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In Depth: Contentious debate over India’s historic portrayal in California textbooks

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California Textbooks Public Hearing, Students Silent Protest
California Textbooks Public Hearing, Students Silent Protest

California Textbooks Public Hearing, Students hold silent protest in front of the State Department of Education on the day of the public hearing, March 24th, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Diya TV) — More than 100 Hindu-Americans descended upon the state’s capital last Friday to voice outcry over the California Department of Education Instructional Quality Commission’s plans to accept edits to school curriculum, edits that in effect would largely remove references to India and Hinduism, and instead replaced with the terms, ‘South Asia’ and ‘ancient Indian religion.’

The proposed changes could appear in sixth-to-tenth grade textbooks, and begin as early as next year. Many believe implementing those changes would further alienate Indian youth from the history of their native country.

At its core, there seems to be at least three separate views on how to depict & accurately teach California sixth graders about Hinduism & India.

According to the Hindu American Foundation, a Hindu advocacy group, the current textbooks show Hinduism in a negative light, focussing just on the issues of ‘Caste Oppression’. They further clarify that ‘Caste’ is not part of ‘Hinduism’ rather a social construct that, while still a valid issue, doesn’t bear its roots in Hinduism. They also believe, the kids would benefit greatly from learning about other positive references to Hinduism such as Yoga & Meditation. The Hindu American Foundation has been working with the Department of Education and were making incremental progress over the years.

Enter, the South Asia Faculty Group – A group of esteemed scholars with Ph.Ds and decades of research and experience in History, South Asia studies, the Indus Valley civilization, Hinduism and Religious Studies. This group submitted a set of edits that would eliminate mention of “India” & replace with “South Asia”, remove “Hinduism” & replace with “Ancient Indian Religion”. They begin their submissions to the Department of Education with an acknowledgement to the objections by “Hindu nationalist groups”. Diya TV reached out to several members of this group and did not receive any comments on the record, despite repeated request for comment. In their cover letter, they say, 

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 muchof 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 – South Asia Faculty Group

The Uberoi Foundation for Religious studies, gathered a whole set of esteemed scholars of their own from all over the world, with equally robust credentials & experience to rebut the edits suggested by the South Asia Faculty Group. While they agreed with a few of the edits suggested, they found it troubling that the Group wanted to eliminate mention of India, almost entirely.

Thirty-six of the edits serve to eliminate “India” from the narrative or the word “Hinduism” in reference to early Hindu history. Effectively, it is being recommended that the Commission take on the role of cleansing the ethnic identity of California’s Hindu American children of Indian origin, by removing most instances of the word “India” from their textbooks. This is contrary to the State’s Social Content Standards which require the curriculum to “instill in each child a sense of pride in his or her heritage.” Removing “India” and “Hinduism” in key places does the opposite, leaving children of Indian Hindu origin with no recognizable religious, ethnic, or cultural tradition. Are they expected to re-identify themselves by the nebulous and historically and culturally unsupported term “South Asian”? Can we imagine removing the word “America” from these texts when referencing the nation’s early history because it was not yet officially so named? Is ancient Greece going to become “East South Europe” in future texts? – Uberoi Foundation for Religious Studies

While so far it seemed just a battle of the academics, at the hearing, several members of the Dalit Community came and spoke out both in favor & in opposition of the mentions & representations of caste. Those in favor of keeping mention of the caste oppression and its association to Hinduism, said that removing mention of it would be akin to wiping away their history. Others who spoke in opposition of the mentions of ‘untouchability’ & caste oppression had a more nuanced argument to make. 

The faculty group disagreed with the removal of caste mentions.

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. – South Asia Faculty Group

Yet, they recommended the deletion of ‘Valmiki’ & ‘Vyasa’ two important figures that according to some, essentially make the argument of how ‘caste’ is a modern problem not rooted in Hinduism.

According to Samir Kalra, it is the opinion of the scholars working with the Hindu American Foundation, “It(caste) is an economic & social structure and even though it did exist in Hindu society, it also existed in Christian society, in Muslim society as well as Sikh Society in India. Caste in itself confuses two very different systems, the ‘Varna’ & ‘Jati’ system. What originally was known as ‘Varna’ & ‘Jati’ was not rigid & hierarchical as came to be known within the caste system”

‘Valmiki’ was a Dalit & a theif, who recognized the ill of his ways and later became a poet and is the author to one of most famous poems that we now know as the ‘Ramayana’. Due to his changed conduct he no longer belonged to the Dalits and changed his varna to become a ‘Brahmin’

Vamsee Juluri is a professor of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco and has spearheaded a campaign of opposition, penning a letter to the California Board of Education on March 18, which was published online as part of a petition. It called for the board to shoot down the proposed edits by South Asia faculty group, in curriculum and received almost 18,000 signatures in six days. “If this is indeed correct that ‘India’ is not an accurate term for ‘India’ before 1947,” Juluri wrote, “how is it possible that the word ‘India’ has been in usage in some form or another from the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans? Did Columbus go searching for ‘South Asia’?”

