Sunday 19th March, 2006, By Michael Witzel
The writer is a professor of South Asian Studies at Harvard University and provided the California State Board of Education expert testimony on the proposed textbook changes.
The intense struggle over the presentation of ancient Indian history in school books in California ended on March 8 with total victory over the right wing and sub-sectarian Hindutva foundations, the so-called Vedic Foundation (VF) and the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF).
The California State Board of Education (SBE) voted unanimously to overturn the sectarian and politically motivated distortions pushed through by the two obscurant Hindutva foundations during an earlier phase of the review process for history textbooks. On February 27, a sub-committee of the SBE had also voted unanimously to overturn a majority of the disputed changes.
This decision is a victory for all Americans and all others worldwide who are interested in the historically correct depiction of Indian history.
More than a hundred South Asian scholars from across the United States and more than fifty American and international Indologists had written to the Board, protesting the changes proposed by the Hindutva groups. The SBE had also received important scholarly input from South Asian Studies faculty in the US as well as other Indologists. In addition, many Indian American community organizations and many private individuals have been working diligently to ensure that ahistorical and sectarian content proposed by Hindutva groups does not infect California school textbooks.
We must wholeheartedly applaud the courage of various individuals and community organizations, who in spite of being constantly harassed, abused and threatened by various Hindutvavadins, stood their ground and put in a tremendous effort to defend the educational futures of their children.
All involved in fighting for this goal have expressed their admiration of the State Board for rejecting the most egregious edits proposed by the Hindutva groups that attempted to sanitize caste and gender oppression. The victory over the machinations of the VF & HEF is especially poignant as it has been achieved on International Women’s day, March 8th.
We must applaud the State Board for voting on the side of historical accuracy, and for not caving to the intimidation and blackmail tactics of HEF and VF who, failing to obtain any academic or other scholarly support, have now turned to a politically connected law firm and are issuing threats of legal action in a desperate attempt to intimidate the Board of Education, and to force the Board to divert precious resources that could have gone towards the education of California school children.
We also must commend the SBE staff for having patiently considered a wide variety of views from community groups, as well as from scholars. With the changes recommended by the SBE, the textbooks are a vast improvement over earlier textbooks and are now largely free of errors. We must note with appreciation the stance taken by Ms Ruth Green, President of the History-Social Science Sub-committee, that the textbooks should represent the plurality of scholarly opinion.
We must also thank the community organizations such as Friends of South Asia (FOSA), Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FeTNA), various Dalit organizations (Ambedkar.org, New Republic India, Dalit Freedom Network, Dalit Sikh temples), Coalition Against Communalism (CAC) and Indian American Public Education Advisory Council (IPAC). We must especially commend the representatives of Dalit organizations, who urged the SBE to restore references to Dalits and the caste system, which had been deleted from the textbooks on HEF’s and VF’s recommendations. Individual Dalits and their organizations have suffered the crassest abuse and vituperation from the self-styled representatives of the Hindu Indo-American community. Their eloquent and moving testimonies which outlined the daily depredations that Dalits face was crucial as it laid bare the hollowness and dishonesty of the HEF and VF agenda.
The combined efforts against the attempts by Hindutva groups to distort California’s textbooks have resulted in a crushing defeat of these obscurantist views. After a long struggle, historical accuracy and a balanced depiction of life in ancient India has prevailed, not the sugar-coated version of a hoary, mythical Golden Age that never was.