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Hindu Americans claim victory in decade long battle over representation in California Textbooks

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The Vennala family drove all the way from Los Angeles to speak at this public hearing.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Diya TV) — The pursuit of accurate and equitable representation of Hindus in California textbooks began over a decade ago. Hundreds of Hindu Americans, some Jains, Sikhs, Muslims and Dalits descended upon the State’s capital of Sacramento to voice their respective concerns on the depiction of Hinduism in History and Social Sciences textbooks. The fight that began in earnest in 2006 came down to the final public hearing with respect to the adoption of the new framework, today. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Tolarkson along with other members of the State Board of Education heard from publishers who came to defend their edits, parents, students and teachers.

In 2012 when Diya TV spoke to the Hindu American Foundation(HAF) about their work on California textbooks, Samir Kalra then Senior Fellow of Human Rights at HAF said, “We started hearing from concerned parents asking us to help”. When they tried to address these concerns, HAF realized that they were being denied due process, so they sued the California Department of Education and won.

Over the years, that led to the work of HAF with the Instructional Quality Commission, or the IQC, formerly known as the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission, which was first established in 1927 as an advisory body to the State Board of Education (SBE)

Democracy is on display in #Sacramento where more than 1,000 people are voicing their concerns in the ongoing #CAtextbooks debate. #Hindu #Sikh #Muslim #Dalit #education

Posted by DiyaTV on Thursday, November 9, 2017

The scene outside the California Department of Education on November 10th, 2017 on the morning of the final public hearing in the matter of History and Social Sciences California textbook adoption.

In 2014, HAF worked with public officials and community members to get the issue in front of the California State Senate and Assembly to change the State’s content standards for textbooks. Both the Senate and the Assembly approved it, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, despite overwhelming and bipartisan support from legislators and from a coalition of more than 100 educators, diverse community and education groups, and government leaders.

With no luck in changing content standards, in the fall of 2014, HAF along with the support of the Hindu American community and over 100 organizations took on the next step of working with the state’s curriculum framework revision process, to seek what they describe as a more inclusive set of guidelines for teaching about diverse religions like Hinduism and diverse communities like Indian Americans.

During this time, the California textbooks story had received some attention in the media. Groups of scholars submitted their recommendations disagreeing about certain key issues.

By spring of 2016, the IQC was getting ready to make recommendations on the framework, which if approved by the State Board of Education (SBE) would be adopted for the next decade. For HAF and majority of the Hindu parents and students involved in the process this was problematic. They didn’t want the narratives drawn from the state’s outdated content standards which depicted Hindus in negative and grossly inaccurate ways, to remain in California textbooks.

The big hearing was set for May 19th, 2016.

By summer of 2016, the story picked up steam, from local news stations in the Bay Area, to the New York Times, and ofcourse Diya TV, this story was now gaining national attention.

Enter, South Asian Histories for All (SAHFA) , a group that disagrees with the edits proposed by the Hindu American Foundation and the Uberoi Foundation, characterizing them as inaccurate and Hindu nationalist. Nearly 4,500 people signed a public petition standing with SAHFA. Over 200 California parents signed on to a letter of support. More than 75 California K-12 school educators signed a letter from educators. Students from 30 California universities signed on to a student letter. Scholars from 80 universities signed on to a letter in support of the edits submitted by the South Asia Faculty Group.

In support of SAHFA, some Sikh and Muslim groups came to voice their concerns, stating that the edits proposed by the HAF are inaccurate. Specifically, the characterization of caste. Therein lied the crux of the disagreement.

Neither group disagreed about the existence of the caste system, or its oppressive nature. Diya TV was present at the May 19th hearing and managed to get both sides, Anirvan Chatterjee from SAHFA & Samir Kalra from HAF to engage with us in a pre-hearing debate:

For an in-depth read into the scholars that each group referred to in this video, read our article, here.

HAF argued that although the ‘caste system’ as it is called today, is part of Hindu religion, its not a Hindu term, but a Portuguese term that we now use to refer what the Hindus understand to be a combination of two classifications, ‘Jati’ & ‘Varna’. Jati refers to the classification you are born in and Varna refers to one’s natural propensity. Hindus cited examples of sages and authors such as ‘Valmiki’ and ‘Vyasa’ and how they, even though born in lower jatis were able to move upwards due to their natural propensities and became widely revered by Hindus as the authors of the great epics such as ‘Ramayana‘ & ‘Mahabharata‘, thereby suggesting that social mobility across caste lines was possible and the Hindu religion’s social structure of Jati and Varna weren’t inherently oppressive in nature.

