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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.

News

Indian Supreme Court ends Ayodhya dispute: Hindus receive land, Muslims get alternative site

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AYODHYA, India (Diya TV)  — In a decision over a subject that has been politically and culturally sensitive for several decades, the Indian Supreme Court awarded the entire 2.77 acres of disputed land in Ayodhya to Hindus, while deeming the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1991 a crime.

The unanimous decision by five justices, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, paves the way for the construction a new Hindu temple at the site, believed to be Lord Ram’s birthplace. The decision ends the oldest land title dispute in India.

A board of trustees will be established in the next three months to determine construction plans for the temple. While the court ruled in favor of the Hindu petition, they ordered five acres of land to be set aside at an alternative site in Ayodhya for a mosque to be built.

Ahead of the verdict political leaders appealed for peace and calm. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the verdict in this sensitive case will “not be a matter of victory or loss,” appealing to his nation to “strengthen India’s great tradition of peace, unity and amity.”

The court was also clear the desecration of the Babri Masjid was still a criminal matter and a court case on that issue is still pending.

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Arts

Promising to be the film fest for “woke desis”, NYC SAFF to debut this November

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NYCSAFF Film Line-up

NEW YORK (Diya TV) — Promising to be the fest for “contemporary, aware, woke desis”, NYC SAFF is set to make its debut this fall at the Altman building in New York City. After the roaring success of the 5th annual Dallas-Fort Worth South Asian Film Festival (DFW SAFF), JINGO Media presents its second film festival in the United States, the New York City South Asian Film Festival (NYC SAFF), gearing up to make its debut in mid-November at various venues around Chelsea in Manhattan. The first ever New York South Asian Film Festival (NYC SAFF) opens with a collection of gut-punches, knee slappers, and laughing gags. Running over 3 days, be sure to bring out your inner cinephile.

Opening the fest is Rohit Karn Batra’s directorial debut Line of Descent a white-knuckled cop thriller starring Brendan Fraser, and Abhay Deol. The story follows a mafia family dispute caught in the crosshairs of a police officer who guides their tragic downfall, and an arms dealer with a spy on the inside. The centerpiece film is the painstakingly painted ‘Bollywood Rose‘ based on true events, it tells the story of a forbidden love in a ruthless city. ‘Kaamyaab‘ which as recently screened at the the Chicago South Asian Film Festival(CSAFF) makes its way into NYC SAFF followed by other festival favorites like Ephemera, Khejdi, and Agency bolstering an already stellar line up. Expect to meet indie stars Tannishtha Chatterjee & Nawazuddin Siddiqui at the closing night film, Roam Rome Mein, a story that follows Reena who has run away to Italy in order to escape her overly strict parents, however, her brother, Raj in the turmoils of his own awakening sets out on a journey to find her.

The short film selection features Eliezer Vergaras ‘Fractured Souls‘; a baffling self revelation that unfolds as one mans frustration leads him into cascading tragedies. Vick Krishnas ‘Freak‘, a father must cope with unexpected news on his daughters surprise birthday. The feature lineup has a cup for everyone be it feature, documentary, fiction, or nonfiction. ‘Namdev Bhau‘ a man so flustered by the noise of Delhi vows to not speak and undertakes a pilgrimage of silence until a young boy decides to tag along. The disturbing Mai Ghat’ is based on the true story of two police officers who wrongly arrest a boy and tortured him to death. Its a powerhouse film exploring the violent act putting to question our personal and social conscience. It wouldn’t be a proper a film festival without films that challenge us and make us question ourselves.

Discussing topics that are too often swept under the rug like LGBT, womens rights and the societal oppression.The Last Letter‘ follows Mohan, a 70-year old gay man who has remained in the closet, that is, until the comfort he built for himself comes tumbling down. The Unexpected tells the story of a woman who despite achieving everything in life cannot conceive a child. Through its range of films, NYCSAFF aims to challenge, entertain, inspire and enrich.

Presented by Toyota and produced by JINGO Media, a NYC and Dallas-based events and public relations company, the inaugural, three-day festival boasts world, U.S. and New York City premieres of more than 25 shorts, documentaries and feature films focused on the unique stories of the South Asian Diaspora and those of our brothers and sisters back home. JINGO Media is also the parent company of DFW SAFF, which was conceptualized and created in 2015. 

“We are so proud to create yet another platform for world-class independent cinema from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan and the Maldives,” said Jitin Hingorani, CEO/Principal of JINGO Media, a public relations company that launched in New York City in 2010. “We’re coming full circle with this festival because Manhattan is where it all began for us almost 10 years ago. We are certain that the community-at-large will embrace us and celebrate our joyous homecoming.” 

NYC SAFF has also partnered with The India Center Foundation (ICF), a New York City-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of the Indian subcontinent, the promotion of its cultural life and the unique relationship between India and the United States. “To partner with NYC SAFF means that ICF is reaching the audience we wish to serve: contemporary, aware, woke desis and lovers of Indian and Diasporic creativity and storytelling. As a filmmaker whose film was so lovingly received at DFW SAFF, I know we are working with a staff who is dedicated and eager to give New Yorkers the film experience they deserve when it comes to screening South Asian cinema. We are looking forward to partnering on great conversations and panels around the films we see together,” said Priya Giri Desai, Founding Director of ICF.

Complete with an opening night red carpet , a curated set of film screenings and a closing night after party, this New York debut of an indie fest, is looking to leave you bruised with heartache, emotional bliss and a belly full of laughter, gasping for more. The first ever New York South Asian Film Festival promises one for the books!

It all goes down from November 15th though the 17th at The Altman Building. With the film screenings occurring throughout the weekend at AMC 34th street 14.

Diya TV is a proud media partner for the event, and will be onsite covering the fest. For tickets and information: https://www.nycsaff.com/tickets

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Basketball

Gandhi 150th birth anniversary noted around the world

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Birth Anniversary

NEW DELHI (Diya TV) —  Celebrations for Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary have been ongoing for the past year, but culminated with a ceremony in New Delhi featuring Prime Minister Modi and another in Washington at the Library of Congress. And France’s government worked with the Indian Embassy there to issue a stamp in honor of his birth anniversary.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal are meeting this week to continue the US-India discussion on trade and investment.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb came to New Delhi to strengthen ties between the Hoosier State and India. Infosys has already made a large commitment there. Holcomb is part of a large delegation of Americans now heading Mumbai to take in the first-ever NBA preseason games in India featuring the Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings.

Bollywood turned Hollywood actor Anupam Kher came to the Bay Area to keynote the Akshay Patra annual fundraising gala that helps feed children in India a hot meal during the school year.

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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