Hindu American groups on Saturday said they have won a “significant victory” in California state, as education officials acceded to their over decade-long efforts for an “accurate, equitable, and culturally competent portrayal” of Hinduism and India in school textbooks. At its final hearing late this week, the California Education Department’s State Board of Education (SBE) “voted unanimously” to approve positive edits submitted by Hindu American community groups to improve the portrayal of Hinduism and India in as many as 10 textbooks.
The board also “voted to reject” two textbook programmes from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Grades K-6 and Grades 6-8) for adversely reflecting on Hinduism and other diverse communities, according to a media release. “This is truly historic. After many years of civic engagement, Hindu-Americans have started to make themselves heard,” said Shantharam Nekkar of Hindu Education Foundation USA, an organization dedicated to enriching the understanding of Indian civilization and Hinduism in America.
“We will continue to engage constructively and fight biases and prejudices against Hinduism and India,” he said. Several top American lawmakers including Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, along with elected state officials, scores of academicians and experts backed by a large number of community organisations and parents of Indian American students supported the efforts led by Hindu Education Foundation (HEF).
The decision taken by California’s State Board of Education can be implemented only in the state of California, but it sets the trend for the rest of the US as a majority of other states either follow the guidelines and textbooks approved by them or are deeply influenced by their textbooks and syllabus. The Decision of State Board of Education came after hearing testimonies and receiving letters from thousands of Hindu American parents, children, educators and community members from across California, including immigrant Hindus from Fiji, the Caribbean and India, as well as letters from a broad coalition of more than 75 interfaith and community groups, 17 state and federal elected officials, and 38 leading academics, HEF said in a statement.
The Board, HEF said, “rebuffed last-minute attempts to disrupt” the process of South Asian Histories for All or SAHFA, which it alleged “made vitriolic, bigoted, and Hinduphobic” statements about Hinduism in public testimony and on social media. “Despite the false claims of SAHFA, our broad interfaith coalition that represents individuals from all communities including Dalits, never tried to erase any community, caste, or religion’s history, and believe that all groups should be represented fairly in textbooks,” said Samir Kalra, senior director at the Hindu American Foundation.
“In fact, we asked that the contributions of Hindus of all backgrounds, including the spiritual traditions of Dalit Hindus, be acknowledged in textbooks. Most of the changes that SAHFA submitted were hateful and violate California law and the textbook framework,” he alleged. The Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association (APAPA) also welcomed the decision of the California Board in this regard. “When we work together, we will win,” said C C Yin, founder and chairman of APAPA.