Over the past two years, the Hindu American Foundation has worked tirelessly and with laser focus on tackling misrepresentations, stereotypes, and omissions about Hinduism and Ancient India in California textbooks. In doing this, we’ve worked in close partnership with the Hindu Education Foundation, and in cooperation with Hindu American parents, and the real heroes in this story — hundreds of elementary, middle, and high school students.
The approach has been as comprehensive as it has been proactive and responsive. From reviewing volumes of drafts and submitting hundreds of line edits to engaging major textbook publishers directly; from trekking all the way to Sacramento several times a year to testify to seeking support and building coalitions with elected officials, academics, and diverse communities, the Hindu American community made history. History, not just for successfully changing textbooks, but for coming together in an unprecedented manner, garnering broad-based support, and sustaining a working coalition towards a single goal: textbooks that are accurate and fair, and don’t treat Hinduism and Ancient India in a way that leaves our children insecure in their identities or bullied by their classmates.
The November 9th hearing at the California Department of Education finally ended a rollercoaster-like process. Hundreds of Hindu American students, parents, advocates, and friends of the community came out to testify one more time for fairness and accuracy. Dozens even gave up their one minute time slot, in spite of preparing and practicing their testimony, taking the day off, and waiting in line for hours, just to ensure that the SBE had enough time to deliberate and take the final vote.
And the results are in…kind of. Exactly what the final textbooks will look like remains to be seen as publishers spend the next 60 days or so making final edits and corrections. But what we do know is this. Two programs from a publisher that were pointed out by our collective efforts as especially bad were rejected outright. All of the stereotypical images and portrayals of Hinduism and India have been removed. And, while far from perfect—in part due to grossly outdated Content Standards mandated by California law and the persistency of colonial-era narratives — the way in which Ancient India and Hinduism will be taught has seen significant improvements.
Five Areas of Improvement
Inaccurate, stereotyped, and exoticized images and captions removed
Inaccurate, stereotyped, and exoticized images and captions depicting Hinduism and India as poor, primitive, weird, and dirty have been removed and will be replaced with more appropriate images depicting Hinduism as a lived tradition. The Frameworks adopted in 2014 also require removing the common graphical misrepresentation of the “caste system” as a pyramidal hierarchy so all publishers will need to make sure their textbooks comply.
Ancient Indian origins presented as ongoing debate
Textbooks will better reflect that the origins of Ancient Indians and information about their civilization is the subject of both ongoing research and rigorous academic debate. Textbooks previously presented the outdated, race-based “Aryan Invasion Theory” (AIT) as fact (the teaching requirement of the AIT is mandated by the Content Standards which were approved by the California legislature in 1998). The new textbooks will take into account that AIT has long been debunked based on new linguistic and archaeological evidence, and colonial era terminology stemming from race-based Orientalist theories such as “Aryanism” and “Brahmanism,” has largely been replaced with phrases such as “Ancient Indians,” “Early Vedic,” or “Early Hinduism,” which are phrases more commonly used in modern scholarship.
Core Concepts About Hinduism explained better
Inadequate or inaccurate descriptions of core concepts and scriptures in Hinduism have been significantly improved upon. For instance, some texts did not even include explanations of dharma, the central foundation of Hindu life. Now they all do. Textbooks will also contain more accurate details about basic Hindu concepts, including karma, moksha, and yoga and more respectful and accurate descriptions of scriptures such as the Vedas and Upanishads.
In terms of specific sections that adversely reflected on Hinduism, one textbook draft that was rejected by the State Board described the Vedas as a book of, “spells and charms” and “secret rituals.” Similarly, the same textbook completely ignored the Upanishads, while misquoting passages from the Bhagavad Gita. Another textbook (also rejected), characterized Indo-Aryans “as people who enjoyed making war” and ‘Indra’ as the “god of war.” Such interpretations of ancient texts, according to the academics who weighed in, were inaccurate and better material was available to provide students an understanding of the civilization and Vedic ideas.
Indian societal structures described with greater accuracy and nuance
Textbooks now provide students a framework to distinguish between Hindu religious teachings and Indian social practices, as they relate to Indian social structures, by explaining the difference between varna and jati. Varna is best understood as the Hindu understanding of four personality types based on gunas or inherent qualities, while jati are the thousands of social groups which developed and commonly coalesced around occupation. Textbooks also better describe the historical evolution of Indian society, and how over time, its class structure shifted from being fluid to more rigid, and how perceived notions of hierarchy impacted Indian society. Textbooks will teach about the discrimination and oppression faced by various segments of society, but within the appropriate historical timeframe. Textbooks will also specifically mention the contributions of Hindu figures from diverse backgrounds, such as Hindu sages, Vyasa and Valmiki, and contain information about the Bhakti and other movements that both shaped Hindu practice and sought to eradicate social evils such as caste-based discrimination.
