question: How did the religion of Hinduism support individuals, rulers, and societies? Brahmins, that is, priestly families, assumed authority over complex devotional rituals, but many important sages, such as Valmiki and Vyasa, were not brahmins. The brahmin class expounded the idea of the oneness of all living things and of Brahman as the divine principle of being. The Hindu tradition is thus monistic, the idea of reality being a unitary whole. Brahman may be manifested in many ways, including incarnation in the form of deities, including Vishnu, preserver of the world, and Shiva, creator and destroyer of the world. These gods could be seen as aspects of Brahman, an all-pervading divine, supreme reality. Vedic teachings gradually built up a rich body of spiritual and moral teachings that formed the foundation of Hinduism as it is practiced today. These teachings were transmitted orally at first, and then later in written texts, the Upanishads and, later, the Bhagavad Gita. Performance of duties and ceremonies became one dimension of the supreme quest to achieve oneness with divine reality. That fulfillment, however, demands obedience to the moral law of the universe, called dharma, which also refers to performance of social duties. Success or failure at existing in harmony with dharma determines how many times an individual might be subject to reincarnation, or repeated death and rebirth at either lower or higher positions of moral and ritual purity. Progress toward spiritual realization is governed by karma, the principle that right deeds done in one lifetime condition an individual’s place in the next one. Many of the central practices of Hinduism today, including home and temple worship, yoga and meditation, rites of passage (samskaras), festivals, pilgrimage, respect for saints and gurus, and, above all, a profound acceptance of religious diversity, developed over this period.

 

Comments:

 

There are some errors, contradictions, and misplaced priorities in this section.

 

In this era, Vedic culture (or Brahmanism in the existing standards) emerged as a belief system that combined the beliefs of Indic speakers with those of older populations.

 

This sentence once again reproduces the “invasion narrative” with all its racial undertones implied by Vedic culture as a newer population combining with “older populations.” Sanjeev Sanyal quotes several studies of genetic ancestry from Nature in his book to argue that the Vedic people (or “Indic speakers” as they are called here) do not constitute a separate race from people in India.

 

Also, “belief system” is also a projection of Western categories of “religion.” The principal texts of the later Vedic age were the Upanishads, which were more about philosophy rather than about belief in a God or myth as such.

 

How did the religion of Hinduism support individuals, rulers and societies?

If the central question here is “How did the religion of Hinduism support individuals, rulers and societies?” it would be more accurate to center the “religion of Hinduism,” i.e. its philosophical worldview, at the outset, and then proceed to a discussion of classes and castes along with other issues.

 

In its present form, the narrative also suffers from some of the old colonial-era biases in parts. Specifically, these are some of the lines that could be presented in a better manner:

 

How did the religion of Hinduism support individuals, rulers, and societies? Brahmins, that is, priestly families, assumed authority over complex devotional rituals, but many important sages, such as Valmiki and Vyasa, were not brahmins. The brahmin class expounded the idea of the oneness of all living things and of Brahman as the divine principle of being.

 

-the two lines immediately after “How did the religion of Hinduism support individual rulers etc” perpetuate the myth of Hinduism as the creation of a rigid, monolithic priestly Brahmin caste that excluded the rest of the population (though it does acknowledge that non-Brahmins by birth like Vyasa and Valmiki were accorded the same status). By stating that the “Brahmin class expounded the idea of the oneness of all living beings” it implies that this belief was not shared by the rest of India’s population at that time. As Nanditha Krishnan’s important studies Sacred Animals of India and Sacred Plants of India show, reverence of living beings was a widespread sensibility in India common to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Adivasis (forest dwellers), and cannot be reduced any one class.

 

-“Brahminism”: this is a British colonial-era racial construct and inaccurate. Needs to be dropped. It imposes modern Western ideas of authorship on cultures that viewed knowledge in vastly different ways. See my note later on Adluri & Bagchee’s important new study of 19th century German Indology and how it inappropriately projected Western-Christian notions of religious history onto India.

 

The Hindu tradition is thus monistic, the idea of reality being a unitary whole. Brahman may be manifested in many ways, including incarnation in the form of deities, including Vishnu, preserver of the world, and Shiva, creator and destroyer of the world.