To which SAHFA’s Thenmozhi Soundararajan countered,

“There is no way that one would self-govern yourself into oppression,”

during the public comment of the hearing. Over a 100 volunteers of SAHFA cited numerous examples of oppression, faced by generations due to the caste system. Denouncing terms such as ‘untouchables’ or ‘lower-caste’, SAHFA urged the IQC to install the word ‘Dalit’, instead.

The arguments continued in the public comment period as each group argued the other by organizing and scripting counters to what was being said. SAHFA accused the Hindu groups of attempting to revise history and the Hindu groups, led mostly by HAF insisted it was doing no such thing.

There were many other points of contention, a big one was the use of terms ‘India’ or ‘South Asia’

SAHFA argued the term ‘India’ is inaccurate and should be replaced by ‘South Asia’, stating that India became a sovereign state only after the British left and divided the region into India, Pakistan & Bangladesh (then West Pakistan). Moreover, the Indus Valley civilization, which now falls under modern-day Pakistan, be noted as the collective heritage of South Asia.

Hindu groups disagreed. According to them, learning about ‘Ancient India’ should not be confused by modern day “geo-political” terms such as South Asia. They cited numerous examples showing that pre-1947, the region was referred to as ‘India’ or some derivative of that word. One of the public comments asked of the IQC, how did Columbus mistakenly find ‘India’ in the 1400s if that wasn’t a term for the nation till 1947?

Some Hindu Americans argued, by saying “its no different than referring to the Greek Civilization or the Chinese Civilization, these regions today are not exactly what they were during ancient times, but we still refer to them by their ancient names.”

The debate had now become polarized. By June 2016, the revised draft of the curriculum was released on the CDE’s website.

Both sides were now submitting papers, edits and additional research to support their narrative.

SAHFA sent three submissions: SAHFA letter, July 7, 2016; Muslim community organization letter, July 7, 2016; Muslim Studies Faculty letter, July 5, 2016

In addition to the four academic letters by professors of religion and history as signatories or lead authors, HAF made eight submissions. from 2014 leading up to the fall of 2016.

They also released a Bullying report in 2016 entitled Bullying and Bias Against Hindu Students in American Schools. It found one in three Hindu American students reported being bullied because of their religious beliefs, due in part to textbook content.

On September 28, 2017 the IQC rejected Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Kids Discover​ ​California​ ​Social​ ​Studies (K-6) and Houghton Mifflin​ ​Harcourt: Social ​​Studies for California ​​(6-8) draft textbooks.

On October 8th and 9th of 2017, the IQC held its final public hearing to discuss draft edits with the textbook publishers, before they would make their final recommendations to the State Board in November. This time even though the hearing was split into two days, hundreds of Hindu parents and students travelled from across the state. Professors and scholars who had authored papers in support of Hindu Americans also spoke at the public hearing.
SAHFA and its volunteers did not show up.

In early November, HAF worked to get support from several public officials across the nation and across party lines.

The morning of November 9th 2017, hundreds of Hindu Americans, parents, students, scholars and teachers lined up early morning outside the California Department of Education and this time, so did the volunteers of SAHFA.

Members of several racial minorities and groups came out in support of Hindu Americans. Glenn Fujii National Executive Director of APAPA said to the SBE, “I am here today to support our Hindu and Indian American communities. We really urge you to reject these two textbooks (K-8) from HMH who really disrespect and inappropriately represent the Hindu American community.”

Asian American business owner, and APAPA board member Mary Yin Liu said, “Much groundwork has been laid before today. In good faith and with due diligence the community has reached out to many book publishers, most have made the simple updates and accommodations, however we are appalled and disappointed to see the disparity remain with these three publishers and we ask that they treat the races and countries and religions equally for all and not just a few” referring to HMH, McGraw Hill and National Geographic.

SAHFA volunteers argued passionately, that caste is part of Hinduism and the effects of which are still alive and well in modern-day India. Some citied instances of violence and abuse faced by Dalits in India while others drew parallels between slavery and the caste System.

Barnali Ghosh from SAHFA entreated the SBE, “Textbooks should be based on the best scholarship, they should be respectful and nuanced and they shouldn’t whitewash the truth, or promote alternative facts. That’s why we have come together against the Hindu lobby pushing against Islamophobia, caste denial and religious nationalism in our textbooks.”

