ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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What Is at Stake in Rewriting California School Textbooks?

For several months, the Instructional Quality Commission of California, which advises the State Board of Education on matters of curriculum and instruction in schools, has been overwhelmed by petitions and counter petitions from the South Asian diaspora. At the centre of this controversy is the way in which the Indian subcontinent's history, culture and people are represented in school textbooks. The controversy reflects an interesting anxiety of the caste Hindu diaspora surrounding its own identity as well as that around its history and culture.

More than half of the immigrants to the United States (US) from South Asia—and in particular those from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka—reside in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in California. Among them, a major proportion of Indian-origin immigrants are successful professionals and technocrats and wield considerable political power due to their economic success. Notably, a majority of successful Indians immigrants are caste Hindus. The multiple organisations they have established in the US, especially Hindu temples and other religious foundations, point to their privileged caste and religious background. Along with religious organisations, there are many private foundations and institutions such as the Uberoi Foundation for Religious Studies and the Infinity Foundation which are using their dollar power to intervene in decision-making and also to buy political clout in influencing policy decisions affecting larger South Asian diaspora.

At first glance, the activities of Indian American and Hindu American organisations (used interchangeably) may resemble charitable activities and humanitarian initiatives. The campaign against bullying in schools and advocacy of human rights are two examples of humanitarian activities. In reality, however, these campaigns often camouflage political and ideological links to the extremist, right-wing Hindu political outfits in India, notably the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Some of these organisations are responsible for mass murders and violence against Muslims, Christians, marginalised castes and women in India. The caste Hindu diaspora in the US uses the West’s obsession of eastern spirituality, which has its origin in colonial discourses, and the atmosphere of anti-Islam in the West and North America to project itself as vegetarian and spiritual. In contrast, the roots of Hinduism, which the caste Hindu diaspora is trying to resurrect as a sane and spiritual order, historically stand for inegalitarian birth-based caste hierarchies/inequality, as well as exclusion of and violence against marginalised castes and women. This tension between the uncomfortable past and the purported image is showing up in the debate over the content of California’s social science curriculum.

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