 

-“Brahma” is missing here; when the “trinity” is mentioned it should be Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, who stands for dissolution (“destructive” is often used too but it is an imprecise translation in my view and lends itself to negative connotations)

 

– also, the word “incarnation” is used a bit awkwardly here. It corresponds to the Sanskrit word “avatar.” Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma are not “avatars” – they are better described as “forms of Brahman,” or just “deities.” “Avatar”/incarnation is used to describe human forms of these deities; for example, Rama is an avatar of Vishnu.

 

Performance of duties and ceremonies became one dimension of the supreme quest to achieve oneness with divine reality. That fulfillment, however, demands obedience to the moral law of the universe, called dharma, which also refers to performance of social duties.

 

-“demands obedience” and “moral law” seem like an imposition of Judeo-Christian terms on Dharmic sensibilities here. In fact the whole tone of this verse sounds rather ominous and dictatorial. Phrases like “harmony with nature” are closer in spirit.

 

Suggested Draft:

 

Teachers focus students on the question: How did the religion of Hinduism support individuals, rulers, and societies in the later Vedic period? The principal texts of the later Vedic Age are known as the Upanishads and contain philosophical dialogues about the nature of the self, reality, life and death. At the center of the Upanishadic worldview is the notion of the Brahman, or the divine principle of being. Some Upanishads contain simple, practical conversations between teachers and students aimed at demonstrating the oneness of all things, and the oneness of all living beings in particular. This abstract, or formless, notion of God complemented a growing and diverse pantheon of gods and goddesses, a reflection of the political and cultural diversity of the late Vedic culture as it spanned across the Ganges river valley in Northern India. The complex Hindu pantheon may be understood in terms of three broad levels. At the most abstract level, Hinduism is what modern scholars might call “monistic,” rooted in the idea of reality as a unitary whole. At another level, Hinduism approaches the divine in the forms of various gods, such as Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the god of dissolution, and goddesses such as Saraswathi, the Goddess of Learning and Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. At still another level, Hindus also worship beings like Krishna and Rama as “avatars” or human incarnations of Vishnu. Many present-day Hindu practices also began at this time such as temple worship, yoga, meditation, inquiry, rites of passage (samskaras), festivals, pilgrimages, respect for saints and gurus, and above all a profound acceptance of religious diversity. The goal of these practices is moksha, or liberation from the bondage of ignorance that causes the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The path to moksha is often discussed using two important terms, dharma and karma. Dharma may be understood simply as duty, often with connotations of duty that conforms the order of nature. Karma refers to actions, and specifically the good or bad debts that an individual accrues with actions, which affect one’s future life or lives. Dharma in ancient India was also closely connected to notions of social order, such as varna-ashrama, the four-functions of society, and the four stages of each individual’s life. Ancient Indian kingship was closely connected with ideals of dharma. Teachers may use a mnemonic device from the Upanishads (later popularized by T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land) to give an example of how the Upanishads view dharma for different groups of people: “What the Thunder Said,” or “Da-Da-Da.” In the story, three groups of beings with different tendencies (cruelty, greed, and gluttony) ask the creator how they can be happy. The answer given is “da” (what thunder sounds like): the greedy understand it as “datta” which means “to give,” the cruel understand it as “dayadhvam, which means “be kind,” and the gluttonous take it as “damyata,” which means “control your cravings.”

 

References:

(definitions of dharma, karma, Brahman etc.)

 

Anna Dallapicolla (2002). Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend. London: Thames & Hudson.

Chaturvedi Badrinath (2006). The Mahabharatha: An Inquiry in the Human Condition. Hyderabad: Orient Longman.

Swami Prabhavananda & Frederick Manchester (translators)(1957) The Upanishads. L.A.: Vedanta Society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. “Caste” and Women

 

Present Draft (lines 850-887):

 

As in all early civilizations, Indian society witnessed the development of a system of social classes. Ancient Indian society formed into self-governing groups, jatis, that emphasized birth as the defining criteria. Jatis initially shared the same occupation and married only within the group. This system, often termed caste, provided social stability and gave an identity to each community. The Vedas also describe four main social categories, known as varnas, namely: Brahmins (priests); Kshatriyas (kings and warriors); Vaishyas (merchants, artisans, and farmers) and Sudras (peasants and laborers). A person belonged to a particular varna by his professional excellence and his good conduct, not by birth itself. In addition, by 500 CE or earlier, there existed certain communities outside this system, the “Untouchables,” who did the most unclean work, such as cremation, disposal of dead animals, and sanitation.

