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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.

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Exclusive: One on One with Rep. Ro Khanna at Impact Summit 2018

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Rep. Ro Khanna

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — Earlier this year, 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 Representative Ro Khanna for our public affairs program “The Public Interest,” edited for clarity.

Q: You’re a veteran now running for office. Tell me what it’s been like. This is a fairly new dichotomy for a lot of Democrats, who had eight years of Obama. What is it like to be in Congress right now during this Trump administration?.

A: It’s a tough time. Obviously, the administration is doing a lot of things that I disagree with, on immigration, tearing apart families, restricting people from becoming green card holders, not doing enough on jobs, not doing enough about visions of science and education. But I try to put forward ideas that how we can bring new innovation, new entrepreneurship, not just in my district but around the country and trying to offer new ideas, which at least has gotten a hearing.

Q: Take us through what you plan to tackle in 2018, knowing full well that we’ve got elections coming up in the fall as people are ramping up for 2020.

A: Well, I’ve been asked to lead on the Internet Bill of Rights, so I am working on some principles that will protect your data and privacy online. I think that’s really important with the Congress Act, and given the district I represent, that’s an area that I’m going to work on to put forward the framework. I’ve been working on a jobs bill: how do we subsidized employment and training for people who are out of work and particularly communities left behind? I have a plan to have 1,000 tech institutes across America to help give people the skills they’re going to need for a new economy. So those are some of my initiatives.

Q: We have a lot of elected officials and a lot of upstarts [at the Impact Summit], folks like yourself a few years ago who wanted to be in office at the state level, at the federal level. What are you telling people now that you have been in the game awhile – a lot of folks coming up to you saying, ‘hey, how do I get to where you are?’ What are you telling them?

A: Well, I say to them, ‘I lost a lot of times. Twice. Just don’t be afraid to run, and be persistent and be out there. Take risks, follow your own heart, don’t listen to conventional opinion and it’s a great country to ultimately make it if you persist.’

Q: Finally, for those of us in the Silicon Valley that watch this program, we’re very fortunate the economy is doing very well. But a couple things are of real concern — traffic and housing.

A: You can’t afford to live there. It’s a million buck home — maybe not when your parents came there, but now it’s totally different. And now, it has priced out the teachers, the nurses. I had a teacher in tears when I was just back home. She went to Stanford. Her husband’s a Stanford person. They teach. They’re moving out of the area because they can’t afford to live there. We’re losing talent. We’re losing nurses, teachers, firefighters. We got to build more affordable housing. We’ve got to build it near jobs. Housing and being stuck on 237 or 880 or 101 are the biggest things I hear about when I go back home.

Q: But is there a will to do that? Is there a will to change the way we do things in terms of development?

A: I think there is. I think you have people like Raj Salwan [Fremont Councilmember], and Mountain View’s mayor [Leonard Siegel] and others like Lily Mei [Fremont Mayor] thinking about how can we address this issue — Lisa Gillmor in Santa Clara. So the mayors get it. There’s got to be a real effort to build affordable housing near jobs.

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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Exclusive: One on One with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi at Impact Summit 2018

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Diya TV's Ravi Kapur interviews Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi at the Indian American Impact Summit 2018.

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 Illinois Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi for our public affairs program “The Public Interest,” edited for clarity.

Q: 2018 is a midterm election year. What is it like being on the ground here in Washington right now?

A: It’s a little bit of a circus. Our president does things a little differently than past presidents. And in my humble opinion, I think that what’s happened is there a lot of people who are very concerned and in some cases, alarmed, about what’s going on with regard to various issues, economic issues. There could be rights issues and so forth. And I don’t think that’s a good thing. I don’t think we function well in a democracy when we’re at each other’s throats. And we’re not really in a deliberative process. I hope that changes.

Q: We had a primary process in my home state of California and yours in Illinois. The turnouts have been pretty poor. Folks weren’t inspired to vote in the primaries. Do you expect a real significant turnout who people are clearly really turned off about what’s going on here?

A: I think that some people are energized. For instance, Democratic women are energized to come out because of what they’ve seen with regard to this administrations treatment of issues of importance to women, reproductive rights, equal pay and so forth. I think that it’s possible that people on the other side might also be energized to defend their president. I think we, as Democrats — I happen to be a Democrat — I think we can’t take anything for granted. I mean, people talk about a blue wave, but to me, until November 6 rolls around, we can’t sit still. We can’t be complacent whatsoever. We have to run all the way through the finish line and through the tape, so to speak.