Juluri’s efforts weren’t singular — numerous public awareness campaigns, including letters from other professors of religion and history, disputed the faculty group’s assertions that the framework should be edited. During the public comment period, the Hindu American Foundation, other Hindu organizations, community members and other non-Hindus relayed their sentiments of inaccuracies in the proposed edits and the last-minute process by which they believed the framework proposal was initially and uniformly accepted, even after prior recommendations from numerous academics were accepted. They opined, too, that the proposed edits would erase their cultural and religious histories from textbooks, and that it would be detrimental to the education of young Indian-Americans.

“Having studied the Vedas, I proudly wear my sacred thread as a symbol of my earnest study and scholarship, as did my mother and foremothers before her,” said 12-year-old Vaidehi Dandekar, a 7th grade student from El Cerrito, Calif. “As a young woman, I am proud that my enthusiasm and achievement in studying the Vedas is simply reflective of the long tradition of scholarship and oral storytelling by women….and men…..in India’s rich history. The accurate portrayal therefore in our classroom, of women in India’s history as leaders, sages, scholars, and often spiritual authority figures for families and communities is incredibly important for all members of my learning environment.”

The commission heard the outcry, and voted to reject some of the proposed changes, though its revised set of recommendations will not be published until two weeks before a May 11 State Board of Education hearing.

David Barclay contributed to this article.

Arts & Culture

HC4A Founder, Harish Kotecha receives Lifetime Achievement award from NAEHCY

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AUSTIN (Diya TV) — Harish Kotecha, founder and president of Hindu Charities for America (HC4A) received the Sandra Neese Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) at the 32nd Annual Conference.

He is the first Indian American to receive this national recognition.
Sandra Neese Lifetime Achievement Award is presented annually to honor individuals who have tirelessly worked to ensure that all children may have what most take for granted: safety, shelter, and a future; and that young people without shelter may find the promise of tomorrow.

NAEHCY’s Board of Directors were impressed with “your [Kotecha’s] ability to transform a singular movement into a replicable program that now is established in 4 major cities.”

In her award letter to Kotecha, Jimiyu Evans, President, NAEHCY wrote that, “We are glad to have an advocate like you in the field to meet the needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness – supporting and encouraging academic success – while implementing program
coordination and community collaboration.”

Kotecha, while beaming at the live video presentation at the virtual conference, mentioned that, “This award recognizes the impact of HC4A, all the volunteers, donors, sponsors and well-wishers of HC4A!”
Kotecha’s family was ousted from Uganda by its brutal dictator in 1971.

When he sought refuge in the US, there was not much by means of finances and housing. However, having a good education and determination to succeed, turned his life around. He turned all setbacks into a successful career in technology. Gratitude came full circle in his life when he resolved to serve the underprivileged through education.

He took an early retirement from IBM in 2001 and ever since has unwaveringly worked towards supporting children and youth of homeless families in their educational journey.

HC4A was founded by him in 2010 with the mission to ‘Bridge Income Disparities through Education.’ Ever since, the nonreligious and nonpolitical nonprofit has raised over $1 million to provide school supplies for elementary school children and vocational scholarships to nontraditional students. In response to the pandemic, HC4A also helped homeless students get internet connectivity for a year.

“He identified a huge social problem to solve that many assumed it to be government agencies’ or administration’s work. He and his volunteers have consistently delivered on the promises made to multiple school district administrations. More importantly, he has developed broader communities in his organization efforts,” says Alok Singh, Director, Global Strategy &; Transformation at Dell Technologies.

In addition to liaising with partner nonprofits to reach out to those in need, HC4A also brings the Indian American community together to volunteer and donate towards their cause with the motto of ‘Serve Where you Live.’ It now has chapters in four major cities: Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

Rosie Coleman, Coordinator &; District Homeless/Foster Care Liaison, Austin ISD said, “This is so great! No one deserves this more than Harish and Hindu Charities. Thank you for everything you do for our Austin ISD students!”