A Sacramento attorney, Amar Shergill who is a board member of the Sacramento Sikh Temple and an executive board member of the California Democratic Party, said to the SBE to “be very careful about overturning previous decisions of the board in a way that provides unequal, disparate treatment to a specific group that’s lobbying you. You might open yourself up to litigation.” He added on behalf of SAHFA, “We should have empathy for the Hindu community, its not their fault that they are Americans now and beneficiaries of the oppressive South Asian culture.”

Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund (SALDEF) Co-Founder Dr. Jaideep Singh spoke in support of SAHFA and said “The reason we have Nazis marching in Charlottesville is because of the lack of courage we have in telling the truth about who we are. The same problem is occurring right here. Yes, our history with caste is very ugly, but that doesn’t mean we should erase it.”

Mala Frank-Gavin, a retired school teacher from Roland Heights Unified School District reminded the board of the importance of accuracy, “Since these textbooks will be used for 10 years, it is crucial to give students accurate information. If they are given anything inaccurate, they tend to doubt anything you try and teach them”

Shivangi Singh, a junior from Evergreen Valley High School in San Jose told the board that she had come to speak two years ago and was disappointed that not much had changed in the textbooks since. Singh added “I am a firm believer in the idea that education should be unbiased and you should have both the good and the bad portrayed through out the textbooks for the education to be truly unbiased. But I’d also like to remind you that every single religion has skeletons in their closet, but not every single religion is being portrayed the same. Every other religion has been given a fair chance and we haven’t been.”

After the public comments, Natasha Martin from the Teachers Curriculum Institute (TCI) testified before the board that they had collected and reviewed over 10,000 pages of comments from concerned citizens, groups, scholars, academicians and publishers and made its recommendations to the SBE. Rejecting two drafts of textbooks from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt(HMH) and proposing serveral edits to the McGraw Hill & National Geographic drafts among others. The California Department of Education(CDE), after this final hearing decided on the edits and corrections as recommended by the IQC.

When the Board President Mike Kirst declared the public hearing closed after nearly 500 people spoke, he said

“That was the longest in the history of the state Board of Education.”

The CDE says it won’t add any of the books to the list of adopted instruction materials unless all the edits recommended by the CDE have been made by the textbook publishers. The publishers have 60 days to make the suggested edits and updates.

“I feel the California Department of Education and thousands of members of the public have really made a profound and positive difference in the materials,” said board member Nicki Sandoval, who served as a liaison to the review process, along with Board Member Patricia Rucker. “Stakeholders, thank you for using your strong and loud voices, which informed the process, and your agile minds” to ensure “we’re fulfilling our responsibility to provide materials that are inclusive, accurate and respectful” and that will “help to build key understandings for young people” and ultimately to improve school climate and “foster a stronger sense of social responsibility.”

Samir Kalra, Senior Director at Hindu American Foundation seemed relieved as he spoke to Diya TV moments after the conclusion of the hearing

“A decade plus years of long time struggle for the Hindu American community, children, parents, community members all coming together to fight for equality, and dignity in textbooks, but today we emerge victorious and we are very appreciative of the work of the IQC and the State Board of Education in rejecting two of the worsts drafts from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.”

Responding to the allegations from the supporters of SAHFA, about the modern-day realities of oppression due to the caste system still prevalent in India and the attempt to erase caste, Kalra said, “Across the textbooks drafts, caste currently comprises of almost 30% of the material. Nobody was attempting to erase that.” Kalra added, “Hinduism should not be inherently linked to caste, because the Hindu scriptures at their base, do not promote caste based discrimination.”

  • The Vennala family drove all the way from Los Angeles to speak at this public hearing.

    The Vennala family drove all the way from Los Angeles to speak at this public hearing.

  • Hindu American families showed up from all over California with home made signs asking for equality and dignity in CA textbooks adoption's final public hearing in Sacramento

    Hindu American families showed up from all over California with home made signs asking for equality and dignity in CA textbooks adoption's final public hearing in Sacramento

  • The Vennala family drove all the way from Los Angeles to speak at this public hearing.
  • Hindu American families showed up from all over California with home made signs asking for equality and dignity in CA textbooks adoption's final public hearing in Sacramento

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Exclusive: One on One with Sen. Kamala Harris at Impact Summit 2018

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Kamala Harris

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — Earlier this month, more than 200 Indian American candidates, elected officials, among others gathered in Washington for the inaugural Impact Summit, an effort to build a long term political network for the diaspora. All five Indian American members of Congress spoke at this event that was sponsored in part by Diya TV. Below is a transcript of an interview conducted on site by Ravi Kapur with Democratic California Senator Kamala Harris for our public affairs program “The Public Interest,” edited for clarity.

