Friday, January 27, 2006

Follow-up on California Schools Controversy: In Which I Rethink My Position

A little more detail is in order regarding the proposed changes to California school curriculum.

First of all, I did not know when I posted Wednesday night that the report by the Content Review Panel at the California Department of Education also contained requested changes from representatives of other religious groups. There is a long and detailed list of all the requested changes in this Word document at the CDE website (it's 100+ pages long, so I hope you have a minute!). In it, you’ll find quite a number of detailed change requests from ICS, which represents Jewish interests, and the Council for Islamic Education, which did not submit line-by-line edits. I've read only the parts relating to the representation of ancient India and early Hinduism, but I think the changes requested by the other groups might be worth seriously investigating as well -- both for their historical accuracy and for ideological bias.

Another prefatory point: the committee notes a considerable difference between the quality of the requests made by the Hindu Education Foundation and those made by the Vedic Foundation. The HEF requests are detailed line-by-line changes, while the Vedic Foundation complaints are more general (and are treated with more suspicion by the Curriculum Panel). All of my examples below are HEF requested changes; I don't take the VF requests very seriously.

A lot of the controversy in the blog-world has thus far been about who is involved, not the substance of their claims. My own first post was an example of this -– I named the organizations and accepted the characterization of the proposed changes in the Christian Science Monitor, but I hadn’t looked at the actual changes proposed. And while the credentials of a scholar do matter a great deal -– a professional scholar’s views do count more than those of an amateur scholar who is simply a member of a religious community -– it is nevertheless important to consider the specific points made even by amateurs. This is especially true when the requests concern phrasing that has more to do with values than with historical facts, and also when senior scholars concede that many historical facts involving antiquity remain unresolved.

I was also surprised after reading the document above that many of the requested changes do not resemble to the outrageous types of statements found on the websites of these organizations. Some are in fact direct corrections of obvious errors in the original textbooks (one textbook describes Indian languages as written in Arabic script). More commonly, the requested changes take loaded historical descriptions and neutralize them -- bringing them closer to 'good' history than they were before. But other requests are admittedly ideological, and ought to be rejected.

Rather than go through all 100 or so requested changes, let me just give a couple of examples illustrating the kinds of changes the HEF has requested the school board implement, including claims I think might be legitimate as well as some more questionable changes.

1--A brief example. The HEF wants to replace the phrase “worship many Gods” with “worship many deities” in a given textbook. It’s worth considering. Are all sacred Hindu figures really Gods ("deva," "devi")? I tend to think not. Perhaps the word "deity" is more neutral, and perhaps describes better the status of certain Hindu mytho-religious figures who are somewhere in between human and God. This is the kind of change I might support.

2--Aryans. Quite a number of the changes involve the Aryan Invasion Theory, which the Hindu Education Foundation in particular wants to downplay. A sample change along these lines is their request to change "the Aryans conquered India" to "the Aryans came to India." A more detailed requested change is as follows:

"The Aryans": current text, “Also about this same time, tribes of people called Aryans began to move into the Indus Valley. These Aryan people came from the area around the Caspian and the Black seas. […] Eventually some of them crossed the Hindu Kush mountains into India where they slowly spread over the subcontinent.” Replace with, “Since the 1800s it was believed that about this same time, tribes of people called Aryans began to move into the Indus Valley. These Aryan people came from the area around the Caspian and Black Seas. The recent archeological proofs are negating the Aryan invasion theory. The new theory suggests Aryans were not the outsiders."

I’m not enough of an expert to speak with confidence on the Aryan Invasion Theory, which I know has been attacked quite a bit in recent years (see Abhi's recent post). At least in this case, changing "conquered" to "came to" seems relatively innocuous to me. But the last two sentences are both badly written ("The recent archeological proofs" ??? try "Recent archeological evidence") and poorly placed. Some kind of indication that this is a controversial theory can be given, but I don't like the way it's done in the last two sentences above.

While I must underline that I am no expert on the AIT, the direction of these changes seems correct, if poorly executed in this particular instance.

3--Asoka and tolerance. Many other changes involve characterizations of Asoka. For instance:

"The popularity of Buddhism meant that fewer people were worshipping Hindu gods. Early Hinduism had a set of complex sacrifices that only priests could perform. They conducted the rites in Sanskrit, which few people spoke any more. This caused people to feel distant from the gods. Many people turned to Buddhism instead. Rulers who had come under the influence of Buddhism encouraged this shift.” Add at a suitable point the following: “As a result of Asoka’s patronage, Buddhism attracted the elites to its monastic order. Asoka and the Buddhist rulers that followed him sent missionaries to bring new converts to Buddhism.”

The requested changes clearly aim to neutralize a negative image of Hinduism while also insinuating a story of Buddhist proselytization -- a somewhat ideological addition. But maybe the HEF has a point: it might be worth questioning whether we really have evidence for why people turned to Buddhism under Asoka. Couldn't it also simply be that he was a charismatic leader? The remoteness of Sanskrit and caste-based limits on who could perform rites seem like speculation unless we have accounts from people specifically saying, "This is why I converted to Buddhism." The prevalence of the same two features in Hinduism today has not been seen as a turn-off to the millions of Hindus who are quite comfortable with both Sanskrit and Pandits.

In short, the HEF's requested addition may be questionable, but so is the received characterization of religion under Asoka.

4. Now let's not get carried away. Some of the requested changes are things I would flat-out oppose. For instance, take the following requested change:

“Mathematics and Other Sciences”: current text, “The ancient Indians were also very skilled in the medical sciences.” Replace with, “The ancient Indians were also very skilled in the medical science known as the Ayurveda. Ayurveda is derived from Sanskrit ayus, meaning long and healthy life span, and veda, meaning theory and practice. The psychosomatic dimension of ayurveda incorporates significant input from the tradition of yoga. Though principally a pathway to spiritual liberation, yoga as a discipline of breathing and bodily functions finds a place of honor in most medical and healing traditions of India.”

First, I’m not sure whether a lecture on Ayurveda is really called for at all in a high school textbook. Even if a little bit about Ayurveda might be appropriate given the context, the last sentence is both too woolly (“a pathway to spiritual liberation”) and off-topic (I thought we were talking about Ayurveda, not Yoga).