The syncretic relationship of Hinduism with other Indic religions depicted
Most textbooks have removed comparative language which presented Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism as only in direct opposition to, and in some instances, improvements upon, Hinduism. Historically, and through current times, while there has been occasional social and political conflict between the various communities of Indic faiths, the larger story is one of peaceful coexistence, shared values and cultures, familial bonds through inter-marriage, and syncretism, including commonly worshiping at one another’s temples, and sharing and celebrating religious festivals together.
One textbook draft, for example, previously stated:
During the 500s BCE some Indians felt unhappy with the many ceremonies of the Hindu religion. They wanted a simpler, more spiritual faith…Some seekers developed new ideas and became religious teachers. One of these teachers was Siddhartha Gautama…
The group of 38 leading academics pointed out that this way of framing the development of Buddhism inaccurately painted a picture of Hinduism not being a “spiritual faith,” in spite of Hindu spiritual movements that both pre-dated and were contemporaneous to the time of Buddha. They also stated that the draft language ignored the existence of ceremonies and rituals in Buddhist practice.
In addition to textbook needing to be accurate, the California Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content requires that the Framework and textbooks need to avoid “adverse reflection,” which can result when a religious group is portrayed as inferior.
The Cost of Inaccuracy
The quest for more accurate teaching about Hinduism and India in California public schools is far from over. The stakes are high and the greatest price will be paid by our children and generations of Hindus not yet born, if left to inaction.
The results of a 2016 nationwide bullying report by the Hindu American Foundation detail chilling evidence about the impact inaccurate and biased presentations of India and Hinduism has on Hindu children. The poor presentation of Hinduism is one of the biggest sources of anxiety cited by the middle and high school students surveyed.
About 53% said that their units described Hindus as worshiping idols
Nearly 25% reported that their classes taught that “most Hindus do not believe in dating and will get an arranged marriage”
60% reported that Hinduism was linked with the caste system, with 47% noting that their units on Hinduism taught them that “higher castes discriminate against lower castes”
40% of respondents said their units taught them that “individuals can only marry people of the same caste”
20% said their instructional content claimed that “the caste system only exists because of Hinduism”
The survey also found that:
Half of the total sample size indicated feelings of awkwardness or social isolation because of their religious identity
About 1 in 8 respondents said their teachers made sarcastic remarks about Hinduism in front of a class
About 1 in 4 respondents said they had been bullied within the past year, with about a third saying those who bullied them were “making fun of Hindu traditions”
A further drilling down into the data concluded that Hindu students’ perceptions of religion-based bullying was “tightly correlated to their perception of the focus on caste in their Hinduism curriculum, potentially mediated by a perception that their religion was being taught negatively.”
The devastating mental and physical impact of bullying on childhood health are well known. That the damage can follow into adulthood is not. Research has found that children who are bullied are at higher rise for depression, anxiety, and panic attacks as adults. If data demonstrates that inaccurate and stereotyped information about India and Hinduism potentially give rise to bullying, there’s an easy fix. Teach about it in the way other traditions and cultures are taught — accurately and respectfully. All children, including Hindu children, deserve at least that.
Furthermore, the impact is not just limited to Hindu American children, but also non-Hindu children who may have their first, and often only exposure to Hinduism in sixth grade textbooks. Accordingly textbooks may shape their views towards Hindus and Hinduism for years to come, with potentially serious implications.
While the textbooks that the Hindu community sought to have rejected were in fact rejected and those that had good materials from the beginning were adopted, others that were mediocre to just okay managed to make it through the process but were required to rectify some of the errors and omissions by the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), including replacing stereotypical images. The publishers have two months from the date of the last hearing to make the edits required by the IQC and approved by the State Board. The choice of which textbooks to use will then go before the districts as the end to a two year plus process.
Dharma demands us to fight for racial justice
An open letter from Suhag Shukla, the Executive Director of Hindu American Foundation
My Fellow Hindu Americans,
As I write to you, the National Guard and local police are just 50 feet away from my home arresting young protestors who blocked a highway.
On Saturday, our family joined peaceful protests in downtown Philadelphia, where people of all shades and ages marched together in solidarity, chanting for racial justice, opposing oppressive policing, and insisting upon the equal worth of Black lives.
