After protests from students and parents, the California Department of Education’s Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) has rejected suggestions by a group of professors to replace the word “India” with “South Asia” in California textbooks.
A group of professors including Sheldon Pollock, Robert Goldman, Lawrence Cohen and Kamala Visweswaran, under the name of ‘South Asia Faculty Group’ had written to the Department of Education, suggesting that most references to ‘India’ before 1947 be replaced with “South Asia”. The suggestions had created a huge uproar in the Indian-American community based in California. Earlier this week a petition by a group of scholars named ‘Scholars for People’ and signed by over 18,000 people had asked the commission “Would you presume to deny the reality of India’s existence and history, and its deep significance to Indian American students in California, simply because a few misinformed professors of “South Asia Studies” wrote you a letter recommending you re-educate California’s children in this bizarre manner?”
A large number of students and parents testified at the public hearing of the commission held in Sacramento on March 24th seeking the rejection of these changes. “India is not just a landmass but a living civilization. By removing the mention of India as a civilization, my identity as an Indian-American is sought to be erased“ Vidhima Shetty, a student studying in 9th grade in San Ramon, said during her testimony at the Department of Education. Narrating different incidents of stereotypes they encounter, the students demanded that Hinduism and India be portrayed in proper light. The students also demanded that the suggestions that Vedas belong to “ancient Indian religions” and not to Hinduism amounted to stripping them of their Hindu identity. “If Vedas do not belong to the Hindus, who do they belong to?” Himanshu Wagh, a 10th grader from Fremont sought to know. “What we are seeking is dignity and not glorification. We are dismayed and anguished at attempts at negative portrayal of India and Hindus in textbooks.” said Lamitr Dhir, an 8th grader from Sunnyvale.
Bill Honig, the Chair of the Subject Matter Committee of the Commission said at the public hearing that they reject the suggestion for removal of India but agreed to add “South Asia” in parenthesis after most mentions to ancient India. The new recommendations will be forwarded to the State Board of Education for their consideration and the final draft of the framework is to be accepted later this year.
Indian-American groups based in California and also a number of scholars raised serious concerns of transparency in the process of making the textbooks. The Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), which has been working with the commission for the past many years, in a statement said “We question the move to insert a large number of adverse edits on India and Hinduism at the last minute at the instance of a few Leftist scholars.” “While some important inaccuracies have been rolled back, a large number of adverse edits these academics submitted have still found their way into the recommendations and need to be scrutinized” it added. It also protested the removal of the mention of non-Brahmin sages like Valmiki and Vyasa from the textbooks at the suggestion of these academics. “It is strange that while claiming to represent the underprivileged, the Leftist professors of South Asian faculty group have sought the removal of the mention that these sages came from lower castes which had specifically been added at the suggestion of Hindu groups to give fair representation to all communities” the statement said.
The recommendations will come up for consideration at the California’s State Board of Education’s (SBE) meeting in May.