5. Women. Another change that bugs me is the attempt to make ancient India sound more woman-friendly. As in:

Page 244, second paragraph: current text, "Men had many more rights than women. Unless there were no sons in a family, only a man could inherit property. Only men could go to school or become priests." Replace first sentence with, "Men had different rights and duties than women," and add after last sentence, "Women’s education was mostly done at home."

Come on, now. This is whitewashing, is it not?

* * * * *
Preliminary conclusion: In short, while there are some changes that are clearly motivated by ideology (i.e., the desire to have Hindu culture be seen in a better light), more than a few of the changes requested by the HEF in particular seem like improvements to me. At the very least, their requested changes ought to be openly debated. And if refuted by scholars armed with empirical evidence, the refutation should be line-by-line rather than overarching.


Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

Seriously though, does anyone really expect to learn about history of India from general high school textbooks?

All I learnt about US history in Indian history textbooks could be summed up in two words. US constitution and Slavery. I needed Howard Zinn after I came here to realize things were a little more complicated than that.

Romila Thapar spends quite a bit of time (one chapter) talking about Aryan Invasion in the new edition of her History of India. Three professional South Asian historians I spoke to (two here, one in India) agreed with her assessment. And that (as Amartya Sen talks about ad nauseum) its absurd to talk about Indian origin or foreign invasion. There was significant communication with the outside world and India. So which part of the culture came from where is at some level an unanswerable question. But it is ridiculous to talk about a completely indigenious culture.

As for Indian science, I know only about astronomy. Indian astronomy got a big shot in the arm with the writing from Yavaneshwara (around 150 AD). The word Yavaneshwara means "Lord of the Greeks". He presumably translated a Greek tract to Sanskrit. This translation had an enormous impact on Indian astronomy. For example its thought that he introduced zodiacs to Indian astronomy. Clearly Indian astronomers of that time (like Indian scientists today) had no problem learning from foreign experts. This can be only a good thing.

12:06 PM  
Ruchira Paul said...

Thanks Amardeep, for putting things in perspective. That Pharyngula comments thread was out of control and quite irrelevant to the issue at hand.

My own kids are adults. I haven't had a look at a high school or middle school textbook in a quite a while. I am sure that all religious (and ethnic) groups are involved in revisionism, including the majority Christian community (how else do you explain the popular acceptance of ID?) But that still does not make it right.

My sister in New Delhi, recently sat in on a panel commissioned by the NCERT to overhaul history textbooks which had undergone extensive revisions during the BJP rule. Some of the things she saw in the books could have come out of Ron Hubbard's book of Scientology. I am exaggerating - but only a little.

12:10 PM  
Amardeep said...


Yes, I've heard about some of the things approved by NCERT during the Murli Manohar Joshi era, and it makes the kinds of things we are talking about in California seem truly trivial.

Thanks also Suvendra for the Romila Thapar pointer. I linked to something by her in this vein from Frontline about a year ago; it's pretty much in line with what you say in your comment. I haven't seen the new edition of her History of India Vol. 1, and I should probably get it.

As for whether all this is really that important, well it is and it isn't. Middle and High school curriculum has a particularly important place because a) it is the only place where issues in ancient history and archeology are truly universal, and b) by nature, history textbooks have to be direct, authoritative and prescriptive. In college, only a few students take courses in these subjects. And most good historians make it a point to acknowledge where the historical record is incomplete, and where controversies lie.

But of course the kids are getting most of their info. from the internet these days... So maybe we should also be fighting over what it says in Wikipedia as well.

12:51 PM  
Desh said...

"I thought we were talking about Ayurveda, not Yoga"

Amardeep, I believe that is a rather high-handed and short-sighted way of looking at that point. Quite akin to telling a Heart Surgeon to stop talking about the benefits of Cardio-vascular exercise to a potential patient!

If you were to carefully.. and objectively read Gita or other Vedic and Vedantic scriptures or even glance through the "Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda" (arguably the most intellectually competent commentator on Vedanta in recent times) - you will very easily see that Vedic (or Vedantic) practices were complementary to each other. Ayurveda was an important way to cure in a holistic manner and Yoga was more a journey of spiritual union of which asanas were more a way to ensure enough energy to sustain on the path of spiritual journey.

To parse out the relevance of one while talking of other is irresponsible hair-splitting!


1:28 PM  
Amardeep said...


You may be correct that Yoga and Ayurveda are effectively one and the same thing in the Hindu tradition, but the writing in the HEF's proposed change is still poorly phrased. As it stands, the proposed paragraph is unfocused and confusing: it is trying to do too much.

(Incidentally, the Ad Hoc Curriculum Review Committee at the CDE accepted most of it, but took out the part about "Ayus" and "Veda," which helps some.)

One has at most three sentences to put in a sixth grade textbook, so the goal is not to explain these practices in depth, but rather to justify why they are put under the category of "medicine" (if appropriate) in as neutral and objective a way as possible.

1:56 PM  
Varun S said...

A contention that bothers me is that the ancient North Indians spoke Sanskrit (as in Amardeep's 3rd point on Asoka and tolerance). Given the complexity of Sanskrit grammar, do they (the Sanskrit votaries) really believe that this is true? True, some Brahmins at that time must be speaking Sanskrit, but like High Church Slavonic, it was primarily a sacerdotal and hieratic language. To claim that North Indian languages are descended from Sanskrit is a stretch at best, the most we can say is Sanskrit and the various Prakrits are all descended from Proto Indo-Iranian. It is time we stopped claiming that the Sanskrit is the font of North Indian languages. Now how's that to light a fire under a Hindutvavadi's a..

2:17 PM  
Desh said...


You may have a position on the framing of the sentence. I cannot argue on that. Different authors differ in their style (although I found those sentences being truly reflective of the complexity that is inherent in the understanding of this subject).

"so the goal is not to explain these practices in depth, but rather to justify why they are put under the category of "medicine"

I honestly do not get this point. Pls elaborate.