Q: We just had the California primary and turnout was really low. Given the political environment that you see here in Washington, now in your role as a senator, do you feel that folks are just uninspired to come out to vote, no matter who the candidate is?

A: Actually, I don’t. I’ve been seeing a level of activeness and participation that actually gives me a lot of optimism about our future. I’ve been seeing young people, teenagers, middle school students who are coming out, who are thinking about issues, who are speaking about issues. You look at those kids from Parkland, Florida, high school students, and what that has excited around high school students around the country to speak up about issues like gun violence. You look at the dreamers and the DACA kids who are coming by thousands to the United States Capitol, walking the halls of Congress to speak about immigration policy. If you look at all the young people, in particular, who are coming out to talk about issues linked to disparities around race or economic disparities and inequalities.

I actually am very excited about what I have been seeing — a record number of women who are running for office, many whom have never run for office before. So I think there is something about this very difficult moment of time, which is where we are right now, where we have powerful voices that are sowing hate and division. The other side of that is activating a lot of people to say, ‘I’m not going to stand for it. I’m going to get out. I’m going to stand up. I’m going to stand up. I’m going to speak out.’ So I think it’s very exciting and the only thing I would ask everyone, and all of your viewers, is stay involved. Stay involved because your issues will not be heard if you don’t stay involved, if you don’t speak out. You can speak through your vote, you can speak through your voice, but get involved in elections, campaigns. Look up candidates, whoever speaks up to your values and your issues, but stay involved. That’s how democracy works. And we won’t be seen if we’re not heard.

Q: Speaking of involvement, you’re the first Indian American woman ever to hold a Senate seat. A lot of folks look to you for inspiration. What message do you impart to all these young folks who aspire to be where you are today?

A: That they just keep in their role of leadership, keep speaking about truths, speaking about truths, even if they are difficult to speak, even if they are difficult for people to hear because that’s how we cultivate trust. That’s how we actually forge ahead in terms of the kind of leadership we need. We need to speak difficult truths, whether it be about race, whether it be about income equality, whether it be about gender equality. Let’s speak the truth about the things we want to see happen, around the topic of immigration reform and to stay involved. It’s really important.

Q: It appears many Democrats and Republicans are not necessarily talking to each other, but rather over each other. How do we get more folks involved and engaged in politics so they are not talking over each other? Also, do you have a game plan for 2020? President Trump said he is running again and Democrats are still looking for that national leader fill the void.

A: Part of what we have to do is focus on 2018. That’s where I’m focused at the moment. I think we have to focus on 2018. The re-elections are coming soon, 152 days, I think, from today (June 7). And the decisions we make about who will be in these positions of progress, whether it be in the Senate or the House of Representatives, will be very important and pivotal to issues like what we are going to do around immigration for this country. So I really urge people to stay focused on 2018.

Watch all of the interviews from the Impact Summit on The Public Interest with Ravi Kapur, Sunday at 9 am & 5 pm local time, exclusively on Diya TV.

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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy tightens gun control standards

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Gov. Phil Murphy signing several gun-safety bills into law in Trenton yesterday. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Governor's Office

TRENTON, New Jersey — On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law six bills that will tighten gun control in New Jersey, arguably making the state strictest on gun laws, in the country. The governor’s office issued a statement saying, more than 2,000 shootings occur annually in New Jersey, with around 500 firearm-related deaths each year. Firearm-related violence costs the state’s economy approximately $1.2 billion annually, and directly costs taxpayers nearly $275 million.

“Today, I’m proud to sign this series of common-sense gun safety bills into law to protect our children and families from the reckless dangers of gun violence, something the federal government has failed to do on behalf of its residents,” said Governor Murphy. “By setting these higher standards for gun safety, New Jersey continues to bolster its reputation as a national leader on this critical social and public health issue.”

Following which, New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir Singh Grewal issued a statement warning ‘ghost gun’ manufacturers

The Clock Is Ticking

Ghost Gun Manufacturers: You have 15 days to stop marketing and selling these weapons into New Jersey. If you don't, we will come after you. The clock is ticking.

Posted by New Jersey Attorney General's Office on Wednesday, June 13, 2018

According to WABC-TV, New Jersey joins a list of states, including Florida and Vermont, that have enacted gun control legislation since the shooting, which set off a series of rallies across the country aimed at reducing gun violence through tighter laws.
Alfonso Calderon, a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was on stage with Murphy, and both encouraged voters to elect candidates this fall who back “common sense” gun legislation. All U.S. House and one-third of the Senate seats will be on the ballot.

