[Indo-Eurasia] Romila Thapar and Michael Witzel - Outlook India (fwd)
slaje at T-ONLINE.DE
Tue Feb 28 16:05:00 EST 2006
From: "Steve Farmer" <saf at safarmer.com>
To: <Indo-Eurasian_research at yahoogroups.com>
Subject: [Indo-Eurasia] Romila Thapar and Michael Witzel - Outlook India
A long Op-Ed piece in Outlook India, written by Michael and Romila
Thapar, who is also on our List, just came out -- hot off the press:
Michael and I also plan to write a much longer post-mortem on events
over the past months, aimed this time for US audiences not previously
acquainted with the Hindutva movement. It will be fun to describe the
smear campaigns, crazy chronologies, fake Dalit webpages, and other
aspects of Hindutvaland for a US audience that never heard of the
Enjoy --- and repost widely!
Below is a plaintext version of the whole article. The last paragraph
added at the end summarizes the decision yesterday.
Creationism By Any Other Name…
Hindu Americans have a legitimate right to a fair and culturally
sensitive representation in public school curricula. However, no one
has a right to distort the truth and push their own political agendas
at the expense of American school children.
ROMILA THAPAR, Michael Witzel
The California State Board of Education (CSBE) is currently discussing
a very controversial issue. In keeping with precedent, the CSBE has
asked the community for suggestions in regard to the updating of school
textbooks. As a result of the suggestions it received, unscientific,
religious-based materials may be presented to public school children as
historical facts. Unlike the recent controversies in Kansas,
Pennsylvania and Ohio, what the CSBE finds itself involved in does not
concern the Christian fundamentalists and intelligent design proponents
one might expect. The religious fundamentalists in this case are Hindu.
Initially, the goals of these pressure groups, known as Hindutva, seem
benign and even righteous. They aim to rectify culturally biased and
insensitive depictions of India and Hinduism in public school
textbooks. Hindutva groups would like Hinduism - one of the world’s
oldest major religions, with approximately 800 million adherents
worldwide, to be treated with the same consideration and respect as
Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. Their organizers have
managed to obtain a few thousand signatures from the 1.6 million South
Asians in the US for support of petitions circulated through Hindu
temples across the United States.
If these reasonable changes comprised the full extent of the amendments
being proposed by the Hindutva groups, there would be no controversy at
all. However, many of the Hindu Americans that signed these petitions
would be shocked to learn about other agendas being pushed - and the
manner in which they are being pushed - by the Hindutva lobby, in their
name. Some examples of outlandish published beliefs of these Hindutva
groups include putting the age of the universe 155 trillion years ago,
dating the first Indian civilizations to 1900 million years ago, the
claim that all of modern human civilization began in India around 8000
BC, and that important cultural texts such as the Ramayana and
Mahabharata -- which depict wars between humans and the incarnations of
deities -- are historical texts to be understood literally rather than
as stories with moral and religious truths to impart. Other claims
pretend to be science such as the citation of satellite imagery of
ancient riverbeds as proof of the existence of a mighty Sarasvati river
in Vedic times, and that ancient Hindu scriptures contain precise
calculations of the speed of light and exact distances between planets
in the solar system. The figures used in these equations were derived
from totaling the number of poetic verses in scriptural texts.
This brings to mind the equally improbable claims of several Christian
fundamentalist groups who believe NASA has evidence of the Earth
completely stopping its rotation, corroborating the "Missing Day of
Joshua" story in the Bible. Interestingly, the Hindutva lobby agenda
being put forward contradicts "young earth creationism", in which
Christian fundamentalists believe the origins of life on earth to be as
described in the Bible and earth to be 6,000 years old. Coincidently,
intelligent design and "young earth creationism" were being taught at a
high school in Lebec, California, just north of Los Angeles, until
public scrutiny of this effort was brought to bear last month and the
school board of Lebec reversed this initiative.
The American Hindutva lobby disguises its divisive political agenda in
the language of inclusion, seeming to intend only to redress historical
inequities by demanding the accurate representation of Hinduism in the
American classroom. This is quite ironic in that the Hindutva movement
in India is predicated on the subjugation of minorities and pluralism
In fact, the Hindutva lobby pressuring the CSBE is very closely allied
to Hindu fundamentalists in both the US and India who are trying to
propagate a revisionist history in Indian classrooms and political
discourse. Their parent organization in India, a group known as the
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has a distinctly fundamentalist
political agenda. The RSS and its political arm, the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP), gained power from moderate secular Indians by exploiting
Hindu nationalist sentiments. The RSS in particular has been involved
in several high-profile incidents of religiously motivated violence
over the last twenty years, as reported by the New York Times. The BJP
recently lost power in national elections in 2004 after ruling for six
years. The former opposition Congress party is now going to great
lengths to remove the Hindutva material inserted into school textbooks
while the BJP was in power. These events relate directly to the current
battle in the California Board of Education. As has been demonstrated
by many political organizations working to gain power in their own
countries, modest political victories achieved by like-minded people in
the United States translate into donations from abroad and huge
political capital at home.