Relations between classes came to be expressed in terms of ritual purity or impurity, higher classes being purer than lower ones. This class system became distinctive over the centuries for being especially complex and formal, involving numerous customs and prohibitions on eating together and intermarrying that kept social and occupational groups distinct from one another in daily life. Over the centuries, the Indian social structure became more rigid, though perhaps not more inflexible than the class divisions in other ancient civilizations. When Europeans began to visit India in modern times, they used the word “caste” to characterize the social system because of the sharp separation they perceived between groups who did not intermarry and thus did not mix with each other. Caste, however, is a term that social scientists use to describe any particularly unbending social structure, for example, slave-holding society in the American south before the Civil War, which can make the “caste” label offensive. Today many Hindus, in India and in the United States, do not identify themselves as belonging to a caste. Teachers should make clear to students that this was a social and cultural structure rather than a religious belief. As in Mesopotamia and Egypt, priests, rulers, and other elites used religion to justify the social hierarchy. The teacher has students draw a social hierarchy pyramid of the varnas and compare that pyramid with the Mesopotamian social hierarchy pyramid they made earlier. In both cases, rulers, political elites (warriors and officials) and priests were on the top of the social hierarchy. This was a common pattern of premodern societies. Although ancient India was a patriarchy, women had a right to their personal wealth, especially jewelry, gold, and silver, but fewer property rights than men. They participated equally with their husbands in religious ceremonies and festival celebrations. Hinduism is the only major religion in which God is worshipped in female as well as male form.

 

Comments:

 

Ancient Indian society formed into self-governing groups, jatis, that emphasized birth as the defining criteria. Jatis initially shared the same occupation and married only within the group. This system, often termed caste, provided social stability and gave an identity to each community. The Vedas also describe four main social categories, known as varnas, namely: Brahmins (priests); Kshatriyas (kings and warriors); Vaishyas (merchants, artisans, and farmers) and Sudras (peasants and laborers). A person belonged to a particular varna by his professional excellence and his good conduct, not by birth itself.

 

 

-The section above needs to be slightly rearranged. It is chronologically mixed up, and by leading with “birth as the defining criteria” it perpetuates the colonial essentialist idea of caste rather than the Indian sense. It should begin with Vedas and Varnas, and emphasize the statement about a person belonging to it by profession etc. and not by birth. The rise of jati as birth-based community should come after this point is based. (A verse from Rig Veda, Book 9, is seen by scholars as a sign of the mobility of caste identities in Vedic times: “I am a bard, my father is a physician, my mother is a grinder of corn…”)

 

 

Relations between classes came to be expressed in terms of ritual purity or impurity, higher classes being purer than lower ones.

-This statement is highly debatable, and would need to be situated very carefully in terms of exactly when (it seems to bring in ideas from texts much later than the Later Vedic/Upanishadic age, for one thing) and also in the context of various Central Asian tribal invasions that brought in ideas of “barbarians” into Indian culture. If it’s used, it would also need to be qualified with a recognition of how each class had to follow its own strict behavioral laws about ritual purity, with the Brahmins living with the greatest restrictions on their own conduct and pursuit of pleasure. On the whole, I feel this comment is likely to be viewed as “adverse reflection,” so I suggest dropping it.

 

Over the centuries, the Indian social structure became more rigid, though perhaps not more inflexible than the class divisions in other ancient civilizations. When Europeans began to visit India in modern times, they used the word “caste” to characterize the social system because of the sharp separation they perceived between groups who did not intermarry and thus did not mix with each other.

 

-it might be more accurate to add some context to the first line here: “Over the centuries, as invasions from Central and later Western Asia increased, Indian social structure became more rigid.” Alternatively, this could be dropped.

