Hindu Americans Testify for Equality and Justice, Urge CDE not to Erase History
March 25, 2015 (Sacramento, CA) - Over 100 Hindu Americans converged on Sacramento yesterday to voice their concerns about the California Department of Education Instructional Quality Commission’s (IQC) plans to accept problematic edits made by a small group of South Asian studies faculty. These proposed edits would have largely removed references to India and Hinduism, and replaced them with the terms “South Asia” and “ancient Indian religion,” respectively.
Some of the proposed edits included removing mention of Hinduism’s acceptance of religious diversity, re-linking Hinduism with caste, and removing mention of the contributions of Hindu sages of different backgrounds, such as Valmiki and Vyasa.
The IQC voted to reject some of the proposed changes after public awareness campaigns, including letters from professors of religion and history, disputed the faculty group’s assertions. During the public comment period, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), other Hindu organizations, and community members, as well as non-Hindus, testified about both the inaccuracies in the proposed edits and the last-minute process by which they were initially uniformly accepted - after prior recommendations from numerous academics were rejected. They argued that edits would erase their religious and cultural histories and urged the commission to reject the changes. Moreover, they asked the commissioners to adopt a more inclusive and culturally competent frameworks document.
The community’s efforts was also supported by a coalition of 20 government leaders and elected officials, including Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), CA State Senator Steven M. Glazer (District 7), and several local leaders.
California is home to the country’s largest Hindu population, with roughly one million of diverse cultural, racial, and national backgrounds.
In addition, Hindu American school children from across the state spoke out about the impact of inaccurate and culturally illiterate content on their lives. Academics such as Barbara A. McGraw of St. Mary’s College of California, an award-winning scholar and former American Academy of Religion Western president, and Sofia University philosophy professor Kundan Singh also testified. For Hindu American youth, the frameworks adoption was about ensuring that their identities wouldn’t be minimized or presented in a way that adversely reflected on them. Some pushed back against the faculty’s suggestion that Hindu history was patriarchal, and expressed that their lived experiences were being ignored.
“Having studied the Vedas, I proudly wear my sacred thread as a symbol of my earnest study and scholarship, as did my mother and foremothers before her,” said 12-year-old Vaidehi Dandekar, a 7th grade student from El Cerrito, CA. “As a young woman, I am proud that my enthusiasm and achievement in studying the Vedas is simply reflective of the long tradition of scholarship and oral storytelling by women....and men.....in India’s rich history. The accurate portrayal therefore in our classroom, of women in India’s history as leaders, sages, scholars, and often spiritual authority figures for families and communities is incredibly important for all members of my learning environment.”
While HAF and other groups believe progress has been made, concerns remain about the way in which the edits were accepted.
“Our concerns remain with how many of these edits were accepted, particularly in the commission’s apparent privileging of one group of scholars over the views of many others,” said Murali Balaji, HAF’s Director of Education and Curriculum Reform. He noted that the commission had previously ignored a virtually identical set of proposed edits by the same group when it was submitted by one individual scholar, but then accepted it after the submission was rebranded as the “South Asia faculty group.”
“I think we all support free and vigorous academic discourse and diverse views on how religions and cultures evolved,” Balaji said. “But giving esteem to one group over the views of many other distinguished academics is troubling. Moreover, academic battles shouldn’t necessarily be fought in a 6th and 7th grade curriculum document. Such battles can impede upon teachers’ ability to provide accurate and culturally competent instruction to their students, which in turn will adversely impact both Hindu and non-Hindu California students.”
The IQC will publish its revised set of recommendations two weeks before the May 11 State Board of Education hearing. HAF will continue to work with both community members and educators, along with various officials, to ensure that the Board adopts a document that is inclusive of Hindus and a better resource for teachers across the state.