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Hindu American students say no to stereotypes and successfully change textbooks

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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

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.

What’s Next?
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.

Featured

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar pushes resolution to declare India a country of particular concern

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WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who visited Pakistan on a non-state department sanctioned visit recently, has pushed along a resolution that would declare India as a country of particular concern in violation of religious freedom. This resolution has been in the works for 3 straight years, but ultimately nothing has materialized. This push forward by Omar represents another call to the Biden administration for India to be designated as a violator of religious freedom. Whether the resolution will go even further along is to be determined.

https://twitter.com/scroll_in/status/1540006265434374144

Recently, Omar visited Pakistan and spoke with high-ranking Pakistani officials, Prime Minister Imran Khan being chief among them. She also has a history of siding with Pakistan in the past, so this resolution does not come as a total surprise. 

The details of the resolution go over how India has allegedly targeted Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and other religious minorities and thus, direct human rights violations. This has been said to be an issue for the past few years as mentioned before, the resolution has been trying to be sent through to the president for 3 consecutive years. 

Omar gave insight into why she believes this resolution must be passed along and brought to President Biden’s attention:

“The Indian government must be held responsible for human rights violations against religious and cultural minorities…In recent years, the Indian government has been escalating repressive policies against Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Dalits. It is past time for the State Department to acknowledge the reality of the situation in India and formally designate India as a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act.”

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Arts & Culture

OPINION: The TWO INDIAS controversy: Why should you care?

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Vir Das at Kennedy Center

NEW YORK — (Diya TV) On a brisk mid-November evening, Indian-born comedian Vir Das, walked into the historic Kennedy Center in New York. Standing in front of a full house, he began his monologue. He talked about the contrast and touched on many social issues in India, including womens rights, farmer rights, nationalism and poverty.  During his performance he was fully cognizant of the stage he stood on, the gravity and the scale of this stage was with him as he defined himself as an Indian, as he took ownership of ‘his two Indias’. 

Vir Das’ TWO INDIAS monologue at the Kennedy Center in New York

“I represent a great thing, that is turning into a memory,” Das said as he was wrapping up the perfomance.

While the twittersphere reacted with equal amounts of duality, the controversy however is beyond just social media. Some Indian citizens living in India reacted with police complaints. 

Many lauded Das for his courage to speak about these issues, while others reacted in complete contrast questioning why Das would “insult India” in front of a white audience. After the backlash, Das tweeted a clarification.

But there is another response, that mainstream non-ethnic media glazes over, one that paints a different picture. A response by Sanil Gosavi, a Mumbai based entertainer, one with only 300 Twitter followers, nearly 5000 Insta followers, which pails in comparision to Vir Das’s storied career and his 7.8M Twitter & 1M Insta followers.

Gosavi’s twitter bio reads “My tweets might contain facts & opinions that will be offensive to wokes.”

Depending on where you align politically you may disagree with one these gentlemen, but the imporant distinction here is, Gosavi was born and raised in India and still resides there.

Das on the other hand was born in Dehradun, India but was raised in Nigeria, which much like India was colonized by the same crown and finally became a free nation in 1960, thirteen years after India gained its independence. Das went on to then attend Delhi Public school and later graduated from Knox College in Illinois and spent at year at Harvard University. After graduating from Knox, Das was accepted into the Stanislavsky Program of the Moscow Arts Theatre. And until most recently lived in New York till he decided to sell his house and travel.

Sanil Gosavi’s response to Vir Das’ Two Indias

So what it comes down to is, whose Indian duality do you agree with and why you should care. I care because I see a change. A change in the way the next generation of Indian citizens now refuse take insults lying down. A change where being Indian doesn’t always have to begin with first apologizing for your country’s shortcomings and only then daring to even touch upon its greatness. A change where Indian citizens demand the same dignity afforded to other world citizens, despite their imperfections. 

So, while Das maybe spending more time in America or travelling the world, the unapologetic Gosavi is ironically more American in his spirit. 

 

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Human Rights

Remembering the Murder of George Floyd

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George Floyd

NEW YORK (Diya TV)  — One week ago, at 9:25 pm CDT, George Floyd — a 46-year-old Black father of two — was officially pronounced dead at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

On May 25 , Mr. Floyd was killed in broad daylight by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), who kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Several bystanders who recorded the killing on their phones captured Mr. Floyd repeating, “Please,” “I can’t breath,” and “Don’t kill me.” The three other police officers, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas K. Lane all participated in the arrest and based on videos, did nothing to intervene during Mr. Floyd’s last desperate pleas for help.

Since then, Chauvin has been fired, arrested, and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has been asked by Governor Tim Walz and Mr. Floyd’s family to take over the prosecution of Chauvin’s case; Attorney General Ellison said that he anticipates additional charges for the other officers present when Mr. Floyd was murdered. Additionally, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened a federal civil rights investigation into the matter and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is also investigating possible violations of Minnesota statutes.

In the week since, the Sikh Coalition has joined demands for a completely thorough and transparent investigation into the police misconduct involved in the death of Mr. Floyd and signed onto calls for new federal legislation to increase transparency and thwart police abuse. We also echo the anger felt by millions of Americans across the nation.

Systemic anti-Black racism within law enforcement and throughout the United States contributes directly to the deaths of unarmed Black people. This deadly problem has to change and the Sikh community must stand in unequivocal solidarity with Black Americans in our shared struggle to combat bigotry, racism, and hate.

The Black community has led the civil rights movement and paved the path for all minorities in this country, including Sikh Americans. We must continue to support efforts to ensure justice, including ongoing demands for complete transparency and accountability in the murder of George Floyd and countless others who have been killed as a result of police brutality. We must address the anti-Black sentiments within our own community by vocalizing that Black Lives Matter. We must stand and act in solidarityHere is a guide on how to be an ally.

There are a myriad of exceptional frontline organizations you can support and actions that you can take to specifically demand justice and show solidarity in response to George Floyd’s case. For more information on some of those organizations or direct action initiatives, click here.

As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly.

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