If in case of Ancient Hindu periods, if we do not put a couple of sentences on Ayurveda and Yoga (studies on which incidentally can figure in any Medical journals of today too!), then pray, what do you propose to be presented in that column?


Except for the script of Punjabi (not the structure and genesis of the language though), your comments on the divergence of North Indian languages from Sanskrit are inherently facetious!

And btw, there is no such thing as Indo-Iranian languages. Persian was and is inherently different from Indian languages in structure and grammar. The ONLY place these two met was in Urdu.. a beautiful mix of two ancient cultures!


2:30 PM  
Varun S said...

Desh - Judging from your website, you obviously are a proponent of the autochthnous origins of the upper castes - so your denial of the existence of proto Indo-Iranian does not come as a surprise. And my point, was Sanskrit ever a mass language never answered.

2:40 PM  
Kumar said...

Dr. Singh:

I apologize for the long comment. But first, thanks for the thoughtful reconsideration. I posted a few comments at the Pharyngula site but that thread is too full of Knights Eager To Joust On Behalf Of Science. Amusingly, one or two tried to teach me ‘DNA genetics’, while ignoring the substance of the controversy.

I will not reprise those arguments here. Rather, what I wish to emphasize is that at least part of the controversy revolves around ‘theological’ and not Indological matters. As such, Hindus have equal standing with Indologists in (at least that portion) of the controversy.

Consider the emphasis by some in California on portraying Hinduism as a ‘monotheistic’ religion. The professional Indologists respond that this is an attempt at misrepresentation. But this response misses the point.

Let us suppose that the Indologists are correct. Should the texts not be revised on this point? Perhaps so, but not without further argument. Arguably, if (some members of) community X claim that it believes Y, that claim ought to be reflected in texts on that community--in some fashion.

Moreover, those who think such claims mistaken are obligated to show that to be the case. In the case of the ‘monotheistic’ claim, there are Hindu sects—some Shaiva sects, some Vaishnava sects (say, the Sri Vaishnava; Gaudiya Vaishanava)—which are arguably ‘monotheistic’. The Sri Vaishanava example is particularly instructive; arguably, if the triune God of the Christians is counted as monotheistic, the dual God of the Sri Vaishanavas might equally legitimately be counted as monotheistic.

To engage in this sort of analysis is to engage in ‘theology’ of one sort or another; a very superficial ‘theological’ analysis in the paragraph above, but ‘theological’ nonetheless. In such debates, Indologists and Hindu (scholars) ‘qua’ Hindus are on an equal footing, at the least. Indeed, those Indologists without training in ‘theology’ are likely less qualified.

BTW, I do not endorse the claims of Hindu ‘monotheism’. Or, for that matter, Hindu ‘polytheism’. I would rather that the diversity of Hindu practice and belief—utilizing a Hindu lexicon as much as possible—be reflected in textbooks.

Mr. Datta:

does anyone really expect to learn about history of India from general high school textbooks?

Neither I, nor the vast majority of others concerned about this issue, expect encyclopedic coverage of Indian history. Accuracy and a focus on more than the usual 4 C’s (cows, caste, curry and communalism) would suffice.

Romila Thapar spends quite a bit of time (one chapter) talking about Aryan Invasion in the new edition of her History of India. Three professional South Asian historians I spoke to (two here, one in India) agreed with her assessment.

No doubt some (on the intellectual fringe) concerned about the textbooks dispute the idea that Vedic (Sanskrit) has exogenous origins. However, it is far from universal; certainly, I do not. But even those who don’t contest the exogenous (to India) nature of Vedic (Sanskrit) don’t think that elementary school textbook accounts of this field are entirely on-target. Far too many stress the notion of an ‘invasion’, not unlike Prof. Thapar, if your summary of her views (i.e., an ‘invasion’) is correct.

With all due respect to Prof. Thapar (and the three historians of South Asia you cite in her support), such a view is somewhat out of step with the current thinking in the field. Invasion is not the term of art; rather, migration (involving ‘elite dominance’, among other models) is the term used. That is to say, not AIT but AMT (Aryan Migration Theory) sums up the current consensus far better.

This is not a concession to political correctness. First, it is clear that there simply was not an ‘invasion’ in the usual sense of that term. Moreover, the data-at-hand are equally compatible with migration models positing high or low levels of violence. Given this uncertainty, textbooks (and professors) that talk of ‘invasion’ simplicter are mistaken.

Ms. Paul:

My sister in New Delhi, recently sat in on a panel commissioned by the NCERT to overhaul history textbooks which had undergone extensive revisions during the BJP rule. Some of the things she saw in the books could have come out of Ron Hubbard's book of Scientology. I am exaggerating - but only a little.

What happens in India is not what’s at issue. At least, it ought not to be: The BJP’s deeds and misdeeds are a matter for the Indian electorate. But since you have raised the issue, let me say that the BJP ought to have freed textbook writing in India from politicization altogether. Instead, following the tradition established by the Congress party, they put in their own hacks to revise texts.

The current govt.’s policies are not a panacea: While some of their revisions are laudable and clearly on-target, others amount to left-wing agitprop. The GOI must get out of the business of writing textbooks altogether and leave such things to scholars in the field.

I am sure that all religious (and ethnic) groups are involved in revisionism, including the majority Christian community (how else do you explain the popular acceptance of ID?) But that still does not make it right.

It is simply mistaken to dismiss all those concerned with textbook portrayals as ‘revisionists’. How about leavening those dismissals with an argument or two?


2:40 PM  
Amardeep said...


No worries about the long comment. Your views are always welcome here (even if I disagree with some things you say).

I would rather that the diversity of Hindu practice and belief—utilizing a Hindu lexicon as much as possible—be reflected in textbooks.

Yes, this is along the lines of my agreeing that "deities" is better than "Gods." "Monotheism" and "polytheism" apply to non-Abrahamic religions as translations, and imprecise ones.

As for the Indologists vs. the community, does anyone have access to the statement signed by Prof. Wirtzel and others regarding these curriculum changes? I hesitate to get into the debate about the rightness of their critique of the CDE's provisional approval of the changes until I've seen the text of that letter.

2:52 PM  
Chandra said...