Then on Sunday, we joined city denizens to help clean up the aftermath of riots carried out by a small subset of people in our downtown shopping district, as local business owners looked on with disbelief at a situation that they couldn’t have imagined getting any worse after two and a half months of the COVID-19 shutdown.
Our nation is dealing with a deadly global pandemic that has stolen over 100,000 lives in America in a matter of months. But the murder of George Floyd has brought into stark reality that we can no longer ignore our duty to cure the chronic disease of racism and police brutality — not just George Floyd, but so too Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, and the countless innocent lives stolen before them.
Reflecting on all the violence — from the systemic to the organic and from that which emerges from understandable frustration to that which is fueled by ulterior motives — I am reminded that the ideals of ahimsa (compassion and non-harming), satya (truth), viveka (discernment), and dharma (selflessness and righteousness) are more urgent than ever before. Violent reaction to police brutality will only continue a cycle of destruction that will leave all of us blind and postpone the very change that is being demanded today.
Our system is broken. And we can fix it only by coming together as engaged and thoughtful Americans, lending our voices to those suffering, offering our helping hands to those communities hardest hit, and pushing elected officials to enact lasting solutions.
Now more than ever, we need to bring our Hinduness to the forefront of our advocacy and our every interaction with friends, neighbors, and communities as agents of change and ambassadors of peace and pluralism to help ensure that the promise of America — of equality, freedom, and dignity for all – is fulfilled for all Americans.
Hindu teachings remind us that we are united by a shared divinity; that compassion and truth must be the foundation of our moral compasses; and that the exercise of discernment and selflessness in our interactions with the world is the only path that can bring about universal well-being. These are powerful principles for us to practice through service aimed towards justice and the betterment of all people.
Dharma calls upon us to listen, to bear witness, and to stand as allies; and to listen more and speak less so as to not supplant the voices most impacted and to not appropriate this moment for partisan ends.
What can we as Hindu Americans do? Here are a few, simple ideas that we can all put into practice in our daily lives:
- Acknowledge that racism is real, and that it exists in our communities in spite of our diversity. We must be mindful of our implicit biases and work through them, constantly reminding ourselves of what our sacred teachings tell us — that we are all embodied spirits. If you come to realize that you don’t have a diverse group of friends in your orbit, get to know people of all walks of life and backgrounds and embrace them for who they are as individuals, rather than remaining strangers due to assumptions based on any group identities.
- Bridge the age divide, or any other divides, through conversation to work towards constructive and viable solutions to eradicate the pressing challenge of institutionalized racism. There is much for older generations to understand from those young people who have lost faith in the systems’ ability to self-correct as there is for young people to learn from the experiences of elders who have witnessed historic systemic change.
- Donate or volunteer time, skills, and resources to local charities, clinics, and programs working to mentor, strengthen, and empower the most vulnerable amongst African American and other communities in need.
- Reach out to local law enforcement to cultivate relationships so that they recognize the diversity of the communities they are obligated to serve and protect, and to better hold them accountable if and when they fall short.
- Call upon your elected leadership at every level of government and demand institutional change. Change starts from the bottom up.
Indeed, we as a people face many challenges, both historic and current. However, this is not the time or place to seek equivalencies. People from Africa were forcefully brought to this country and bought and sold as property for over 200 years. Even after winning their freedom, they faced bigotry and subjugation through systems and institutions built on racist ideas for racist ends. We can grow from acknowledging that the experience of Black people in America is unique, and educating our brothers and sisters around the world of their history. Standing up for the rights, dignity, and well-being of African Americans today is not an “or” proposition. It is an “and” proposition because advocacy for one paves the way for the rights, dignity, and well-being of all.
We can draw inspiration from past examples of African American and Hindu-Indian friendship, where a fierce commitment to shared principles paved the way for both communities to tackle their respective struggles. Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha (Soul/Truth Force) and its demonstrated success in India’s independence had a profound influence on Martin Luther King Jr. and the American civil rights movement. Satyagraha, while deeply informed by the Bhagavad Gita’s wisdom, was also influenced by American intellectuals Henry David Thoreau’s and Booker T. Washington’s ideas on civil disobedience and self-empowerment. Washington’s works also compelled Gandhi to evolve his own prejudices against Africans. American civil rights leader W.E.B. Dubois cultivated a deep friendship built upon a cooperative exchange of ideas with Indian freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai, as my friend and former colleague Murali Balaji has written about extensively, to oppose what they deemed as the major obstacle of global white European hegemony to civil rights in America and sovereignty of India.
