Dalits urge California to delay nod for textbooks

‘There are diversions in texts from approved framework’

November 07, 2017 09:43 pm | Updated November 08, 2017 05:50 pm IST - Washington

Indus Valley Civilisation tablets seen at The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, in Taramani, Chennai in this 2009 file photo.

Indus Valley Civilisation tablets seen at The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, in Taramani, Chennai in this 2009 file photo.

School children in California will learn the Indus Valley civilisation as ‘Indus Saraswati’ civilisation; the Aryan migration to the subcontinent may not have happened at all, because the Vedas “do not make any mention” of it; and that the varna system was “based on an individual’s natural abilities”, if the State Board of Education (SBE) clears textbooks submitted for its approval.

The board will meet this week for the final decision on these textbooks designed by multiple private publishers, based on a curriculum framework that was approved in May 2016 after a prolonged tussle between Hindutva groups on the one side and Dalit and Sikh groups on the other.

South Asian Histories for All Coalition (SAHFA), a group that represents Dalit, Sikh and Muslim views on the issue, has requested the SBE to delay its decision until diversions from the framework are rectified. “The text books are replete with errors and inaccuracies that contradict” the framework, SAHFA has written to SBE.

‘Alternative facts’

“A universe of alternative facts is being created by a well-funded campaign that influenced the writing of the textbooks, significantly deviating them from the framework. There is plenty of scholarship on ancient history, caste oppression, etc, but a revisionist reading of history to justify oppression is being peddled in textbooks,” Thenmozhi Soundararajan, co-founder of SAHFA, told The Hindu by phone.

“The politics of Hinduvta and white supremacy, of Modi and Trump are the same — invent alternative facts to erode scholarship, with the help of political and legislative power,” she said.

Intense tussle

The portrayal of caste power structure in textbooks has been a topic of intense tussle. The framework had said on Sikhism that it was founded by Guru Nanak, “a social reformer who challenged the authority of the Brahmins and the caste order”.

Text books have left out the reference to caste in the discussion on Sikhism. Though the framework does not mention Indus Saraswati civilisation, the Pearson textbook does. One textbook refers to Dalits as “people who did not follow the rules... kicked out of their caste.”

Just as SAHFA was seeking redressal of these concerns — some publishers were receptive — National Geographic, has announced further edits in its textbook on Monday, heightening these concerns.

The publishers will delete the sentence, “many Hindus still observe certain cultural practices related to the caste system, such as marrying within one’s caste”, accepting the demand from an ‘advocacy group’. Mohandas Gandhi who was described as “a great leader” will now be a “great Hindu leader”. “A number of great Hindu leaders, including Mohandas Gandhi, have encouraged the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain principle of non-violence,” the new sentence says.

The textbooks repeatedly makes efforts to link Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions as being based on same principles.

Non-violent principles

Jainism has been added to make a new sentence: “And Gandhi took his non-violent principles from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.”

It is historical fact that Gandhi was deeply influenced by Christianity too, and had a long-drawn debate with extremists who interpreted Gita as a call for violent insurrection.

Accepting representations from ‘advocacy group’, National Geographic has also removed references to Brahmanism at several places. The sentence, “in time, Brahmanism’s rituals and hymns were recorded in sacred texts called the Vedas”, has been replaced with “in time, early Hinduism’s rituals, hymns, prayers, stories, poems, and philosophical and spiritual insights were recorded in sacred texts called the Vedas.”

“She meditated for years in the Himalaya to attract his attention,” the text book’s original draft said, which will be changed to “she is considered a mother Goddess and nurturer,” about Parvati and Shiva.

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