Q: We’re here at the Indian Impact Summit and there’s a cluster of folks that want to be in your position one day, who want to run for office at the state level and at the federal level. What are you saying to this next flock of people who want to get through the fray?

A: I basically say, ‘Look, there is this old adage. If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.’ And we as Indian Americans or South Asian Americans cannot afford to be on the menu. The stakes could not be higher. So now is the time to get involved. First, you’ve got to make sure everyone votes. Secondly, volunteer for a political cause that’s bigger than yourself. And then third, if you have demonstrated a record of public service and public service is part of your future — and you’re ready — then you should consider running for office. It’s a big, big step, but more and more people have to do it at all levels of government, whether it’s State House or State Senate. Maybe some of your viewers might even run for the U.S. Congress, but please not in my Congressional district. But anywhere else I’d be delighted to guide people. But the point is that people have to get involved.”

Q: Final question for you – what else is on the agenda here for 2018? What are you trying to get done?

A: For me personally, I have to get certain pieces of legislation through the Congress. My particular passion is in the area of workforce development. It’s meeting the skills gap and basically providing people with career technical education. There are 6.7 million unfilled jobs in the economy because employers can’t locate the skills or experience necessary to fill them. Meanwhile, two-thirds of Americans do not have a four-year college degree and those numbers aren’t changing anytime soon. So the challenge is to equip these people with the skills to take these jobs. And if we can do that, then we will jumpstart our economy to new heights we haven’t seen before. And that is my legislation in this House that’s working on this particular challenge. It’s passed the House. It’s in the Senate, hoping to get it through. HR 2353 for people who are keeping score at home — The Thompson-Krishnamoorthi bill. It’s a modernized Perkins career technical education. It’s the longest titled bill in Congress!

Q: And bipartisan?

A: Yes, bipartisan. The Thompson is Republican Glenn Thompson and of course, there’s me.

Q: Do you think you’ll get over the hump?

A: I think we’re getting closer, definitely.

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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Exclusive: Rep. Ami Bera on protecting Indian Americans who have legally immigrated

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Rep. Ami Bera

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — More than 200 Indian American candidates, elected officials, among those gathered including California Rep. Ami Bera in Washington DC 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 Representative Ami Bera for our public affairs program “The Public Interest,” edited for clarity.

Q: You are the senior member of the so-called ‘Samosa Caucus,’ as dubbed by your colleague Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, now that you have been elected three times to Congress, not to mention your recent primary victory. Thus, we’ve seen first-hand scores of political aspirants asking you for advice of how to get involved politically. What are you telling them?

A: My obligation is to help people that are coming into the United States. Our legacy is not what we do by ourselves but by those folks that help. I learned a lot running, and the first step is not to be afraid to put yourself out there, put your name on that ballot, and what we are talking about today is how this broader Indian American community can support candidates. That’s what impact is all about. And you’ve got great candidates that are running all across this country. I think over 60 running for federal office but also at state and local levels. So, it’s pretty remarkable. And if we want to have a seat at the table, if we want to talk about issues that are important to our community, you have to have that representation.

Q: When you first were in Congress, you had a Democratic administration, Barack Obama was President. Now President Trump has a different philosophy, I imagine, from the way you like to govern. What has it been like these past couple of years under the Trump Administration? What has your life been life, day to day?

A: Yeah, it’s been busier than ever, Representing my constituents for the Sacramento Community but also trying to help my Indian American community. I will tell you that we’re fighting them on some of these immigration measures. Let’s take DACA for an example. We’re all going to fight for the dreamers, but we also understand that there are a lot of Indian American kids that are going to be 19 and who are here with parents who came here legally. Those folks are also potentially going to get kicked out of the United States. We have to fight for them as well, and that’s why it is important to have representation at the table.

Q: We just had a primary election in the state of California, and to be honest, the turnout was pathetic, under 25%, something like 21%. Now, it’s tough to have a primary election in the middle of the summer- school’s out, people are having fun. I did vote. I think you probably voted too. (Ami Bera: I did). But, what, if anything, can we do to get more people to vote, not just the Indian American community, but overall. The voter turnout was really sad.

A: Well, so, democracy, your vote is your voice. And if you don’t vote, you lose your voice. I think we have to focus on 2018. So you want representation, and that first happens by casting your ballot. Now, in our district, we’ve historically been able to turn votes out. I think, our turnout will end up being around 50%, which is again pretty remarkable compared to where it was in southern California and in other places. And again a lot of that is just telling people to vote. I’ve been able to get elected and re-elected. We’ve never won on an election, but I think it is about voters getting out there and casting their ballot.

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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