There are many such stories of African American and Hindu-Indian friendship, philosophical exchange, and cooperation. So as Hindu Americans, we need only look back at the last century to know that where Hindu and American ideas have intersected and manifested as action, historic and transformational change for the better has come about.
Let us honor this legacy and once again rise to the occasion for the sake of future generations
Yours in dharma, Suhag
This open letter from Suhag Shukla, Executive Director of Hindu American Foundation, was originally published here: https://www.hinduamerican.org/blog/dharma-demands-us-to-fight-for-racial-justice
Five reasons why you should give during this Covid-19 crisis
“If you get to decide what to do with your days, you are lucky.”
Similarly, we may even have the same flexibility with our money.
Times are tight. Money is tight. And so with all due sensitivity, here are five reasons to consider giving to the causes of your choice, during this crazy coronavirus era:
1. Needs continue. In fact, if anything, Covid-19 has exposed the fissures in our society. Precisely because there’s a class of people that can make it through this with minor (OK, some major) inconveniences, there’s a whole ‘nother class that can’t. People are still starving and contracting disease. So, if all you have is unease and not disease, you’re doing OK. Think of those less fortunate.
2. It helps helplessness. Covid-19 is so powerful that many of us feel powerless in its wake. We may not all have become doctors… I got into a six-year medical program out of high school and didn’t go. I think my parents finally got over it last week. It’d only been a quarter of a century. But just because we aren’t on the front lines doesn’t make us useless. By contributing, we can ourselves feel better that we’re doing our part.
3. Its not charity. It isn’t only about money. Those who are now juggling even more at home (e.g., rugrats in the house all day) may find themselves with even less time. But some of us have even more. Take some for yourself. No doubt. Recharge. Learn a new skill. But I’ve found, over and over again, that when I’m feeling down, directing some of my time to helping others makes me feel better. So, see if you can get others involved in giving. That takes time — and it’s appreciated.
4. Energy. My friend, Raman, has a rule: he will make a trip only if he can spend twice the travel time at the destination. So, if traveling to San Francisco and back takes two days, then he needs to spend four days to make it worth it. Same thing to come have lunch with me… if it’s a 30-min trek, he needs me to commit two hours to sitting down with him. OK, fine… to each their own. Well, I often have to decide whether to drive or fly from LA to SF. We all think of money and time. But we often forget the third resource: energy. Energy is an all-emcompassing one for emotion, gut, feelings, patience, etc. Expend that energy by getting involved. Record a funny video. Write something inspiring. Call a friend and maybe record the Zoom call and post it. This is the moment to share your talents with the world. We need it.
5. Karma is the cosmic what-goes-around-comes-around. As Indians, we are certainly familiar with it. In hard economic terms, GDP is quite literally the sum total of the transactions happening in the country. It’s the measure of the flow of money. The more the money circulates, the better we’re all doing, as it’s an indicator of how willing we are to part with our funds. If we’re feeling good about it, we must be confident it’s coming back to us in some way. Well, the more we all hold on, the worse it gets. Ironically, the less that returns. (That’s why it’s called a “return” on investment.) So, be part of the solution: put it out there and the Universe shall bring it back to you. And yes, I just tied spirituality to economics. My college Arts & Sciences department would be proud.
Kindly consider giving to ChaloGive.org.
Third Phase of Indian Election concludes | Diya TV News
NEW DELHI (Diya TV) — The third and largest phase of Indian election is now over and campaigning for the fourth phase of the election is now underway. Phase 3 encompassed 117 seats across 13 states and two union territories. More than 63% of voters turned out in phase three.
The United States Embassy says FBI agents are on the ground in Sri Lanka to assist the investigation in Easter bombing attack, where the death toll is now up to 359 people, with more than 500 others injured.
Sri Lanka’s State Defense Minister said those responsible for the attacks were well educated, from upper-middle class families, and financially independent.
Geopolitical and economic talks are on the docket between the U.S. and India and the US and Pakistan, as America’s Principal Deputy Secretary of State Alice Wells will be in New Delhi and Islamabad this week.
The U.S. is working on a solution for India in light of America’s decision not to extend waivers from sanctions on purchases of Iranian oil.
According to the United States Elections Project, midterm turnout among Asian American and Pacific Islander voters increased by 14 points from 2014 to 2018, from 27% to 41%.
Ravi Kapur & Alejandro Quintana contributed to this report.
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