The Hindu-American Foundation (HAF) has launched a new social media campaign called #DontEraseIndia meant to raise awareness of a suggested set of changes to California’s history curriculum that it says will misrepresent the history of India and will lead to the social isolation of Hindu students in K-12 schools.
The advocacy group is fighting to keep references to both India and Hinduism that are taken out in California junior high history books for sixth and seventh graders.
The most offensive changes, says the HAF, include referring to India as South Asia and to Hinduism as only a religion of ancient India, writes Lisa Amin Gulezian of the ABC 7News. Some of the proposed changes also included removing mention of Hinduism’s acceptance of religious diversity, re-connecting Hinduism with caste, and erasing mention of the contributions of Hindu sages of different backgrounds. According to the HAF spokesperson Samir Kalra, this would be an attempt to underestimate or minimize the contributions of Indian history and civilization.
Not coincidentally, the campaign officially started on April 6, the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March, and the beginning of civil disobedience against British rule in India. It will end in mid-May with a Californian Board of Education hearing when a final decision on curriculum will be made.
Later in May, the HAF will also present the findings of its anti-bullying report that will detail the experiences of Hindu students and young Americans of Indian origin regarding social stereotypes and a misunderstanding of their religion and heritage. One of the surveyed students, 9th grader Akanksha Maddi, commented:
“My classmates and teachers think that we Hindus still believe in primitive and unjust practices…the experience I had clearly shows that my class was not helped to become aware or accepting of my heritage, nor was I allowed to remain secure in my beliefs. I don’t want my friends to look down upon me and my culture because of my textbook. It’s unfair…What I ask is for fairness and dignity. Is that too much to ask for?”
Meanwhile, a group of professors and other activists cited by Jackie Zubrzycki of Education Week suggested that HAF’s active social campaign is part of an ongoing effort to present India’s history and Hinduism in “an incomplete and misleadingly positive light.”
A coalition of 20 political leaders and elected officials, including Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and CA State Senator Steven M. Glazer (District 7) already supported the group’s efforts. Barbara A. McGraw of St. Mary’s College of California, who is also a former American Academy of Religion Western president, and Sofia University philosophy professor Kundan Singh also expressed their concern and on-going support for HAF.
As stated on the official HAF website, California is home to the largest Hindu population in the United States, with nearly one million Hindus of diverse cultural, racial, and national backgrounds.