Attempts to saffronise California history curricula fails

As posted by me earlier, there was a raging battle between a coalition of interfaith groups the South Asian History for All and Hindutva groups on the revision of  California  school history curriculum. It was a high stake battle as many other American states follow Californian curricula. 

The “saffronising” of textbooks isn’t limited to Gujarat or Karnataka, or even just India. The American Hindu groups in the California battle include the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), whose founding members have links to the Sangh Parivar; the Hindu Education Foundation, a project of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, and the religious research group Uberoi Foundation. They want to rename the Indus Valley Civilization “Sindh-Saraswati”, delete any mention of Guru Nanak’s challenging of caste, and further what SAHFA calls the “oppressor Muslims vs persecuted Hindus’ narrative of Hindu nationalism”. In one of their most controversial moves, they’ve tried to get the term ‘Dalit’ deleted from the South Asian history taught in school curriculum. One of the Uberoi Foundation’s comments among the edits says, “Dalit is not a term from Sanskrit, nor from Hindu social history but a contemporary political construct to gain leverage mostly in elections and for economic concessions.”

Now the officials in California has come to, it seems, a just and rational decision.

When talking about Indus Valley civilization , the area will be termed as ancient India instead of the proposed South Asia. The Hindutva group consider this as their victory.

More importantly the oppressive caste system of India will be portrayed realistically. Attempt by Hindutva groups to define caste groups as autonomous units was ignored and caste will be identified correctly as a division by birth. Also the word “Dalit” will be used while mentioning the lowermost community in the caste hierarchy as demanded by Dalit groups.



“Whether we like our history or not for any particular reason, we have to stick with the facts,” said Risha Krishna, a committee member, in discussing how to phrase a sentence about jatis, groups in India that are primarily defined by birth. Some suggested describing such groups as self-governing, a definition Ms. Krishna questioned. “These groups did not have autonomy to decide how they would function. It was top down,” she said.

Some Hindu advocates argued that the curriculum puts too much emphasis on the caste system, saying that it leaves Indian students vulnerable to bullying in schools. Dozens of students told committee members that they were taunted after learning about castes in school.

But activists for the Dalits, members of the “untouchable” caste, said that glossing over the caste system would do little to protect students and would be an inaccurate portrayal of India.

“There is no way that one would self-govern yourself into oppression,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a leader of a coalition that includes Dalits, Sikhs and Muslims.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan testifying - from twitter @dalithistorynow

Thenmozhi Soundararajan testifying – from twitter @dalithistorynow

The SAHFA had this to say after the verdict:

South Asian Histories for All (SAHFA), an interfaith and inter-caste coalition of 24 organizations across California and the U.S., thanked California’s Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) for its efforts to ensure a fair and inclusive history and social science framework. In particular, the SAHFA coalition commended the IQC for voting to retain many of the edits to the California curriculum framework that reflected rigorous historical scholarship from the South Asia Faculty Group (SAFG).

The curriculum frameworks for California students are deliberated upon in public by the IQC, the advisory body to the State Board of Education, allowing for comments from any interested individual or group. The IQC during its May 19 public hearing, listened to powerful testimonies from the 100-strong SAHFA coalition, urging the commissioners to ensure that Hindu nationalist revisionism does not extend to California textbooks.

Activists in California were able to fight and win the battle against saffron distortions of history textbooks because there was a neutral committee to judge.  With Hindutva forces in power to judge in many of the states and in Delhi, it will be much more difficult for activists in India to fight saffronisation of text books.

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