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No, it degenerated into a political battle


We won,” cried one side. “We did not lose,” claimed the other. But someone clearly lost—the 10-year-old Californian child. Those wanting changes to the textbooks and those opposed to the changes are assessing damage and invoking damage-control strategies. Meanwhile, the students go back to the classroom, often learning something that may institutionalize prejudice in their minds.

The two groups were the Hindus who sought corrections to the way the textbooks depicted their religion, and others who wished to maintain the existing, and generally derogatory and dismissive, Orientalist, descriptions in textbooks.

Those arguing for a status quo had a single-point agenda: to oppose what they termed radical, right-wing Hindutva. These people, some academics but mostly professional agitators, have never bothered to address the longstanding and gross caricaturing of Hinduism in textbooks.
That is sufficient testimony to their indifference to the ridicule of Hinduism. Strangely, they only get excited about the Aryan Invasion Theory, a colonial construct.

The Hindus, being naïve at politics, allowed themselves to be led by the nose into quicksand by their opponents.

They spent much of their efforts on the Aryan Invasion Theory. There is no totally satisfactory proof one way or the other about any so-called Aryans. Almost all the “evidence” used to “prove” this theory has been shown to be ambivalent. New genetic evidence appears to support an opposite theory, of migration from India to Europe.

An ambiguous statement would not have hurt the child, and Hindus should have satisfied themselves with it. Instead, they walked into the trap laid by their opponents: the claim of “academic accuracy.” Eventually, much bandwidth was allotted to the obscure genetics, linguistics, and archeology of Aryan invasion.

Similarly, Hindus could have conceded certain demands about the fact that Dalits have faced oppression. But precious energy was wasted on an entirely unnecessary debate. Instead, the point should have been made about the rich diversity of traditions and the successful affirmative action programs in India.

Women’s rights were also used as a stick to beat the Hindus. The reality is that all religions have been more or less patriarchal and oppressive of women, and Hinduism is in fact considerably better than most other major religions in this regard.

Finally, the issue of fairness and parity (with other religions taught), and the practitioners’ right to have their perspectives heard should have overruled any pompous pronouncements on “academic purity.”

The Hindu American Foundation has filed suit against the California State Board of Education, contending that a fair and open process was not followed in adopting textbooks that introduce Hinduism to sixth graders. I wish them luck, and I hope you will contribute to their legal defense fund.

Sugrutha Ramaswami wrote this opinion from Piscataway, N.J.


Yes, motivated prejudice was defeated


The facts are as follows: the California school system is the largest in the nation, and whatever it accepts by way of textbooks becomes the norm for publishers across the country. Thus, California’s current re-working of textbooks provides an opportunity to make lasting changes.

Hindus, along with Jews and Muslims, made suggestions that would fit in with the Board of Education’s stated requirements that a) no religious group may be ridiculed or portrayed as inferior, b) there should be no encouraging and discouraging of belief or indoctrination in any religion.

All Jewish and Muslim changes were accepted, but regarding the Hindu changes, a group of Marxists of Indian origin launched a high-decibel campaign to preserve what—to the casual observer—appear to be prejudiced views about Hinduism in current textbooks that violate the two dicta above.

With the help of a lynch-mob of so-called academics (many of whom had over time exhibited racist bigotry against Hindus in their signed statements available on the Internet, and most of whom have no academic background in ancient history, religion, or Sanskrit; some are in transportation studies, or physics) the Marxists managed to fend off some of the changes desired by the Hindu groups.

But the Board voted on March 8 to take what appears to be a compromise middle path, which has allowed both sides to declare victory.

My personal observations are as follows. Neither side won; even if they won, it is likely to be a Pyrrhic victory.

The hitherto ineffective Hindu crowd came up with a powerful rearguard action.

The Marxists brought in their big guns, especially one Witzel of Harvard University in Massachusetts, and managed to win some early skirmishes. But the Board conceded most of the Hindus’ demands: this means the Marxists lost the war.

Besides, the textbook publishers want profits, not academic hairsplitting. Thus, the fear that angry Hindu parents will agitate to get their school districts to buy the least offensive texts will goad the publishers to moderate their perspectives. After all, Hindu Americans are wealthy and live in desirable school districts.

Besides, researchers at the think-tank unearthed iron-clad evidence that the Aryan Invasion Theory, the kingpin of the Marxist world-view, is directly derived from the views of one Abbe Dubois, a literalist creationist with antediluvian ideas. The Marxists, who claim to be scientific and rational, will have a hard time explaining why they espouse faith-based beliefs such as creationism.

As for the Hindus, since only their proposed changes were the battlefield, the fact that 100 percent of their edits were not incorporated means that they have had at best a Pyrrhic victory as well. Besides, they will have to face similar bruising battles in other states, too.

Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Singapore.