 

-“When Europeans began to visit India in modern times…” – we are not living in the 1950s anymore, dear colleagues! This has to be clearly stated as the colonial encounter between the Portuguese and India starting in 1493. The word “caste” comes from the Portuguese. Alternate statement given below. (See K.M. Panikkar on the Portuguese invasion of India, and Nicholas Dirks on the modern-colonial era “invention” of caste).

 

 

Today many Hindus, in India and in the United States, do not identify themselves as belonging to a caste.

 

-good point, but unfairly singles out Hindus for caste, when caste identity in India exists among Christians and Muslims too. A more accurate statement would be: “Today many Indians, in India and in the United States, do not identify themselves as belonging to a caste, nor do those who identify with their castes necessarily hold supremacist views or practice discrimination against others as Indian law strictly forbids such practices.

 

 

Teachers should make clear to students that this was a social and cultural structure rather than a religious belief. As in Mesopotamia and Egypt, priests, rulers, and other elites used religion to justify the social hierarchy. The teacher has students draw a social hierarchy pyramid of the varnas and compare that pyramid with the Mesopotamian social hierarchy pyramid they made earlier. In both cases, rulers, political elites (warriors and officials) and priests were on the top of the social hierarchy. This was a common pattern of premodern societies.

-I find this suggested exercise profoundly offensive and a potential emotional disaster in the classroom for several reasons. First, it is an adverse reflection, singling out Hindus, considering the other comparisons here are dead civilizations (Egypt and Mesopotamia). Since none of us want to embarrass Jewish, Christian, or Muslim students with comparative exercises on how their “religion was used to justify hierarchy (or patriarchy, mass violence etc), let us just drop this.

 

Although ancient India was a patriarchy, women had a right to their personal wealth, especially jewelry, gold, and silver, but fewer property rights than men. They participated equally with their husbands in religious ceremonies and festival celebrations. Hinduism is the only major religion in which God is worshipped in female as well as male form.

-Start with the positive, and then go to the criticism of patriarchy. See my suggestion below.

 

-Suggested Draft:

 

As in all early civilizations, Indian society witnessed the development of a system of social classes. In the early Vedic age, the main system of social classification was a functionalist one known as varnas. Four varnas are mentioned in the Vedas: Brahmins (priests, poets and philosophers); Kshatriyas (kings and warriors); Vaishyas (merchants, artisans, and farmers) and Sudras (peasants and laborers). The Vedas also indicate flexibility and mobility across the varna system. A person belonged to a particular varna by his professional excellence and his good conduct, not by birth itself (for example, sages like Vyasa and Valmiki were accorded the status of Brahmins but were of non-Brahmin birth). The growth and spread of Vedic society later led to its organization into a large number of self-governing groups or jatis. Membership in a jati was usually determined by birth, and regulated by rules against intermarriage. Jatis provided identity, social stability, and preserved the intergenerational transmission of skills and knowledge. Individuals could not move across jatis easily, but a jati, as a whole could work its way up the varna hierarchy (a practice that occurs to this day in India through democratic means). However, jati could also be rigid, and hierarchical, like any class system in the ancient world, and particularly oppressive for some jatis deemed to be outside the four varna system for doing unclean tasks such as cremation and sanitation (“untouchables”). Teachers should emphasize the following points. The word “caste” is not an Indian concept, though it is widely used, often inaccurately and presumptively, while talking about India and Hinduism. The word “caste,” is of Portuguese origin and came to be used widely by early European colonizers to try and make sense of the complexities of Indian society. It is also used widely by social scientists use to describe any particularly unbending social structure. Today many Indians, in India and in the United States, do not identify themselves as belonging to a caste, nor do those who identify with their jatis necessarily hold supremacist views or practice discrimination against others as Indian law strictly forbids such practices. Teachers should also make clear to students that this was a social and cultural structure rather than a religious belief, and also add that modern Indian law prohibits caste discrimination and supports extensive affirmative affirmation.

 

Hinduism is the only major religion in which God is worshipped in female and male forms. The deities for learning, wealth, and divine energy (Saraswathi, Lakshmi, and Durga) are female and have several festivals and ceremonies dedicated to them. In the Vedic age, women were also scholars and philosophers. Several verses in the Vedas were composed by women. Women had a right to their personal wealth like gold and jewelry and could participate equally in religious ceremonies and festivals. But ancient India was still a patriarchy, and men often had more privileges than women.

