What should history text books in California call the area of Asia, which includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka ? Should they call it India or South Asia ? How should those text books portray caste system? Should they mention family of birth is the most important factor deciding caste or should it say professional excellence also play a big role in it ?
There is a raging battle going on in California on these questions.
The South Asia faculty group (SAFG) which includes some leading academicians from American Universities of both American and South Asian origins have asked for a series of changes in current and proposed syllabus. These include :
- Replacing the heading Early Civilisation of India by Early Civilisation of South Asia as most part of Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC) are now in modern day Pakistan. They also recommend changing India and ancient India to South Asia in several other places in this section.
- Avoid all attempts to portray IVC as the beginning or continuation of Vedic culture as there is no evidence for it.
- On caste/Varna system: Changing “A person belonged to a particular Varna by his professional excellence and his good conduct, not by birth itself” to “A person belonged to a particular varna not just by his professional excellence and his good conduct, but mainly by birth.”
A number of Hindu groups have opposed this changes. Their contention is South Asia is a modern term and the area was always called India from very ancient period. They felt that since China is not being called East Asia , why India should be called South Asia. They also are opposing changing “Hinduism” to ancient Indian religion. They started an online petition and social media campaign on #donteraseIndia. They had also complained that Indian students are bullied in US schools because their culture, especially the caste system, is depicted as oppressive in text books.
In a reply to those who oppose them the SAFG clarified that ” after careful review, we have settled on a context dependent approach for the use of the terms, “Ancient India,’ ‘India,’ ‘Indian subcontinent’ and ‘South Asia,’ .
The Hindu groups it seems are wilfully hiding a fact. The SAFG has not asked the name India or Hinduism to be removed every where. They had only asked for changing it to South Asia in a contextual manner at certain areas.
Peter Tira, an information officer with the California Department of Education, said the proposals call for “India” to be replaced with “South Asia” so as to “reflect the fact that some of the areas being discussed are actually in Pakistan or other areas not contiguous with modern-day India. … Similarly some of the references to Hinduism were revised to reflect the fact that Hinduism was not the only religion in ancient India.”
Tira said the proposed changes for India and Hinduism represent a small fraction of the overall framework.
Hindutva based state governments in India are busy re-writing text books so as to delete some events and transform myths to history. It’s not a surprise to see their sister organisations in USA also trying to do the same. It will be a tragedy if those groups succeed.