A core political dogma of Indian communists is that India is merely an agglomeration of mutually warring, and only tenuously linked ‘nationalities’ that have been held together politically by force. According to them, the Indian civilization did not and does not exist as a unified entity, and Indians have been oppressing each other continuously in a permanent class-struggle. As a corollary to this divisive dogma, Hinduism, the highest common denominator in the Indian identity, is said to have come into existence only after ‘the British invented it in the 19th century’. Furthermore, Hinduism is said to be intrinsically oppressive and misogynist whereas all other religions are egalitarian and gender neutral. Therefore, according to Indian communists, there is nothing worthwhile in the Indian civilization except for dress, food, music (and now, Cricket, Bollywood and English).
Consistent with this divisive and Indophobic narrative, a group of activist academicians (‘SAFG’ or South Asia Faculty Group) in the United States asked the Board of Education in California to ‘change most pre-1947 references to South Asia’, because ‘India did not exist before 1947.’ They also recommended that ‘Hinduism be replaced with other terms’ because ‘it is debatable whether Hinduism exists as an organized religion even today.’ These activists asked the Board to delete India in around thirty instances, and replace it with at least eight different terms, that included even ‘Islamic Civilization’, and ‘Islamic Empires’. References to Hinduism and India were left intact only where the context was negative – like unequal rights of women, and caste oppression. The overall direction and tenor of their suggestions was easily discernible – erase India from textbooks, and demean the Hindus – all in the name of their ‘scholarly authority.’
More than 280 million members of scheduled castes and tribes returned their religion as ‘Hindu’ in the 2011 Indian census. But, these activist scholars refused to accept them as Hindus, and wanted the textbooks for sixth and seventh standard students to paint a uniform picture of their defeat, in which their ancestors were powerless, lacking in agency or achievements, and constantly under oppression. Contrary to their claims of rooting for the oppressed, they also erased the heritage of Valmiki Dalit Hindu community of India and Pakistan, by asking the Board to remove Rishi Valmiki’s name from the textbooks. And in a manifestation of Marxist adulation for Aryanism in India, they repeated the same rejected ‘no horse at Harappa’, ‘scholars do not accept the Saraswati (river)’ narrative.
In a totally uncalled for suggestion, they demeaned the Sikhs by suggesting that ‘Sri Guru Granth Sahib’ should be replaced with ‘Guru Granth’. They overlooked the unique role that scripture plays in Sikhism – that of a Living Guru. They also said that Babar was a ‘humanist’ forgetting that Guru Nanak had decried his violent invasions. They argued that ‘Telagu’ in the books should be spelled as ‘Telegu’ when actually both are not standard spellings, and ‘Telugu’ is used instead. Also, in the discussion on 9-11 and attacks on the West, they suggested that we must not single out Islam, and instead we must discuss how Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism etc., too have contributed to religious violence. Perhaps the cure for Islamophobia is to introduce a hatred for other religions! If all this is scholarship, then what is ignorance? And yet, they tarred all other dissenting scholars, some of the biggest names in academia, with uncharitable terms like ‘right wing Hindus’.
Perhaps, the SAFG scholars are right, and we are all wrong after all. The British should have named their company as ‘East South Asia Company’. Maps should show ‘South Asian Ocean’. Alexander must have invaded ‘South Asia’ because there was no India and no Indian civilization even if his chronicles mention only India. Columbus sailed in search of South Asia and instead landed up in South Asianes (not West Indies). We must never name the dreaded ‘H’ word (Hinduism) unless we want to blame something for untouchability and misogyny. And of course, the other religions do not have any problems of women rights and social inequality.
