Social Studies

#DontEraseIndia Campaign: Curriculum Changes Would Hurt Hindu Students

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — April 07, 2016 3 min read
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A Hindu American advocacy group has launched a new social media campaign, #DontEraseIndia, focused on a set of proposed changes to California’s history curriculum that it says will misrepresent ancient India and have a negative impact on Hindu students.

The Hindu American Foundation launched the social media campaign on April 6, the anniversary of the beginning of civil disobedience against British rule in India.

Meanwhile, a group of professors and other activists contend that the Hindu American Foundation’s campaign is part of an ongoing effort to portray India’s history and Hinduism in an incomplete and misleadingly positive light.

In 2006, the Hindu American Foundation filed a suit in California alleging that the textbooks in use then painted a derogatory portrait of Hinduism. The group suggested, for instance, that descriptions of the caste system in India should not be tied to Hinduism. The judge ruled that the textbooks’ content could stand but ordered California to change its textbook-adoption process.

A committee tasked with updating California’s history and social studies framework met at the end of March to review public comments and a draft of the new framework, which guides teachers in implementing standards. The state’s board of education will vote on the changes at a meeting in May.

Samir Kalra, the Hindu American Foundation’s senior director and human rights fellow, said the proposed changes minimize the historical contributions of ancient Indian civilization.

“We feel that education is an important issue for our community, and, unfortunately, has been a place where we’ve seen a lot of stereotypes and misrepresentations,” Kalra said. Nearly 1 million Hindus live in California, according to a press release from the Hindu American Foundation.

In a press release, the foundation gave several examples of changes it was concerned with. Two examples:

  • The sentence, “In this unit, students learn about ancient societies in India,” will be replaced with “In this unit, students learn about ancient societies in South Asia”
  • The topic heading, “Early Civilizations of India,” will be replaced with “Early Civilizations of South Asia.”

Kalra said that while ancient Indian civilization encompasses more land than is geographically in current-day India—including modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan—other ancient civilizations in similar situations are not referred to by geographic region. “We don’t see ancient China being referred to as East Asia, or ancient Greece as south Europe.”

In an email, a California Department of Education spokesperson said that the committee gathers to “periodically update frameworks to reflect new research as well as the state’s increasing diversity.”

“We aren’t able to speculate on any claims regarding the curriculum changes,” she wrote.

Kalra said that he was particularly concerned about a set of recommendations from a group of South Asia scholars that suggest replacing “Hinduism” or “India” with other phrases and, Kalra said, remove some positive attributes of Hinduism. Some of that group’s recommendations, including the changes listed above, were accepted by the committee, while others were rejected.

The Hindu American Foundation is also planning a campaign later this spring focused on bullying and the social-emotional welfare of Hindu American students in K-12 schools.

While the focus of that report extends beyond curriculum. Kalra said that textbooks that misrepresent Hinduism can lead Hindu Indian students to feel socially isolated: “That textbook may be the first and only time some students are exposed to Hinduism.”

This post was updated with additional context.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.