People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 49

December 04, 2005

RSS Now Targets California Textbooks


Nalini Taneja


THE battle over secular texts on Indian history for schools and a rational view of the past is not confined to the matter of NCERT textbooks in India. More recently the RSS inspired organisations and the Hindutva lobbyists in the US have been over-active in attempting to change school textbooks in the state of California. That they have not had a walk-over is thanks to the vigilance and commitment of the many academics involved in Indian studies all over the world, who have solidly opposed these moves.


The proposed changes in favour of the Hindutva view of Indian history and culture in the school texts became known only on November 5, 2005. Some of the individuals who had been asked to sign a memorandum, prepared by The Vedic Foundation, got alarmed and were alert enough to write to Professor Witzel of Harvard University, who has been consistently and publicly writing against the Hindutva concoctions of history. Thereafter the matter snowballed into a controversy at November 9 public hearing when a letter from Professor Michael Witzel was submitted to the Board of Education informing them of the motivations of the Hindutva efforts and requesting them to reject the Hindutva-recommended changes.


The State of California is now in the final stages of approving the history/social science textbooks for grade 6-8 in schools. This exercise takes place periodically and a number of publishers submit their books for approval and selection on these occasions to the Department of Education. It is at this stage this year that two Hindutva organisations based in the US, the Hindu Education Foundation and the Vedic Foundation, submitted what they argued were necessary “corrections” to be made in the textbooks approved, and Shiva Bajpai, a Hindutva-leaning advisor to the California Board of Education, succeeded in getting virtually all the changes requested by them approved by an ad hoc committee of the State Board of education.




Professor Witzel and Professor Steve Farmer, along with fifty other academics, including renowned Indian historians Romila Thapar, DN Jha and Shereen Ratnagar, have written to Ruth Green, president, State Board of Education, California, on behalf of “world specialists on ancient India”, reflecting “mainstream academic opinion in India, Pakistan, the United States, Europe, Australia, Taiwan and Japan”, to “reject the demands by nationalist Hindu (Hindutva) groups” that California textbooks be altered to conform to their religious-political views.” They have pointed out that “the proposed revisions are not of a scholarly, but of a religious-political nature and are primarily promoted by Hindutva supporters and non-specialist academics writing about issues far outside their areas of expertise”, and that “these views not reflect the views of majority of the specialists on ancient Indian history, nor of majority of the Hindus.”


Their letter also says that these proposed ‘corrections’ are motivated by political agendas discriminatory to millions of people in India, especially the minorities, lower castes, and women, and that they have been debated thoroughly and rejected in India as well by academics and secular political forces. They have clearly warned that the endorsement of the views of these Hindutva so-called scholars by the California State Board of Education would cause a virtual international scandal.


They have referred in their letter to the US State Department “International Religious Freedom Report 2003” and the one for 2004, which gave considerable space to the social and political tensions that arose (mentioning Gujarat as example), and were likely to exacerbate, in India through textbooks that vilified minorities. Given this, the letter argued, the acceptance of the pro- Hindutva changes by the State Board of Education in California amounted to going against the wisdom of US State policy as well.


The Board has now, since the November 9 public hearing, come to accept the perspective of these eminent scholars, and has since been working with them to allow only such changes as meet the standards of objective scholarship. Yet the battle is not over.  The next public hearing is scheduled for December 1, after which the State Board on Education will take its decision to finally reject/include the changes it initially approved at the behest of their Hindutva leaning advisor, Shiv Bajpai. The final step in the process is the adoption of the recommendation of the Board of Education by the Curriculum Commission also on December 1-2, 2005. 



To strengthen the secular position a petition has also been circulated on the internet and signatures are pouring in every day. They have also appealed to the public at large that “If you believe in teaching California's children true history and culture of India, it is very important for you to attend the public hearing on December 1 and 2 in Sacramento and voice your opinion rejecting the Hindutva-recommended changes.” The major demand is that no changes should be made in textbooks at the behest of any organisation/individual other than the distinguished panel of scholars the Board has been working with since November 9.


On the other side, Pranawa C Deshmukh, a professor of physics at Indian Institute of Technology is mobilising Hindutva forces in support of the changes suggested by the Vedic Foundation and the RSS-inspired Hindu Education Foundation. A large number of their cronies are likely to either write to the Curriculum Commission or show up at the public hearing. Among such members is the notorious David Frawley!


A look at the specific changes demanded by the Hindutva organisations would show them to be integral to the Sangh Parivar political agenda, and very similar to what the BJP government was trying to do here with the NCERT syllabus and the NCERT textbooks in social sciences, particularly history.



For example, among the ‘corrections’ suggested is a clear attempt to deny the integrality, in fact the very mention of the caste system in ancient India. On women, they are anxious to present their gender bias in the form of ‘difference’, a very fashionable and now sanctioned social science category pushed through by post modernists.


In one textbook the changes included a specific addition that “the recent archaeological proofs are negating the Aryan invasion theory. The new theory suggests that Aryans were not the outsiders.” The lines saying “Men had many more rights than women” was to be replaced by “Men had different duties (dharma) and rights than women. Many women were among the sages to whom the Vedas were revealed.”


In another textbook the entire paragraph on the caste system was to be deleted, and the picture of an untouchable removed. Other corrections pertained to putting back the dates for the Rig Veda,  confusing the dates of the Indus and Harappa city-based civilisations with the Vedic civilization to show the antiquity/indigenous origin of the Aryans in India, conflating Brahmanical beliefs with Hinduism, denying the plurality of gods worshipped through history in favour of one God in different forms, depicting shudras as “serving all classes” and doing “labour intensive work” rather than serving the three upper castes and so on. The sentences dealing with the sacredness of the cows, diet, were also suitably amended. 


Tolerance was presented as “usual” for the time of Ashoka in ancient India, and references to science and mathematics in ancient India were modified so as to present it as the earliest and greatest civilisation, while references to the negative aspects of society in ancient India were sought to be deleted or presented as cultural specificities rather than oppression. They also wanted to insert long sections written out by themselves, which were not allowed as they over- stepped the brief for updating of texts and “corrections”.


This entire effort is part of the RSS’s larger goal to “educate” the Hindu children brought up in the US to be “good Hindus” and to “learn the truth about Indian history and culture”, no doubt assisting in the search for “roots” and “anchor” that the Hindu youth —like the other immigrants—hanker for! That these children could become Hindutva’s international support one day is one thing; they could well become its victims right now if the powerful Hindutva organisations in the US are allowed to have their way.