The reasons for these prevarications are not difficult to discern. These SAFG ‘scholars’ include the likes of Kamala Vishweshwaran, who is known more for her political pamphleteering (‘No US Visa for Modi’, ‘Do not elect Modi as PM even though the NDA got a majority’) than her research, and is perpetually writing one political petition or the other. And, Sheldon Pollock, according to whom Sanskrit literature spawned Nazism, and Ramayana was meant to oppress the masses and prolong ‘oriental despotism’ (to quote Karl Marx). He was also in the forefront of ‘Save Kanhaiyya’ campaign of ill-informed Western academicians. Amongst the other signatories were the anthropologist Jonathan Kenoyer, born to American Christian Missionary parents in India, and former students of JNU Marxist historians like Vasudha Dalmia. None of these academicians, is an acclaimed authority on Hinduism, or even on classical Indian history.
Interestingly, in their submissions to the Board, they shifted their stances repeatedly, and even contradicted their own published positions. For instance, Kenoyer denied that Ghaggar Hakra was Sarasvati River, despite what his publications say. He often speaks from both sides of his mouth, denying the Aryan migration theory in private, but supporting Aryanist scholars in California. One may wonder if the animosity of some Western archaeologists towards India is due to the fact that the Indian archaeological establishment refuses to give them unchecked excavation rights in India, whereas Pakistan permits them. It might be recalled that his earlier textbook (published by the OUP) for California students had more than 400 pictures of the Harappan culture, of which not even one was from Indian sites. All of them were from Pakistani Harappan sites! It was rightfully rejected by the Board of Education in California in 2005 for insensitive comments about Hindu culture, along with other OUP textbooks for their anti-Semitism. After the massive outrage against their attempts to erase India and Hinduism from the textbooks, the SAFG backtracked and denied that they were trying to do anything like that. Instead, they claimed that their suggestions were merely an attempt to provide context sensitive and geographically correct terms in lieu of India. This new explanation does not carry any conviction because there is no way India can be subsumed under ‘Islamic Civilization’. And if India did not exist before 1947, how can we talk about ‘Ancient Indian Religion’ as a replacement for Hinduism?
Unfortunately, hate unites humans more than love. For some, hate gives them the very meaning of their existence. A Hinduphobic coalition of SAFG supporters, called ‘South Asian Histories for All’ (SAHA) appeared for a public hearing at the California Board of Education office on 19th May. SAFG and SAHA did not even spare Hindu children (some as young as 10 year old) of their hatred, showing them thumbs down and snickering as child after child spoke of the trauma that they had experienced at their schools due to their Hindu heritage. These hate-filled adults were so intent to wage political battles on the hearts of their children that rather than bring their own children, they accused the Hindu parents of trying to stage a drama in public gaze to influence the Board. In particular, Anirvan Chatterjee, SAFG Professor Vijaya Nagarajan and Barnali Ghosh were really crass and crude in their gesticulations after each child testimony.
I would certainly not feel comfortable in leaving my own children alone with them. In contrast, the Hindu American parents and children acted with great maturity and respect towards the Board officials as well as fellow participants. Sameer Kalra, of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) called the SAFG and SAHA supporters out during his own testimony, and said that we should applaud these children for doing their civic duty instead of disparaging them. After his testimony, SAFG and SAHA members in the audience became a bit more civilized. A SAHA supporter (‘Mrs. Sinha’) even brought in the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Modi and said that his government was erasing Akbar in India and likewise, HAF was erasing the Dalits in California textbooks! Both members of this paired comparison were actually wrong (HAF did not ‘erase’ Dalits, and the NDA govt. did not ‘erase’ Akbar), and therefore her so called comparison is little more than an irrational fear.
For all their talk about ‘women rights’, they hurled abusive epithets at Suhag Shukla, the Managing Director for the Hindu American Foundation, on social media. These uncivilized provocateurs let the bag out when one of them said, “Eighty Five percent of Indians are divided by caste. This has united the remaining fifteen percent of us.” Understandably then, they were a motely group of hardcore Leftists, self-identified Dalits (probably most of them ex-Hindus), Islamists and a section of the Sikh community. A Ravidassia even claimed during his testimony that the Hindus were trying to appropriate their founder Sant Ravidas. One wonders how Hindus can appropriate a Hindu saint who lived in the 16th century from a new religion called ‘Ravidass Panth’ that was founded less than ten years ago due to a schism from Sikhism, whose members practiced discrimination against the Ravidassias?