“The majority of America’s youth knows we need this change to survive in our own schools,” Calderon said.

The six measures will:

-Require mental health professionals to warn law enforcement if a patient threatens serious violence against themselves or others

-Allow for an extreme risk protective order if a court deems someone poses a significant danger to themselves or others. The temporary court order bars the subject from possessing or purchasing a firearm or ammunition.

-Require background checks for private gun sales

-Lower the magazine capacity from 15 rounds to 10, with an exception for a popular .22-caliber rifle.

-Require residents to show a “justifiable need” to get a carry permit.

-Prohibit body-armor-penetrating ammunition.

While the legislation has earned the praise of gun control advocates, including Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, who attended the bill-signing wearing bright-red T-shirts, it also has merited scorn from gun rights advocates who say the measure won’t increase safety.

“None of the bills signed today will make anyone safer,” said Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, said in a statement. He said lawmakers have limited residents’ ability to defend themselves while missing an opportunity to make schools safer and prevent those with mental health issues from acquiring firearms in the first place.

The group has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the limit of 10 rounds, claiming it would be ignored by “criminals and madmen.”

Hopewell Valley High School sophomores Ethan Block and Alex Franzino have been active in organizing gun control events in the region and attended the Wednesday event wearing orange shirts with “Students Demand Action” printed on them. They said they were encouraged to become active in the issue because of Parkland.

“Don’t be afraid to use your voice,” Franzino said.

Murphy, who succeeded term-limited Republican Chris Christie this year, campaigned on the promise to strengthen the state’s laws. Current state law bans assault weapons, limits magazine clip sizes and requires permits to carry a concealed weapon.

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Indian Americans political aspirants & elected officials gather at first-ever Impact Summit

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Kamala Harris

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — More than 200 Indian Americans, who aspire to have their voices heard in American political discourse, gathered in the nation’s capitol for the first-ever Indian American Impact Summit. Featuring Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), among other elected officials and philanthropists, the summit was arranged to encourage more Indian-Americans to run for office.

“This historic summit is proof that the Indian American community has truly arrived on the political scene. Together, we can shape a future in which talented and patriotic Indian Americans are fully represented at every level of government, from City Hall to the White House,” said Impact co-founder Raj Goyle.

House Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA 17th district), Ami Bera (D-CA 7th district), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA 7th district) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL 8th district) all attended and gave speeches to inspire the next generation of Indian American candidates. Diya TV was a proud media partner for the event.

Gautam Raghavan, Executive Director of the Indian American Impact Project, said, “There’s a lot of enthusiasm and energy (because) for the first time a lot of Indian American prospective candidates are thinking to themselves, ‘This is something I can do.'”

Cody Booker

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks out to the Indian American community at the Indian American Impact Summit 2018.

Booker, although not Indian American, gave an opening speech emphasizing why Indian Americans should go into politics. “In every area, Indian-Americans have been punching above their weight, except for one and that has been in elected officials. And it’s time that Indian-Americans came forward and provide the leadership,” Booker told the crowd. “From tech to the arts to business, Indian-American dominance is helping America, but the one area that we have to lead in is civic space for policy where ideas are being shaped.”

He added, “we so urgently need Indian American leadership — not just because of the dynamism it has brought to other sectors of American society — but also because this is a time when the very idea of America is under assault. We have a time now where Indian American pride, where Indian American strength, where Indian American ideas are critically needed.”

Harris, the first Indian-American to serve in the U.S. Senate, said Indian Americans will have a great effect on the U.S. because of the inspiration they can derive from their ancestry. “I was trying to remember what some of the slogans were when my grandfather was fighting for India’s independence… I remembered ‘truth alone triumphs,” she said. “It is imperative that to be a leader right now means that we speak (the) truth.”

Harris went on to say, “I believe we are a great country. And part of what makes us who we are is that this country was founded on certain ideas, ideals that were present when we wrote the Constitution of the US: which is that we are all equals and should be treated that way. This is a moment in time that is requiring us to fight for those ideals.”

Fostering this network for Indian Americans to build their platform from is why Impact co-founder Deepak Raj got involved. “The energy, enthusiasm, and talent of our elected officials and candidates is truly inspiring. Impact is proud to stand with them (elected officials and candidates) — and we look forward to expanding their ranks at every level of elected office.”

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