This is a more balanced post. Thanks for revisiting it!

3:09 PM  
Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

Kumar, just to clarify, my understanding of Romilla Thapar's writing (and my friends' explanation) suggests that she disagrees with the "invasion" characterization for an exchange. Which is, I think what you describe.

4:59 PM  
Ruchira Paul said...

"What happens in India is not what’s at issue. At least, it ought not to be."

As in what happens in Israel is not an issue in American Jewish affairs, at least it ought not to be? Come on Kumar, you know better than that.

I do not support the Congress's, the BJP's or the CPI/M's partisan version in text books. On that you and I agree. The comment about my sister's experience is a specific example of the revisionism that you asked me to quote.

As for the current Amercian textbooks and the brand of Hinduism presented in them, I plead ignorance (please see my comment). I would guess that those who are contesting the contents, all want the "true" historical/social aspects of India and Hinduism to be portrayed in them. The debate here is whose version?

It is also important to be careful before arguing that Hinduism has been specifically targeted for misrepresentation if the narrative does not satisfy our own take on the matter. As you yourself have astutely pointed out, in the case of Hinduism, which lacks a central defining dogma and doesn't prescribe a belief in a deity or even a God, it is a monumental task to define it to everyone's satisfaction. As for our "touchiness" about the caste system, whether or not you and I reject it, is of little consequence. The issue is, does India or do the majority of Indians - even here? For this I CAN give you a concrete example from personal observation. At Indian pujas in the US, the insistence by some "congregations" that the prasad be handled only by Brahmins is not uncommon at all. And please don't lecture me about Brahminic prerogative in divine matters etc. I am not even talking about the "pandit". But the lay folks at the puja (mostly women)who prepare the food for dedication. If that is not caste system, please enlighten me.

Look, I am suspicious of attempts to "prettify" any religion, if the practice points to contrary behavior. I therefore have a problem with trying to sweep caste system under the rug. I am skeptical of Christian forgiveness when Falwell, Robertson and the right wing brigade point their fingers. And since Khomeni, 9/11, and the Taliban, I also take the protestation that "Islam is a religion of peace" with a healthy dose of salt.

5:00 PM  
Ruchira Paul said...

In my second to last paragraph, all references to Indians in the context of the caste system, should read "Hindu". My apologies to Christian, Muslim and Sikh Indians who do not subscribe to the practice.

5:05 PM  
Chandra said...

There is the letter of Prof. Witzel to CA school board.

It's just a rant on Hindu right wingers that all proposed changes are politically and religiously motivated without actually talking about any substance.

5:10 PM  
Chandra said...

I am going to stop after this, I promise.

I found two interviews on this topic on rediff - one Prof. Witzel and other Suhag Shukla from HAF

5:28 PM  
Kumar said...

Dr. Singh:

Hinduism Today has a collection of documents available at
You may have already come across a few of them; one of them is a listing of the proposed changes as well as Prof. Witzel's response to these changes. I look forward to your take on 'Indologists vs. The Community': Sounds a bit like a pro wrestling match, doesn't it? ;)

Ms. Paul:

As in what happens in Israel is not an issue in American Jewish affairs, at least it ought not to be? Come know better than that.

I know that a number of people--both on the right and the left (here and in India)--wish to yoke Hinduism to political issues; the former in the (misguided) hope that such yoking will benefit Hindus and Hinduism and the latter in the hope(equally misguided) that such yoking will 'gut' Hinduism.

Witness the deleterious consequences of this tug-of-war between left and right on Indian philosophy. As the Indian philosopher C. Ram-Prasad wrote in Prospect magazine recently, "....In India, the Sanskrit-language work of the traditionally trained pandits is dying for lack of prestige and funding....[and]...polemically extreme formulations from left and right crowd out more rigorous efforts at reinterpreting classical thought."

So thanks but no thanks, Ms. Paul. I will not participate in this sort of yoking. Far too much is at stake here: A 'constructive' Hindu theology/theologies, in Prof. Rita Sherma's sense, will be stillborn if such yoking succeeds.

It is also important to be careful before arguing that Hinduism has been specifically targeted for misrepresentation if the narrative does not satisfy our own take on the matter.

I am not quite certain what you mean here. Are you arguing that I (along with others) think there's some sort of conspiracy to distort coverage of Hinduism? If so, then you are mistaken. There is no conspiracy here; merely inertia and intellectual sloth.

As for our "touchiness" about the caste system...

I quite understand that there is a 'touchiness' about coverage of caste in some people. However, I don't share this attitude. Recall that I explicitly called for coverage of the 4C's (cows, caste, curry and communalism). Far from ducking this issue, any constructive Hindu theology has to account for (again, in a 'theological' sense) the use of 'caste-terms' in Hindu texts and traditions. Whether such a 'theology' can entirely domesticate such terms is unclear; but it is well worth the effort.

By the bye, I grew up here and I simply do not see caste-consciousness among my peers. And keep in mind that, like me, many of my friends are traditionalist Hindus.

in the case of Hinduism, which lacks a central defining dogma and doesn't prescribe a belief in a deity or even a God, it is a monumental task to define it to everyone's satisfaction...I am suspicious of attempts to "prettify" any religion

These are not 'knockdown' objections. No doubt there will always be people dissatisfied with the coverage of Hinduism but that does not entail that broadening the coverage of Hinduism to more than the 4C's, or encouraging the adoption of a Hindu lexicon to describe Hinduism is unwarranted. Greater coverage of the concepts and practices of Hindus--beyond such crude dichotomies as monotheism/polytheism--is not 'prettification'.

More importantly, such broadened coverage of Hinduism (and other religions) is not a form of ethnic cheerleading because of its epistemic benefits to all, Hindus and non-Hindus, relgious and irreligious. Briefly, reflection on--and engagement with--a tradition not one's own can well deepen a person's understanding of his or her own religion (or irreligion).


6:49 PM  
vk said...

Ms Paul,
Incidentally the caste system in India does not confine itself solely to hindus. The muslim and christian communities in India are also stratified along caste lines (thus the demand by certain christian and muslim dalit groups for the benefits of the reservation policy). It may be that such stratification persists among these groups from the subcontinent as well and should be kept in mind.

