A group of influential American lawmakers have urged California's education board to adopt textbooks in schools that represent Hindus and Indian Americans with dignity. The move comes ahead of the meeting of the all-powerful California State Board of Education this week where it would be making a final decision on whether to adopt, reject, or adopt with changes textbook drafts submitted by various publishers.
"At a time of great division in our country and around the world, the importance of ensuring that the next generation is brought up respecting religious and cultural diversity, equality and pluralism is critical," Congresswoman Gabbard said in a recent letter to the Board.
At its meeting this week, the Board is expected to take a decision on California Department of Education's Instructional Quality Commission which had earlier rejected the problematic textbook drafts from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for adversely reflecting upon Hinduism and failing to include adequate materials about the LGBT community, amongst other reasons.
Instructional Quality Commission is a State appointed commission tasked with reviewing curriculum materials. Ahead of the meeting, a broad coalition of more than 75 interfaith and community groups, 17 state and federal elected officials and 38 leading academics urged the State Board of Education (SBE) to reject textbooks portraying Hinduism, Jainism and Indian history inaccurately and in a stereotyped manner.
"These textbooks and instructional materials will determine what students learn in their classroom for the next decade and play a central role in educating students and preparing them to be successful, engaged individuals in the society", Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to US House of Representative, said.
"It's essential that all elements of students' learning reflect values of diversity and inclusion, allowing students to remain secure in their identity and beliefs while obtaining the best education possible," she added.
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, California state legislators Tony Mendoza, Bill Dodd, and Kevin McCarty also wrote individual letters to the California education board. California State Assembly member Ash Kalra, the first Hindu and Indian-American to serve in the state legislature, similarly spearheaded a letter from a bipartisan group of 12 State legislators.
"It is very important that the State Board of Education only adopts textbooks that present India and Hinduism accurately and reject material that is prejudiced and hateful," said Shantharam Nekkar of Hindu Education Foundation USA.
However, South Asian Histories for All (SAHFA), a multi- faith and inter-caste coalition, is urging the board to approve only those textbooks that tell a neutral and factual history of South Asia. The group alleges that the proposed textbook covering ancient South Asia has major errors, including hiding the history of caste oppression.
SAHFA alleged that some Hindu nationalist lobby groups are trying to hide basic historical facts including erasing the history of caste oppression. Hindu American Foundation, on the other hand, alleged that there is a last minute efforts from some "fringe activist groups, not representing the majority of Hindus, nor scholars of Hinduism and India," who continue to promote politically driven views, reflect adversely on Hindu and Indian Americans in violation of California law, and are inconsistent with the State History-Social Science Framework that was adopted in 2016.
"In presenting its viewpoint several members of a group calling itself South Asian Histories for All have made vitriolic bigoted statements about Hinduism in public testimony and on social media, as well as making several ad hominem attacks on leading members of the Hindu American community," said Samir Kalra, senior director at the Hindu American Foundation.
"We ask the SBE to recognise the often hateful nature of these statements when considering this group's submission," Kalra said.