Over the past few weeks, Hindu American community efforts to revise the California history and social studies curriculum frameworks to be more accurate, culturally competent, and equitable in how they present ancient India and Hinduism have come under attack.
Responding to our bullying survey data, which indicates that Hindu children feel bullied for their faith, some groups have taken to arguing this bullying has nothing to do with content of textbooks—specifically, that the teaching of caste-based discrimination as intrinsic to the Hindu religion. For example, some activists, argue that there’s been no evidence produced that bullying is linked to the mention of caste. Others have gone further, claiming that bullying in schools is due solely to Islamophobia and xenophobia, and has nothing to do with the mentioning of caste in the classroom.
After the hearing in May, one would hope that these activists would reconsider their claims, as “dozens of students told committee members that they were taunted after learning about castes in school,” as reported by the New York Times. But in case they still want evidence beyond the first hand testimonies at the hearing, we believe a secondary analysis we did using the data gathered for our recently released report on the bullying of Hindu students in school, Classroom Subjected, will be informative.
Of the Hindu students responding to our survey, those who reported an intense focus on caste in the classroom were up to 2.6 times as likely to report being bullied for their faith. This was a statistically significant finding. Even more generally, kids who reported Hinduism was taught negatively in the classroom were up to 4.2 times more likely to report being bullied for their religious beliefs, which was again a statistically significant finding. Finally, only about half of the kids who were bullied for their faith felt it was because they were minorities. An overlapping half felt it was because they believed different things. While our survey was preliminary, and thus does not meet the standard for a representative sample of the Hindu American student population, these numbers do suggest a correlation between the way caste is presented in the classroom and the bullying Hindu children experience.
We at HAF are clear that caste based discrimination is wrong and needs to end. However, we are also clear that caste based discrimination is a social evil, cutting across all religions in South Asia and the South Asian diaspora, and is not sanctioned in Hindu scripture. Caste discrimination is in direct contradiction to the eternal and essential Hindu teachings found in shruti (the Vedas, the Upanishads, etc.) that each individual is equally divine and has the potential to realize God based on their own efforts. Our efforts to have this properly described are to ensure accuracy in school textbooks, not an attempt at historical revisionism as some of our critics claim. By saying it is a social evil and not intrinsic to Hinduism, we do not rid ourselves of the obligation to end caste based discrimination. On the contrary, it is because of our commitment to core Hindu teachings that we are driven to ending caste based discrimination.
The refusal to recognize our stance by those opposed to our education reform efforts make us question as to whether their agenda is strictly limited to ending caste based discrimination, or whether they have a broader ulterior motive to defame Hinduism and drive Hindu students away from their faith.
What makes us question their motives even further has been the willingness of these opposition activists to ignore or minimize the reality of Hindu schoolchildren being bullied. The statistics provided above show that, at least in our sample, the negative conflation of caste with Hinduism correlates with deleterious outcomes for Hindu students. Organizations like the Sikh Coalition, which has done a lot to combat bullying in schools of Sikh children, would seemingly undercut their own legitimacy by ignoring these results in order to pursue their own ideological agenda. Other activists similarly must make a choice as to whatever political point they wish to make is worth a child being bullied. In short, it is up to all of them if they wish to dodge this along with the firsthand testimony they heard back in May, or if they want to recognize and engage with the reality that for Hindu American children, bullying does happen because of what is taught in the classroom.