Mr Varun,
I disagree with you regarding the Sanskrit language. I do not think that even conventional narratives of Indian history do not deny the transformation of Sanskrit into different prakrits which further gave rise to many modern day Indian languages.

Dr Singh,
Thanks for the nice post. I thought it was a lot more informative than the previous one.

1:28 AM  
Arun said...

Do the California textbooks touch upon the status of women in other ancient societies? Since you have an opinion, I guess you know the answer.

10:11 AM  
Arun said...

is worth reading.

Discrimination against women or Dalits is neither inherently 'Hindu' nor is it scripturally mandated. This is not to suggest that such practices do not exist. Sadly enough, the disgraceful treatment of Dalits and downgrading of women are among the most shameful aspects of contemporary Indian society. But they will not disappear by burning ancient texts because none of the 'Hindu' scriptures have projected themselves as commandment-giving authorities demanding unconditional obedience from all those claiming to be Hindus.

For example, oppressive widowhood was and is practised only in certain castes and communities in some regions among the Hindus. According to the 1901 census, the ban on widow remarriage applied to only ten percent of all the communities in India. And yet, in colonial critiques, this ban came to be projected as the universal situation of all widows in India.

10:27 AM  
Arun said...

One must also read things like this:

10:32 AM  
Amardeep said...

Arun, I'm not keen to get into a discussion with someone who starts off with a hostile attitude.

But I did check the CDI document, and find some requested changes made by the ICS regarding the status of women in Judaism. Some of the changes there also try and mitigate (or whitewash) the subservient status of women in traditional Judaism as well. One example might be:

p. 144: Instruction, Delete: “Students often have misconceptions about the role of women in the Hebrew Bible. Tell them that nearly all the stories in the Hebrew Bible are about men. However, there are some stories about women. Among them are stories about Ruth, Deborah, Susanna, and Eve. In this section, they will learn more about one of these women, Deborah.” Change to: “Many of the events described in the Hebrew Bible are about men. However, several women, including Sarah, Naomi, Ruth, Deborah, and Esther play important roles. In this section...”

So you see a somewhat similar pattern in the requested changes, though what the ICS wants to do here is less radically revisionist than what HEF wants to do regarding women in Hinduism.

10:33 AM  
Arun said...

Regarding Varun's question - K.M. Munshi tells us of the 10th century poet, Rajasekhara:


Rajasekhara was a much travelled poed, and has some very interesting remarks to make
about the manner of speech of the people. The Magadhas and those living to the east
of Benares spoke Sanskrit well but Prakrit badly. A Gauda could not speak Prakrit properly,
he should therefore either give up the attempt or improve his Prakrit. The Karnatakas
recited poetry proudly with a twang at the end of each sentence irrespective of sentiment,
style or quality. The Dravidas recited prose and poetry both in a musical way. The Latas
hated Sanskirt but spoke elegant Prakrit in a beautiful way. The people of Saurashtra
and Travana spoke Sanskrit but mixed it with Apabhramsa to add beauty to their speech.
Kashmirians were good poets but their recital sounded like a mouthful of guduchi.
The poets of the North were cultured and recited with a nasal twang. But the
Panchala poets were the best; their voice corresponded to their style; the arrangement of
their words was perfect; their compositions were scientific. The Panchalas are described
as the ornaments of Aryavarta, the most cultured region. The two foci of the land were
Kanauj and Banaras. Its people liked elegant and new literary works. The compositions
of its poets were very well constructed. Their recitation was sweet as honey. As the poet
testifies, Mahodaya or Kanauj was the literary metropolis of India.......

....The poet's works also reflect the high state of education in the country in his time.
Women did not lag behind women in the point of education. Evidently there were poetesses
too in Kanauj. "Culture is connected with the soul and not with the sex" says the poet. The
poet had met princesses and poetesses, daughters of prime ministerrs, courtesans and
wives of court jesters who were well versed in the sciences."

End quote.

10:49 AM  
Rajan P. Parrikar said...

Dear Dr. Singh,

Your politeness sensors are curious. I recall the time you refused to take Rajiv Malhotra seriously because he violated your dainty code of discourse. It was then perplexing that you missed the hostility and smears Shri Malhotra was subjected to by the white academic establishment to begin with. Let me give you a lifestyle hint: forget the tone and intent of the poster, focus on the substance (with the usual disclaimers, of course - vulgar, profane language and sucklike are unacceptable etc). You won't find a better interlocuter than Arun.

11:22 AM  
Arun said...

BTW, this is the "Hindu right" point of view:
I present here without any opinion about it.

5. Why are Hindu edits hesitant in admitting that women in ancient Hindu society had inferior rights to women?

Equality of sexes is a modern is a modern ideal that is yet to be realized in our own times. How many Presidents of the United States of America have been women? None.

Therefore, it goes without saying that all traditional and ancient societies, and all organized religions gave an unequal status to women and men. And yet, the proposed Ancient History textbooks for Grade VI for California students single out ancient India and Hinduism for its alleged unfair treatment, and for granting women ‘inferior rights’. All the books do not have a single positive statement on the contributions that women have made to Hindu heritage. In discussions of all other religions, these (and Grade VII textbooks on the medieval period covering Islam) either leave out this aspect, or carefully hedge negative statements with positive ones.

The textbooks completely ignore other facets of women in ancient Hindu society such as the fact that Hinduism alone of all the current organized religions worships God in ‘His’ feminine aspect as well, that Hindus have a continuous tradition of women saints, seers, that Hindu texts speak of learned women with a profound knowledge of scriptures, that Hindu women philosophers are also known to have participated in debates (e.g., Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.3). Several examples of achievements of Hindu women in ancient and medieval times are listed at this website.

The textbooks (especially the Glencoe textbook) also contain errors of fact regarding women in ancient India when they make unilateral statements saying that women could not study Hindu scriptures, they were harassed if they did not commit Sati and so on. So errors of fact, and bias prompted correctives from Hindu Americans.

The singularly one-sided negative treatment of role of women in Hindu society in these textbooks is a part of a larger pattern covering all American textbooks.

