California textbook controversy over Hindu history

controversy in the US state of California concerning the portrayal of Hinduism in history textbooks

A controversy in the US state of California concerning the portrayal of Hinduism in history textbooks began in 2005. The Texas-based Vedic Foundation (VF) and the American Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), complained to California's Curriculum Commission, arguing that the coverage in sixth grade history textbooks of Indian history and Hinduism was biased against Hinduism.


  • Disparity of treatment between Hinduism and other Faiths in these textbooks is the key issue here.
    • Report on Sacramento hearing By Vishal Agarwal | Published 03/6/2006 [1]
  • There is an incessant and even anachronistic dwelling on the negatives of Hinduism, which seems to have been singled out as a religion for unfair treatment, when one reads the contrasting more balanced, even glowing narratives about Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) in these and corresponding texts from other grades. Hindu sacred narratives are referred to as stories or myths, whereas Biblical and Koranic narratives are presented as historical facts. Most textbooks also describe the subtle Karma and rebirth related principles of Indic faiths in a minimal and essentially caricaturist manner (“according to this theory, if you do bad deeds, you will be reborn as an insect”).
    • Samples from Sixth Grade California Textbooks, Vishal Agarwal, [2]
  • A Muslim or a Christian person is termed a religious fundamentalist if he or she participates in initiatives that advocate or incorporate subversive physical violence or verbal threats. Hindus have it much easier, as demonstrated by the California textbook controversy. All that is required for a Hindu to earn the label “Hindutvawadi “ … is to raise her hand in defense of what she knows and say “Yes, but…”
    • Is American Pluralism Inimical to Hindu Culture? Perspectives on a paper by Dr. Jakob DeRoover ,By Chitra Raman 2007. [3]
  • The structure of American pluralism and the nature of the Hindu traditions give rise to two options. These options present themselves as routes that can be traveled by the NRI community in the coming years. On the one hand, the pagan traditions of India could renounce their true nature and transform themselves into variants of biblical religion. Then they will soon fit in as well in the American model of pluralism as the Jews and Muslims. On the other hand, these pagan traditions can remain true to their nature and explicitly represent themselves as completely different from the religions of the book. Then they will turn into a major challenge to American pluralism: the very structure of this model will require rethinking in order to accommodate the Hindu traditions. Currently, the NRI community is succumbing to the first option. It has accepted the American model of pluralism as the structure to which it should adapt itself. This could be seen very clearly in the California textbook controversy. A limited number of foundations have been appointed (or have appointed themselves) as the representatives of the Hindu traditions in the U.S.: the Hindu American Foundation and the Vedic Foundation are most prominent. These foundations play according to the rules of the notions of church and religion that are intrinsic to American pluralism. They challenge the unfair portrayal of the Hindu traditions in the American educational system. But they do so in a manner which advances the transformation of these traditions into inferior variants of Christianity. They intend to present the true doctrines of Hinduism and do so by making it look respectable to American Protestants. That is, the many devatas are transformed into different ways of worshiping the one true God. Hinduism becomes a proper monotheistic faith. A variety of pagan Indian traditions are excluded because they are embarrassing to the sanitized biblical model of American pluralism. These Hindu foundations have become the representatives of the ‘Hindu church’ in America: they will decide the true nature of the Hindu traditions for the American public. The way they are going, however, they will end up with a secularized variant of the old biblical understanding of the Hindu traditions as false religion.
  • Now is the time for the NRI community to choose its leadership carefully. It needs people who are aware of the depth of the problems. Otherwise, it will succumb to the demands of American pluralism. It will waste its energy on irrelevant concerns borrowed from Christianity: ‘Who speaks for Hinduism?’; ‘Who has the authority to represent our religion?’; ‘Should only insiders be allowed to do so?’; ‘What are the true teachings of Hinduism?’ Events like the California textbook controversy indicate that the NRI community is at a crucial juncture: either it will become a driving force behind the rejuvenation of the Indian culture and her traditions; or it will repeat the mistakes of three-hundred years of colonialism. In the last century, we have seen the endpoints of the latter route: a growing fanaticism in Indian society; intellectually superficial movements; the threat of bankruptcy of an entire culture. The other route promises to allow the NRI community to play its role: become a rich and vibrant challenge to American pluralism. Not so that pluralism and tolerance might disappear from the American society but so that a pluralism, worthy of its name and liberated from the biblical straitjacket, might come into existence. Perhaps it is time we explore this route…
  • But on Truschke’s own side, the dividing line between bullies and academics is not so neat. Why stoop to street bullying if you have tenure? It is far more effective, then, to resort to academic bullying. Thus, in their intervention in the California Textbook Affair, where Hindu parents had sought to edit blatantly anti-Hindu passages, the explicitly partisan intervening professors even managed to get themselves recognized as arbiters in the matter. This would have been unthinkable if those bullies had not been established academics. (And this I can say eventhough my criticism of the Hindu parents’ positions exists in cold print.) Her focus on street bullies has the effect of misdirecting the reader’s attention, away from the more consequential phenomenon of academic bullying.
    • Elst, Koenraad. Hindu dharma and the culture wars. (2019). New Delhi : Rupa.
  • During the cold part of 2005-2006, the Hindu community in the USA livd in expectation of a school history textbook reform in which Hinduism would get a fairer deal and no longer be reduced to hateful stereotypes. After all, Christian, Jewish and Muslim lobbies were having a decisive say in the portrayal of their own belief systesm, with the irrational or inhumane points whitewashed or kept out of view. ... A CAPEEM spokesman reported that a lot of evidence of the close cooperation between the court-appointed "experts" and anti-Hindu groups including Evangelical Churches and terrorist groups came to light. But that was not enough for CAPEEM to score a courtroom victory regarding the political issue at stake here, viz. the blatant inequality between the Abrahamic religions and Hinduism, which alone gets to suffer a schoolbook description imposed by its declared enemies.
    • Elst, Koenraad (2012). The argumentative Hindu. New Delhi : Aditya Prakashan. 138-143

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