 

 

 

References:

 

  1. M. Panikkar (1959). Asia and Western Dominance. NY: Collier.

 

Nicholas Dirks (2001). Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton: Princeton U.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Ramayana

 

Present Draft (lines 888-898):

One text Hindus rely on for solutions to moral dilemmas is the Ramayana, the story of Rama, an incarnation or avatar of Vishnu, who goes through many struggles and adventures as he is exiled from his father’s kingdom and has to fight a demonic enemy, Ravana. Rama, his wife Sita, and some other characters always make the correct moral decisions in this epic work. The teacher might select the scene in which Rama accepts his exile, or the crisis over the broken promise of Sugriva, the monkey king, and then ask students: What is the moral dilemma here? What is the character’s dharma? In this way, students can deepen their understanding of Hinduism as they are immersed in one of ancient India’s most important literary and religious texts.

 

Comments:

-This is a good point and example, but could be presented in a much richer way. In the present form, there are two problems. One, it misses a chance to mention the Mahabharatha, which is also very popular in India and a moral touchstone for everyday life (The Bhagavad Gita is a part of the Mahabharatha). That also allows a chance to mention the other major protagonist/avatar, Krishna. Two, the statement “characters always make the correct moral decisions” imposes a canonical reading which is at odds with the very diverse, plural, and complex ways in which the Ramayana (and the Mahabharatha) are depicted in Indian classical arts and popular culture, and the ways in which Hindus make sense of them (The essay “300 Ramayanas” by A.K. Ramanujan is a classic in academic circles). Also, I am not sure what the “broken promise of Sugriva” is really! Better to use the most famous examples instead.

 

Suggested Draft:

When in search of guidance for moral dilemmas, Hindus often refer to ideals from two epic poems, The Ramayana and The Mahabharatha. There are several hundred versions of these epics that have been created in several Indian languages over the centuries, and there are several modern versions available in the form of movies, TV shows, and comic books as well. At their core, both epics tell the story of how one can recognize and practice dharma, the right way to conduct one’s self, in the face of injustice, loss, and suffering. In the Mahabharatha, five princes are cheated of their rightful inheritance by their cruel cousins and exiled. Krishna, who is also a popular deity, is the main character in this epic, and he guides the good princes on their dharma in winning back their kingdom (the famous poem The Bhagavad Gita, which influenced several great thinkers like Thoreeau, Emerson and Gandhi, appears in this book). In the Ramayana, the good prince Rama is exiled from his home by his step-mother, and while in exile, finds his wife Sita kidnapped by the arrogant King Ravana. Hindus draw several moral lessons from the Ramayana; such as the respect Rama has for his parents in accepting exile and hardship, the courage Sita has in following Rama into exile, and the selfless and appropriate conduct of Hanuman who helps Rama find Sita.  Teachers could screen one of several easily available versions of these epics (such as Peter Brooks’ play The Mahabharatha or the Indian-Japanese animated Ramayana) and encourage students to identify the points in the narrative where characters had to make difficult moral choices.”

 

 

  1. From 7th grade standards: Bhakti Movement

 

Present Draft: (Lines 671-758)

Building on their previous study of Hinduism in 6th grade, students study the question: How did Hinduism change over time? Hinduism continued to evolve with the Bhakti movement, which emphasized personal expression of devotion to God, who had three aspects: Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the keeper, and Siva, the destroyer. The Bhakti movement placed emphasis on social and religious equality and a personal expression of devotion to God in the popular, vernacular languages. People of all social groups now had personal access to their own personal deities, whom they could worship with songs, dances, processions, and temple visits. Bhakti grew more popular, thanks to the saints such as Meera Bai and Ramananda. Even though India was not unified into one state, nor did its people belong to a single religion, the entire area was developing a cultural unity.