Quite clearly, the Board of Education saw through the shenanigans and agendas of SAFG and its Hinduphobic SAHA supporters. They decided to reject the erasure of India, and restored India instead of South Asia, Islamic Empires and so on at several places. They also acknowledged the violent nature of Islamic invasions of India, and refused to whitewash history. They also decided to reject the SAFG erasure of the names of Hindu Sages Vyasa and Valmiki from the books at SAFG’s behest. Unfortunately, they did not restore the centrality of the Sarasvati River in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization because, a Board member thought erroneously that Saraswati was a dried up tributary of the Indus! The Board also agreed to include the word ‘Dalit’ into the curriculum Framework. Much to the surprise of Hinduphobic groups, the Hindu American participants in the audience actually applauded this decision.
But most significantly, the Board of Education stopped seeing this dispute over Indian history as one between the ‘Scholars’ (as they earlier referred to SAFG) and the unscholarly lay Hindu Americans. Instead, they recognized that it was actually a dispute between two scholarly viewpoints, and that SAFG did not represent what was earlier thought to be the ‘scholarly consensus.’ In fact, this time, forty one American College Professors (of whom only 15 were of Indian origin), wrote a strong letter to the Board of Education challenging the one sided suggestions of SAFG. In response, SAFG merely dismissed these dissenting scholars as being led unwittingly by right wing Hindus. Another group of fifty scholars under the banner of ‘Scholars for People’ submitted a detailed point by point rebuttal of SAFG’s propaganda. In response, SAFG again dismissed them, stating that their opponents were not scholars! Perhaps, these ‘South Asian Scholars’ ought to remember the Sanskrit proverb, ‘vidya dadati vinayam’ (true knowledge bestows humility).
Despite notable gains made by the Indian Americans and Hindu Americans, the fact remains that certain historically legitimate corrections were rejected by the Board. The impetus for this came from Risha Krishna, who was on the Instructional Quality Committee (IQC) as the Vice Chair of the History & Social Science Subject Matter SMC and is also a Teacher from the Fremont Unified School District. She was quite active in this meeting (vs the one on March 17th where she didn't say a word). As the only Indian & Hindu on the board, she had a loud voice. And she used it to push for anti-Hindu edits! When she spoke, all submissions & all academic scholars got thrown to the wind. She displayed her ignorance by arguing against the inclusion of Sarasvati in the Framework saying that ‘Sarasvati is a tributary of the Indus’ when everyone knows that it was an independent river system. She also opposed the verbiage on the ‘self-governing’ aspects of the Jati system by confusing it with the ‘four groups’ (varnas) constantly. Furthermore, the IQC showed its bias against Hindus. When Hindu Americans opposed centering the framework on caste, we were told by Bill Honig (Commission Vice Chair) that it was a historical fact. Yet he voted to remove a mention of slavery for Islam, a historical fact which he himself admitted to in the meeting).
An interesting difference between the present dispute over the representation of Hinduism and India in American textbooks versus what happened ten years ago is the fact that last time, the Hinduphobic forces were led by Western professors like Michael Witzel, who is often regarded as a Hindu hater. In the last ten years however, enough ‘South Asian’ Sepoys have been fed and nurtured to lead the assault against their own people, just as most of the bullets at Indians during the British rule were fired by ‘native sepoys. Given the penchant of some part time scholars and full time prevaricators to inject overseas divisive politics into American textbooks, we can surmise that capitalism hating Indian Leftist scholars have landed up on American shores in droves to subsist on doles of the generous academic grants. The comrades indeed do not mind being caught red-handed with green dollar bills. The battle is therefore not over. By the year 2017, textbooks based on the accepted framework will be out, and then the entire round of the textbook controversy will begin again. We will not be surprised if once again, SAFG and SAHA try to erase India and Hinduism, and display their India-bashing and Hinduphobic beliefs in full public view. Looking at these self-hating individuals of Indian origin, it becomes easy to understand how a few thousand British ruled over millions of Indians with their ‘Sepoys’.