Coming in an especially hard year, this award sends a wave of joy in the HC4A community. Kotecha has woven an intricate fabric of community members—from high net worth donors who have achieved their American Dream to below poverty line students who have often doubled their incomes soon after being able to complete their education. They now prepare for the next big event: a virtual gala in November to raise funds for vocational scholarships for low-income youth and adults. 

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Dive into the IFFLA’s virtual fest as you celebrate the 4th

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IFFLA Over the Years

LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — In the digital age of streaming services where you can play every movie ever made, festivals too are changing. While in person festivals are going to be a while away, Virtual Film Festivals are booming.  IFFLA Over the Years is the festival’s response to the ongoing uncertainty in the film festival world. To that end, the previously announced 2020 lineup will be moved to 2021 so that filmmakers and audiences can join together and share the festival experience in person.

This year’s showcase is a special one, IFFLA Over The Years: 17 days celebrating 17 years of Indian cinema, is way of looking back all of those that have passed through the hallowed grounds. IFFLA brings you the best of yesteryear, with gems like Anurag Kashyap’s legendary godfather-esque Gangs of Wasseypur, the late Irrfan Khans shakespearean classic Maqbool, Lena Khan’s fresh immigrant tale The Tiger Hunter. The bulking roster ranges from narrative features, documentaries, to short films like Neha RT’s hilarious satire The Shailas, the oscar-nominated KUSH, the infuriating Bebaak.  With 17 days to fly through the virtual festival will span form June 19th to July 5th leaving you just enough time to experience every joy, ache, bellowing laugh, and uncle-inducing cringe.

 “We are beyond thrilled to be presenting this online showcase of alumni films,” said Christina Marouda, IFFLA’s founder. “Traveling through 17 years of programming has allowed us to reconnect with so many of our alumni with whom we share fond memories. We are excited with this opportunity to collaborate with them to offer new audiences worldwide the chance to discover some of the most visionary voices of Indian independent cinema in recent years. We also hope recent IFFLA attendees have a chance to catch up with films from our first decade, and early attendees who could not join us in recent years are able to discover some of the newer gems we’ve presented. There is literally a film for everyone’s appetite.”

A Female Lens features films made by and/or centering on women such as Karishma Dev Dube’s Devi (Goddess), starring Priyanka Bose (Lion); “This Is Not Fiction presents  award-winning documentaries including Faiza Ahmad Khan‘s hilarious Supermen of MalegaonStories of Youth” highlights children and adolescence in films such as Rima Das’ festival favorite Village Rockstars, which was India’s Oscar entry for 2019, and Shubhashish Bhutiani‘s Oscar-shortlisted short film Kush. “Diaspora Windows” shares stories of Indian characters living outside of India with highlights including Lena Khan’s The Tiger Hunter and Ruthy Pribar’s The Caregiver.

Over 70 short films are included in “Keeping it Short” with Neha RT‘s uproarious satire The Shaila(s) and Jennifer Rosen‘s piercing Laksh, making their online premiere with this virtual showcase.

Finally, Richie Mehta‘s India In A Day, Shonali Bose‘s Amu, Devashish Makhija‘s Taandav, Tanuj Chopra’s Pia, and Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya’s The Hour of Lynching are new additions to IFFLA’s programming by alumni.

Legedary fests such as Sundance and Cannes, set the trend for the virtual streaming fest and now we are seeing many Indian film festivals follow suit, IFFLA, NYSAFF & DYWSAFF.

Beat edging towards insanity by filling your days with more stories of hardship, of bliss, more tales of life just beyond the door, of lives just next door, and if they can get through it, so can you.

With 2020 being such an unprecedented year it’s easy to get caught up in the turbulence and feel overwhelmed. But we’ll get through this like we always have.  We’ve been through worse, our ancestors used to huddle together in the dark over bonfires in a fang and spear infested world speaking the first stories ever told. Wondrous adventures filled with heroes, villians, grim horrors, stunning beauty and everything in-between. These stories that brought us together, to feel safe around one another, these stories around the bonfire have transformed to become the projector and screens of today. A good story is what gets us through, inspiring us, enchanting us with dreams for tomorrow. So, feeling cooped up edging towards cabin fever?

We’re all right there with you so cancel your next Netflix binge there’s a long weekend of new movies ahead.

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Arts & Culture

An immigrant community’s gratitude, “serve where we live”

Founder of HC4A wanted to give back to where he lives: Austin. Hundreds of Indian Americans joined to open chapters across the US and raise over a million dollars for the cause.

