HAF Comments on Indian-American Response to California Textbooks in India Abroad

On December 16, 2005, India Abroad carried its interview of HAF Legal Counsel Suhag Shukla regarding the portrayal of Hinduism in school textbooks and the California textbook revision process. Since then, several Letters to the Editor have been published commenting on the interview. HAF wrote a Letter to the Editor to clarify points made in some of these letters as well as to comment on the overall response of Indian Americans.

January 23, 2006

Dear Editor,

As a second-generation Indian-American mother, I am unapologetically dedicated to instilling understanding, reverence and, yes, a sense of pride in my two children for their Hindu religion and heritage. And as legal counsel for HAF, my goal is to further awareness of Hinduism in this country and to be a voice in promoting the universal Hindu ethos of tolerance and pluralism. At HAF, we have been gratified by the massive outpouring of support for our work and that of other Hindu groups in California to correct anachronistic, derogatory and imbalanced depictions of Hinduism in school textbooks (see the original text, proposed edits and commentary at http://www.hinduismtoday.com/press_releases/).

While attacks from non-Hindu academics with no expertise in Hinduism, and whose careers have been consumed by advocating pre-modern theories now engulfed by debate, were expected, I have personally been shocked by the unshakable obsession of so many Indian-Americans to view every effort in this country through the prism of their own political ideologies from India. Almost playing right along a colonialist paradigm, Professor Witzel and his ilk, with one letter to the California School Board of Education (SBE) using the word, “Hindutva-inspired,” have effectively divided fellow Indian Americans into an antagonistic, contentious and dithering populace—divided and conquered we remain. While Jewish and Islamic groups were able to pass many more changes in the textbooks with a united front than Hindus even attempted, the SBE has been bulldozed by a cacophony of self-destructive voices from Indian Americans labelling each other as Hindutvavadi, leftist, communist, Dalit, untouchable, etc.

I am also astounded by the absurd suggestion of some that instead of focusing on the positive aspects of all world religions that have been a source of inspiration to billions, that the texts should not be “banal” and should instead highlight how religion has been misused to perpetuate social evils. Are we forgetting that the target audience of these books is innocent and impressionable eleven and twelve year olds? Knowing that for many sixth graders, these units on Hinduism will most likely be their first and last introduction to Hinduism, should the focus of the texts be on social evils and on what outsiders over the centuries have found “exotic,” or should the six or seven page unit focus on Hindu philosophy and the religion’s contributions to world civilization as do the units on Christianity, Judaism and Islam? If I am Hindutva-inspired in demanding that the Aryan invasion theory be taught as what it is—a theory; for clarifying that the varna/jati system being distorted to subjugate others is a horrible social evil prevailing among adherents of all religions in South Asia; and for asking that in addressing the inequities in the status of ancient women that a discussion regarding the concept of shakti or feminine divinity and the historical existence of brahmacarinis, sanyasinis and female saints also be included—then I am guilty as charged.

And to the “progressive” groups so quick to oppose Hindu efforts in California, I ask only that where have they been…when HAF took on truly progressive issues in this country featured in the pages of this very newspaper: opposing the display of the Ten Commandments in public places before the U.S. Supreme Court, opposing public prayer that excluded diverse voices in Virginia and advocating human rights in South Asia in the U.S. Congress? Or is “progressive” in a South Asian context tantamount to Hinduphobia?


Suhag A. Shukla, Esq.
Hindu American Foundation, Legal Counsel