 

Comments:

I commend the inclusion of the important topic of Bhakti in the lessons. However, in the present form, the narrative is not neutral and introduces subtle biases and value judgments (as well as implicit Judeo-Christian ideas like a “personal God”). Consider the following statements: “Hinduism continued to evolve,” “People of all social groups now had personal access…” These comments, especially when read with the Sixth Grade Ancient India draft as it stands with its inaccurate focus on “Brahminism,” reproduces what has been a pervasive “civilizing narrative” on Indian history (ancient Hinduism was nothing more than hierarchy among animal herders; medieval Hinduism was more egalitarian etc.).

 

The sources of this projection of Eurocentric historiography lie in 19th century German Indology and have been extensively documented and critiqued in The Nay Science: A History of German Indology, a masterful study by Adluri and Bagchee (2014). Adluri and Bagchee argue that these early colonial era German scholars projected the framework of Western/Christian history onto their accounts of Indian religious history, and this is the same framework that dominates most accounts, including the one we see in the draft. Specifically, Adluri and Bagchee point out the following comparisons: Vedic Hinduism is reduced to a “priestly” ideology and presented on par with Roman Catholicism, and Buddhism and later developments presented as some kind of Protestant “reformation” in India. The truth is far more complex. (Adluri and Bagchee’s points are also relevant to the lines about Buddhism and Jainism; important not to present these as mere “improvement” on Hinduism).

 

The last line about India not really being a political unity is highly problematic. The Mauryan empire pretty much spanned from what is now Afghanistan till close to Southern India. The comment about “not belonging to a single religion” is also highly arguable. It reproduces a typical postmodern argument prevalent in some quarters these days that holds that there never really was a religion like Hinduism (a position that never accounts for its contradictory views on caste and Hinduism and caste though). Diana Eck’s India: A Sacred Geography shows that the landscape of India, from Kashmir to the Indian Ocean was fairly “unified” through a network of pilgrimage tours, shared stories about sacred rivers, forests, and mountains, and most importantly, worship of similar deities across the country.  I suggest dropping that line altogether.

 

 

A second, related point on this passage, is that it does not address a very important part of the later context for the spread of the bhakti movement: the invasion of India by Turkic and Afghan Islamic warlords who destroyed several Hindu temples in Northern and Western India. However, in the interests of avoiding (even more) distracting and lengthy debates and controversies, it is perhaps best to avoid both distractions here; the “progress of Hinduism against caste” narrative as well as the “response to Islamic invasions” narrative.

 

Suggested Draft:

 

Building on their previous study of Hinduism in 6th grade, students study the question: How did Hinduism change over time? In the second half of the second millennium, Hinduism witnessed a popular cultural uprising of sorts that went on for several centuries. Known as the Bhakti movement, it began in Southern India and spread to most parts of the country. The Bhakti movement drew on the concept of bhakti, or intense devotion to God, which appear in the Bhagavad Gita and earlier texts, and expressed them as a mass movement consisting of songs, dances, processions, pilgrimages and temple worship. The Bhakti movement was notable for its inclusiveness and emphasis on egalitarianism. It included women, like the famous saint and composer Mirabai (1498-1557). The Bhakti movement, with its emphasis on simple, direct devotion to God by all social classes, led to an outpouring of popular devotional poetry and song in vernacular languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Braj Bhasha and Hindi. Teachers may suggest to students to listen to songs of the popular American “Kirtan” movement (singers like Krishna Das and Jai Uttal and other singers popular in the American Yoga culture) for a sense of bhakti music and culture.  The Hanuman Chalisa, a 40 verse song of praise to Hanuman composed by the Braj-Basha poet Tulasidas  (1532-1653) is a good example of Bhakti poetry that has been popularized recently in the West by Krishna Das and others.

 

 

References:

 

Vishwa Adluri & Joydeep Bagchi (2014). The Nay Science: A History of German Indology. New York: OUP.

[1] “Concern over distortions”, by Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay, Volume 18 – Issue 02, Jan. 20 – Feb. 02, 2001. Frontline is well known for its staunch opposition to the Sangh Parivar. The editor, N. Ram is quite left leaning, as can easily be seen from his editorials.

[2] Calcutta

[3] It is important to note that there are many scholars who question the AIT, who have nothing to do with Indian politics and are certainly not associated with a political party in India!

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