11:46 AM  
Amardeep said...


Thanks for the lifestyle hint. You'll notice that I did reply to the substance of Arun's first comment.

11:47 AM  
Arun said...

Hehe, sorry if I started out hostile. I'd like to thank Kumar for pointing me here.

There is another issue which it extremely interesting - how did the relatively
innocuous textbook edits blow up into such a controversy? Why is one side
making the claims, e.g., as we've seen repeated on What is
the motive? Who are these people, and why did they turn a question of a fair
representation of Hinduism in California textbooks into a question of Hindutva,
anti-scientific-thinking, etc., etc.? Why did they drag Indian politics into what
is a American affair? (and in reaction the other side also started doing the same).

2:34 PM  
pennathur said...

Varun obviously are a proponent of the autochthnous origins of the upper castes - so your denial...does not come as a surprise.
You'd be surprised to know that two among India's thinkers of the 20th century PC Mahalanobis and Ambedkar (among the 5 greatest modern intellectuals) thought so. PCM concluded after an extensive sample survey that the anatomical similarities within Bengali communities across castes were significant while the similarities across linguistic communities within a caste were not significant. Neither PCM nor Ambedkar was an historian or archaeologist. PCM relied on statistics and that is fine. And Ambedkar must have read extensively before he wrote anything. Based on the best available "evidence" of the times Indians responded in different ways to the AIT hypothesis. Some like Nehru bought it wholesale (read his Discovery of India), otehrs like Tilak went further and read creatively into the Vedas and ascribed an Arctic homeland to the Aryans (a theme Nirad Chaudhuri was obsessed with not Arctic though but the snow bound steppes). Savarkar simply accepted the AIT but put it in the distant past as a matter of no consequence. Others like Churchill rationalised the colonial mission as a civilising one (like the Aryans had before). There is some(deliberate?) conflation by some of the 'leftist' crowd of 'Aryans' with the 'upper castes' and also a frequently repeated claim that those on the other side seek to establish an indigenous origin for the 'Aryans'. The current conservative proposition is that there is no such people as the Aryans or Dravidians. An Aryan according to many of the ancient texts is a person of virtue and noble qulities. A Dravidian (a much more recent term) is someone from the South. As for the Adivasis/Vanvasis or the tribes their status is very different from that of the 'lower castes'. The Adivasis are a 'separate' people and were rarely ever sought to be brought within the folds of the State. Even in modern times the tribes enjoy authority over many shrines (most famously the Jagannath temple at Puri that is run by the Badus where the brahmin priests may not enter the inner shrine). So also with many village shrines (very common in Tamizh Nadu) that are managed entirely by non-brahmin priests. And again there are many mandirs I know of in TN where the non-brahmins have handed over the religious duties to a Brahmin priest (most famously the Mundakanniamman Kovil in Triplicane, Madras). Many other Amman shrines in TN (and I think, AP, Karnataka and Kerala as well) have been through this process. And then we aren't counting the many traditional mandirs where animal are sacrificed to this day in TN that are run by non-brahmins priests where devotees of all castes (and even other faiths) worship. And Ruchira you are right that there the virus of casteism continues to afflict Hindu groups here in the US. And again there are groups that are trying to do something about this notably these people Please spend a few minutes reading thru this site. This discussion is not quite about caste and more about the practice as one of many topics in an introductory curriculum of the history of Hinduism. However I have written this much to give you an idea of how complex the issue of caste is in contrast with the rather simplistic idea to be found in the California textbooks.

Amardeep has once again proven himself to be a true intellectual, affording space for a diverse points of view. Thank you very much Amardeep.

3:09 PM  
Desh said...

"Judging from your website, you obviously are a proponent of the autochthnous origins of the upper castes"

Your comments are as logical as if saying that the guy in Bombay died of a heart attack because it rained in Los Angeles!??

I dont recall a single place where I have mentioned the supremacy of the upper castes. But since you come with a baggage to a site .. then so be it with you!

And just because the scriptures were written in Sanskrit and the High Priests of yore hijacked the reading and recitation of the scriptures, does not mean that extolling the language has anything to do with praising the higher castes.

I find Vivekananda and Krishnamurthi to be two of the most intellectually stimulating and accomplished analysts. Vivekananda praises Buddha and faults Shankracharya because the latter though intellectually pre-eminent did not have Buddha's heart of assimilating the lower castes. I cannot but agree with him.

And its only the lazy who come up ready with Categories and Boxes to any debate! They have a fixed idea of how different thought structures should be mixed in people.

Black .. or .. white! Their tolerance fails when it comes to Hues!

So, check your secular arguments.. for they come in strait-jackets!


4:59 PM  
Prathibimba (ಪ್ರತಿಬಿಂಬ) said...

This article shows the treatment meted out to Hindu scriptures in 2000 itself.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous said...

Feb 04 , 2006


Yes, and that too in California where Sangh Parivar fanatics are
hell-bent on replicating the saffronisation of the history project,
despite strong protests by historians and scholars

By Shalini Gera & Girish Agrawal

School textbooks are making news again. Indian history is again being
hotly debated. The actors are strikingly familiar: Hindutva groups
aggressively pushing their own version of ‘glorious India’, and
historians, linguists, scholars, dalits and community groups outraged
this attempted revision of history. Only the scene has changed — from
the corridors of ncert in Delhi to the offices of the California State
Board of Education in the US.

California? Yes. Early last year, two groups, the Vedic Foundation and
Hindu Educational Foundation, took it upon themselves to submit
recommendations for revisions to the California textbooks and their
treatment of ancient Indian history. At first, it did not seem like a
bad idea — these textbooks were replete with stereotypes,
misrepresentations, exoticised allusions to monkey-kings and howlers
such as the one informing 12-year-olds that Hindi is written in the
Arabic script with 18 letters. It soon became apparent that the two
groups did not restrict themselves to deleting references to
monkey-kings and correcting factual errors, they also inserted several
inaccurate, ideological, and highly contentious changes. This is not
surprising. The two groups have close connections to the global Sangh
Parivar: the Hindu Education Foundation is a project of the Hindu
Swayamsevak Sangh, and the Vedic Foundation has a long history of
collaboration with the vhp of America.