In 2004, many textbook changes proposed by Hindutva groups in Fairfax
County, Virginia, were implemented without much outside scrutiny. Thus
emboldened, these groups prepared to reapply their winning strategy in
California. Tactically this made a lot of sense: it is one of the
largest school systems in the country, with a large Indian (South
Asian) American population, and its textbooks were up for review. The
changes made in California, similar to the ones made in Texas and New
York, have repercussions for school systems across the country. The
publishers of school textbooks make changes based on the needs of their
largest volume customers. Changes made to textbooks in the larger
states filter down to those in smaller states.
When the California textbooks came up for review last summer, a former
professor of history, and Hindutva lobby sympathizer, was approached by
one of the Hindutva foundations and later was appointed to an expert
advisory board serving the CSBE. Interestingly, he did not disclose his
previous relationships to the Hindutva groups to the CSBE at the time.
In a recent front-page article, it was also disclosed that one of the
Hindutva lobby groups was founded by the American branch of the RSS and
the other was completely owned by a sub-sectarian Hindu temple group
out of Austin, Texas also tied to the American RSS group. Neither of
these facts was disclosed to the CSBE either. The Hindutva agenda, full
of historically inaccurate, Hindutva-centric changes -- was forwarded
along quietly, again with no outside scrutiny, as successfully as the
agenda had been in Virginia.
On November 5, 2005 word leaked out to the wider academic community.
Our academic colleagues in this country, many of whom are Indian
American, and those in India itself, strongly objected to the
historical inaccuracies championed by the Hindutva lobby. Not only were
the suggested revisions of the textbooks factually incorrect in many
instances but there was also an attempt to explain away those aspects
of traditional Indian society that are now a matter of critical concern
to Indians in India. The textbook revisions whitewash the plight of
women and the so called lower castes. Their history was reduced to
"different" rights and education for women while the caste system was
simply a division of labor. Approximately 150 scholars, specialists on
South Asia from UCLA, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Columbia, Princeton, Yale,
Harvard, The University of Florida, Cornell, Smith College,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and dozens of other
well-respected schools, sent a letter to Dr. Ruth Green, the president
of the California State Board of Education. As the full political
ramifications of the fight they found themselves involved in became
clearer, the CSBE paused to reconsider their course of action. Last
month, in an attempt to further understand this complex issue, the CSBE
asked one of us [Michael Witzel] to debate the issue in front of a few
members of the board with their in house, Hindutva leaning Curriculum
Committee expert, S. Bajpai. Many of the historical inaccuracies were
debunked in face-to-face debate but the CSBE put off a final decision
at this time.
Our letter and actions have provoked a furious if not predictable
response from the Hindutva lobby. Slurs such as "Nazi", "Hitler",
"Racist", "Marxist", "Communist", "Hindu hater", "Race Traitor",
"Christian missionary" and "Creationist" have been directed toward us.
In light of the December 6 physical assault and beating up of
University of Kansas religious studies professor, Dr. Paul Merecki, by
religious fundamentalists, we have been forced to ask law enforcement
to investigate death threats levied against some of us over this issue.
When the political nature of their campaign was revealed, the Hindutva
lobbyists based here in the United States hurriedly removed information
from their websites and tried to cover up any evidence of their links
to the RSS. Surely such desperate measures make their true intentions
plain. We do not believe that the many Americans who signed petitions
in support of these groups and causes condone them.
The Hindutva lobby will undoubtedly persist in their efforts even if
they are stopped in California. The fact that there are very culturally
biased and insensitive passages regarding Hinduism in many textbooks
provides their alibi. The authors of these chapters are often Bachelors
or Masters level scholars, with no specialized training on India,
whatsoever. In order to counteract this threat to the integrity of the
material taught to our children, an international council of scholars,
called The Academic Indology Advisory Council, (cf.
http://www.indiantruth.org/ ) has been formed; it will offer its
expertise to any school boards and publishers who may call on it, as a
service to the field of Indian Studies.
If, as the old saying goes, decisions are made by those who show up, we
and like-minded Indian Americans are going to show up at every meeting.
Hindu nationalists have a legitimate right to pursue their political
agenda in India. Hindu Americans have a legitimate right to a fair and
culturally sensitive representation in public school curricula.
However, no one has a right to distort the truth and push their own
political agendas at the expense of American school children. Why would
we in the United States, implement textbook changes about India that
India itself has rejected and is actively replacing?
For the Hindutva lobby to successfully implement academically
irresponsible, outright false material into textbooks would be to
realize "victory without honor". It would be, in fact, a dishonor to
the cultural and religious heritage it claims to cherish. Based on
their lack of academic integrity, scholarship, and undisclosed links to
Hindu fundamentalist groups based in India, no one can trust any of the
Hindutva lobby’s claims anymore. The overarching issue here is once we
accept one religious group’s agenda and beliefs to be taught in the
public schools, it opens the door for every other group to do the same
thing. Perhaps as educators, we should stick to teaching the facts, and
allow the teaching of religion to be handled by the real experts: the
parents, pastors and priests.
Update: Yesterday, on Februrary 27, the Subcommittee of the California
Board of Education has voted five to zero to throw out the Hindutva
edits -- a final decision by the Board is expected during its meeting
on March 8-10.
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Prof Dr Walter Slaje
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non sordidi lucri causa nec ad vanam captandam gloriam,
sed quo magis veritas propagetur et lux eius, qua salus
humani generis continetur, clarius effulgeat.
Vindobonae, die XXI. mensis Novembris MCMLXXXIII.
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