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AUSTIN, Texas (Diya TV) — Indian Americans are the most educated and most affluent immigrant community in the United States. A recent survey conducted by Dalberg & Indiaspora shows that Indian Americans have the potential to give over 3 billion dollars annually. Harish Kotecha, founder of HC4A (Hindu Charities for America), came here with his family in 1972 when the dictator of Uganda gave all Indians a notice of 90 days to leave the country. His many successes in this country motivated him to build an organization that encourages philanthropy in the Indian American community with the motto ‘serve where we live.’

Organizations such as Akshaya Patra, Pratham USA, have raised millions of dollars over years within the US to to support causes in India and make a real difference. Stretching the dollar and making an enormous impact in the lives of millions of children in India. And even though Kotecha is well aware that a dollar remitted to India can create a big difference to a developing economy versus the US, he believes its importat to give back to the community we live in.

There is poverty here too. I thought it would be so great if the Indian community worked as one to serve those in need in the US,” says Kotecha. Hundreds of Indian Americans have been inspired to raise over a million dollars since the inception of HC4A in 2010. This is a small amount compared to nearly a half million raised in one night at the annual gala for the organizations funding education in India.

The HC4A mission is to ‘bridge income disparities through education.’ Two salient events raise funds for these endeavors: the HC4A Gala and Bollywood Meets Borscht Belt (BMBB). The Jewish community helps organize the BMBB event; leading Bollywood dance schools in Austin like Monsoon Dance and Agni lend the glitz and glamor to a high spirited night.

The HC4A Gala night
Attendees at HC4A Gala night in Austin

Schoolsupplies, backpack programs, and scholarships form the pillars of education-based giving for the volunteers at HC4A.

According to Dalberg, Education ranked at 61% as a passion cause for Indian American donors, followed by healthcare & Gender equality. “The Indian community is very successful, and we all came for one purpose, education, that was our driving factor. We know the struggle, so we are ready to support the cause for education,” says Vaishali Tendolkar, Secretary of HC4A.

Courtesy: Indiaspora & Dalberg Survey. Respondents were Indian American donors

Kotecha says that several Muslims and Jews fundraise and help organize events for HC4A. For him, the success of HC4A is the fact that people from all faiths and backgrounds come together to help the community they live in.

In 2017, Harish Kotecha was honored with the President’s “Lifetime Achievement Award.” As this model worked in Austin, Kotecha and his team worked on expanding HC4A’s presence to Southern California, Houston, and Dallas.

Nidhi Trehan, a sociologist, and a chapter leader for HC4A in Houston says, “If we reduce inequality here in the US, we will be working to reduce it globally.”

HC4A is asking us, that is Indian Americans, to reach out to other communities and give them a helping hand. We actually owe it to the pioneers that fought for civil rights in this country, to be in the position of privilege we are in today,” she added. Led by Sashi Konidena, President of the Houston chapter raised over $12,000 this past year.

The Southern California chapter began in late 2019 and has already presented $5000 to the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD). Close to 50% of the students enrolled in the LACCD fall below the poverty line.

School supplies: More than 10,000 backpacks have been assembled adn given to local ISDs

Giving back is a metric of success for any individual or community, and it’s a great reinforcement of an immigrant population’s gratitude.

Karthik Pichai, a serial entrepreneur, helped start the Dallas chapter in 2019 and has already raised $10,000 for Dallas Community College. He is rallying successful entrepreneurs not just to give, but also potentially train the students in their tech companies. “I want to bring together affluent entrepreneurs with shared values. Along with our Indian American kids, we can set an example saying that we care about our local community and want to give back,” he says.

Teri Benge, who was pursuing a degree in hospitality management at ACC, while keeping a full-time job, writes in her thank you note to HC4A that, “I will always remember this gesture of kindness and will one day, pay this forward by helping students achieve their goals, just as you have helped me.”

Harish Kotecha, founder, HC4A

As HC4A volunteers celebrate 10 years of relentless hard work, at the Asian American Resource Center, Austin, none are ready to just sit on their laurels. They laugh and cheer on as they see a 2030 vision board of Shahrukh Khan and Jennifer Lopez coming for the Gala night celebrations and a fundraising goal of a 100 million dollars.

2019 was the biggest year for HC4A as they were successful in establishing an irrevocable endowment fund for scholarships. This year about $150,000 in fellowships will go to students of various ethnic communities. To Kotecha its important that the work continue beyond him, “If us go away, the charity goes away, the fund will still be there. Legacy of the charity and donors will remain,

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