When news leaked out, scholars of ancient Indian history, led by
Witzel, Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard, including Romila
India’s most respected historian, sent a letter to the state board
cautioning them against accepting the proposed edits without a
review. The letter was signed by a Who’s-Who of Indologists from around
the world. Another group of over 100 faculty, primarily of South Asian
origin, who teach and do research about South Asia at universities in
the US, requested that a panel of three Indologists be allowed to
the changes proposed by the Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education

The Curriculum Commission, an advisory body to the state board, came
under intense pressure from the Hindutva groups as their supporters
bombarded them with letters, phone calls and e-mails, and then, turned
up in large numbers at the review meeting. As a result, the commission
accepted many of the Hindutva changes, much to the horror of the
scholars asking for careful review. However, the board, alerted to the
political nature of the edits, has stalled giving these edits the final
stamp of approval. In an unprecedented move, during its meeting on
January 12, 2006, the board announced that it is investigating whether
the commission took factual accuracy into account when making its
recommendations. Thus raising the hopes of scholars and community
that the Hindutva edits may not get accepted.

Dalits arguing against the sanitisation of casteism are vilified as
anti-India terrorists. Others are harassed, abused, deluged with hate
The contentious changes pushed by the Hindutva groups serve three

• Sanitise Indian history of its gross inequities. Talk about caste
in the past tense, remove anything suggesting that caste still
determines the status of people in Indian society, and say that men did
not have “more” rights than women, they just had “different” rights.

• Portray Hinduism as very similar to Judaism and Christianity — the
politically dominant religions in the US. Erase references to plurality
in Hinduism by tricks such as replacing “Hindu gods” with “the Hindu
God”, and deleting text that says Hinduism comprises “many beliefs,
forms of worship, and many gods”.

• India as “Pitribhumi” only for Hindus. Delete references to a
non-indigenous origin of the Indo-Aryans and move the origins of
Hinduism back in time, making ‘foreigners’ of all non-Hindu Indians.

Why did the Curriculum Commission accept these ridiculous changes?
Largely because the US Sangh Parivar convinced it that to do otherwise
would hurt the feelings of Hindus all over the world, and would be akin
to the sins of slavery and colonialism. Scholars opposing these changes
are being attacked through vicious smear campaigns and labelled as
anti-Hindu and racist. Dalit groups arguing against the sanitisation of
casteism are being vilified as anti-Indian terrorists. Community
working to educate the board are being harassed, deluged with hate
threatened, and put on Hindutva hit-lists. Hindutva opponents are being
labelled as anti-India, anti-Hindu, “communist” — the last a pathetic
attempt to appeal to the supposedly communist-phobic mainstream

None of this is new, neither this attempt to saffronise textbooks, nor
the creation of a brand new past consistent with their political
— not even the attacks on scholars and others opposing their agenda.
seeing this as a re-run of an old reel does injustice to the complexity
of Indian-American politics. What gives this story its unique flavour
the context of immigrant politics. Where Hindutva proudly espouses
majority fascism in India, in the US it hobbles along as a me-too
partner of an arrogant Judaeo-Christian State. Where Hindutva in India
menacingly brandishes its muscle to elicit fearful compliance from the
minorities, in the US it uses the subdued vocabulary of plurality,
multiculturalism and “hurt feelings” to plead for incorporation into
mainstream. And it is in investigating these shades of difference
between desi and yankee versions of Hindutva that we learn most about
the insidious appeal of ‘Hindu Nationalism’ being repackaged as ‘Hindu
Minority Rights’.

Yankee Hindutva depends upon the subtext of everyday racism for its
existence. Every person of colour in the US has had some brush with
marginalisation, alienation, some experience where power is wielded in
racial terms. Hindutva cynically manipulates the hurt and anger of
marginalisation into narrow, chauvinistic community pride. Where the
response to racism could act as the unifying glue between various
communities of colour to question power structures, the quest for
affirmation of a community’s pride neatly chops up the minority
landscape into distinct ethnicities, with each community jostling
against the other to occupy a place of prominence in the national

The California textbook controversy is a classic example of this
pattern. The textbooks are terrible, but instead of engaging with the
inherent racism and exoticisation of the ‘other’ in the books, Hindutva
groups are converting history books into cheery propaganda tracts as
reassurance that Hindus are the same as white Christians and Jews and
fully deserving of the most-favoured minority group status. And the
changes come attractively wrapped in the language of rights and

When challenged in public fora, Hindutva apologists insist that they
not denying the ills of caste and patriarchy, just questioning any need
to talk about them. A Hindutva activist stoutly defended the changes:
“Hindus are only asking for parity, which is in accordance with the
guidelines of the California board. If the sins of Islam and
Christianity are whitewashed, so must the sins of Hinduism.” Suhag
Shukla, a lawyer for Hindu American Foundation, said: “In terms of men
and women, I think, first of all if you look at Christianity or Judaism
or Islam, nowhere in the textbooks is there any discussion on women’s
rights. Then to pull it in for Hinduism is a different treatment of
Hinduism.” And the reason for insisting upon capital G for Hindu gods?
Because that is the way it is written in the texts for other religions.
No matter that other religions are adamantly monotheistic to
polytheistic Hinduism.

“Equality” for Yankee Hindutva is a disembodied, decontextualised
— independent of any connection to concepts of freedom or justice.
mouthing the language of equality, Hindutva does not even pretend to
challenge any underlying structural inequities — either in American
society where it only seeks to rub shoulders with the rich and
or in India with its deep-seated antagonism towards the lower castes.
‘Hindu Human Rights’ are never invoked when Indians get thrown off
airplanes for ‘looking suspicious’, or when immigrant taxi drivers are
harassed by the police. ‘Hindu Human Rights’ are apparently only
violated when beer bottles have pictures of Lord Ganesha or when caste
is talked about in classrooms.

Shalini Gera is with the Coalition Against Communalism, San Francisco
Bay Area. Girish Agrawal is an engineer involved in South Asian causes,
based in California


1:32 PM  
Anonymous said...

More refutation of Aryan autochthony by the President of the Indian Historian Union

2:08 PM  
D. Singh. said...

Here's a question for FOSA (Friends of South Asia) ! There are around 850 million Hindus in South Asia, 450 million Muslims, 'W' million Christians, 'X' million Zoroasterians, 'Y' million Sikhs & 'Z' million Buddhists. Since all these religions are "South Asian" , has FOSA targeted all the fundamentalist influenced changes by ALL these religions in California textbooks? Have experts on Islamic, Christian, Buddhist etc religions & cultures have been brought on board to check & correctly any misrepresentations about religions ? If not , why not ?

10:25 PM  
D.Singh said...

Just read the post by Shalini Gera / Girish Aggarwals article. Do they realise that Hindu fundamentalists are learning & doing the same thing in the US that Muslim & Christian fundamentalists are doing in India ? Thats because these strategies have worked in India. What next ! Here's what will happen - Hinduism WILL be end up becoming more like the Semitic faiths ... which will f@#$ things up even more.

10:40 PM  
Anonymous said...

The problem with this whole business is not that hinduism is misrepresented. It is that Hunduism is denigrated while providing the illusion that the Abrahamic religions were ideologically superior to classical Hinduism. In fact, as we all know, the truth is closer to the opposite. California Textbooks refer to Islam as "equisexual" and "peaceful". Unless you've been living under a rock these past 5 years, you know this to be blatantly untrue. Also, the textbook harps on and on about bigotry in Hinduism, all the while ignoring the massive genocides committed by christians against Jews in the crusades, and the fact that the founder of the protestant sect (Martin Luther) was a virulent anti-semite and hater of Catholics as well. It neglects the excellent relations that Hindus have had with Jews from the 3rd century. The primary reason why these biased portrayals were maintained was due to the filibustering of subversive organizations like the Christian-backed Dalits and the islamofascist FOSA. Together with the socialist idealogue Romila Thapar and his closet Nazi counterpart Witzel, they browbeat and bullied the SEB into retaining the derogatory portrayal of Hinduism. The political agenda is theirs, not that of the HEF. Never mind that this would increase hate crimes against Indian children in Californian schools. They don't care. They WANT Indians to be victims of hate crimes because it is part of their racist agenda. They are threatened by the growing influence of Indians in the US and want to staunch the growth of the Hindu community right now. Wintzel, in paricular, is a virulent racist and a Nazi Theorist. The AIT was advanced in the 19th century by the German proto-Nazi Max Mueller. The whole concept of the "Aryan Race" is a deliberate hoax. It was used to advance british colonialism in India, and as an excuse to instigate horrific acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing of Jews in Europe. I am, quite frankly, surprised at the silence of Jewish advocacy groups regarding the AIT, and why they are not opposing it more vocally. I have sent a detailed communication to Abe Foxman, chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, regarding this move made by these racists and hope that the ADL's powerful and influencial forces will rally to our cause. I have not received a reponse from ADL (they have a response time of 10 days) and will call their offices 10 days hence if I get no written reply.

2:25 AM  
P. S. Ravi said...


The explanation currently provided in the California history textbook for the spread of Buddhism during Ashoka's reign is incomplete at best. There was an element of coercion involved. The 2nd century Buddhist text Asokavadana includes a description of the slaughter of 18000 Jains by Ashoka:

“At that time, an incident occurred which greatly enraged the king. A follower of the Nirgrantha (Mahâvîra) painted a picture, showing Buddha prostrating himself at the feet of the Nirgrantha. Ashoka ordered all the Ajivikas of Pundravardhana (North Bengal) to be killed. In one day, eighteen thousand Ajivikas lost their lives. A similar kind of incident took place in the town of Pataliputra. A man who painted such a picture was burnt alive with his family. It was announced that whoever would bring to the king the head of a Nirgrantha would be rewarded with a dînâra (a gold coin). As a result of this, thousands of Nirgranthas lost their lives.”8 Only when Vitashoka, Ashoka’s favourite Arhat (an enlightened monk, a Theravada-Buddhist saint), was mistaken for a Nirgrantha and killed by a man desirous of the reward, did Ashoka revoke the order."

This is taken from Mukhopadyay's discussion of Asokavadana (as quoted in one of Koenraad Elst's articles). Elst is a Hindutva sympathiser and a historian while Mukhopadyay is a leftwing historian.

Given the fact that Ashoka was responsible for the Kalinga massacre, it is reasonable to assume that his subjects had reason to fear the consequences of disregarding his views and preferences.

Desh states the following:
"And btw, there is no such thing as Indo-Iranian languages. Persian was and is inherently different from Indian languages in structure and grammar. The ONLY place these two met was in Urdu.. a beautiful mix of two ancient cultures!"

Desh, you are entirely wrong. Old Avestan, the language of the ancient Zoroastrians, was very similar to Vedic Sanskrit. It was also related to Old Persian.

Varun S. states:

"To claim that North Indian languages are descended from Sanskrit is a stretch at best, the most we can say is Sanskrit and the various Prakrits are all descended from Proto Indo-Iranian. It is time we stopped claiming that the Sanskrit is the font of North Indian languages. Now how's that to light a fire under a Hindutvavadi's a.."

The birth of the Prakrits and that of Vedic Sanskrit were not contemporaneous. It is logical to assume that Sanskrit is, in a loose sense, the font of North Indian languages.



3:59 AM  
SP said...

Amardeep ji, thank you so much for bringing us in engagement with such a stimulating dialogue. But why is it so that I did not see a single story about the California text book change row in any Indian newspaper? I spotted a two-day old item taken from the NYT on the front page of The Times of India which was not credited to the NYT but they had shamelessly used even the byline of the NYT reporter. I could gather far more information from the net and a better perspective from your blog. And here I was, thinking that any newspaper in northern India would be happily devoting several columns to a discussion about the issue, particularly at a time when the NRIs are assuming better currency as a community and the Sikh diaspora is supposedly more active (reactive?) about questions of its identity. I shall be regularly visiting your blog. It is intellectually exhilirating.

S P Singh

6:36 AM  

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