California’s textbook to replace India’ with ‘South Asia’; Hindu groups raising concerns

California, May 28: Amid huge objection by Hindus and other organizations, the California State Board of Education is set to replace ‘India’ with ‘South Asia’, in its social studies textbooks. However, the idea did not go well with the several academics, along with a number of Indians. They have signed a petition to stop the State Board from making any such changes in the textbook meant for 11 to 13-year-olds.

What is the controversy all about?

“What it means to be Hindu and Indian has long been the subject of dispute in India,” says Rohit Chopra, an Associate Professor at Santa Clara University. And these differences have been augmented even more after Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come into the power in 2014. These days, a skirmish is going on about the representation of Hinduism and India in state course book. However, the dispute reminds of the similar clash on the same issue took place a decade ago. Significantly, the argument is focused on the renaming of India as South Asia and the role of caste in Indian society.

The point of debate:

The basis for calling the region as ‘South Asia’ was backed by a group of academics, who thinks, it is more apt descriptive term for the region. They say it does not link India as it was before 1947 with the contemporary Indian nation-state and contended that terms such as “ancient India” and India could leads to confusion in certain frameworks for the students. Besides, it will also obscure the historical past of contemporary India and Pakistan independently.

Typically, along with secular South Asian organizations, media reporting has pitted this group of academics in contradiction of a group of conservative Hindu-American organizations, like the Hindu American Foundation (HAF). The Hindu-American organizations blamed the academics of wanting to “remove” India itself by commending the modification in the name, with also seeking to do away with the references to caste prejudice from schoolbooks.

But, conversely, the academics contend that South Asia is an understandably more apt term than India for the course books. They also maintained that erasing references to caste would challenge the educational goal that students should grow a deep and nuanced understanding of the region.

Nevertheless, this bluntly determined opposition covers some significant matters about immigrant individuality in the US, comprehensible parental apprehensions, and the politics of the learning of Hinduism in the US.

“As someone who has explored the global Hindu right, yet is contrasting to its politics, as an Indian in the US, and as a parent, I find that the debate, as it has been framed in the media, neglects underlying issues of crucial importance. A key issue has to do with why groups such as the HAF possess legitimacy among many Hindu students and Hindu communities, not all of whom may share their politically and culturally conservative view of Hinduism?” said Rohit Chopra, in a piece to BBC.

“The answer is simple: the same sorts of groups, regardless of their politics, are also often the first ones to protest racist depictions of Indians or Hindus, such as when American Eagle Outfitters printed the image of Lord Ganesha on flip-flops. It is not the rock star academics working on South Asia, India, or Hinduism who spearhead such protests, though in their research they do challenge Orientalist and racist stereotypes,” he added.

Contrasting views over the reference to Caste:

The cultural organizations such as the HAF are the only place for Indians to get their kids to learn about the Indian epics, for example, through summer camps. But, does that make every Tom, Dick, and Harry who joins such events a Hindu nationalist or even a Hindu conservative? The same discussion holds for those opposing the change of India to South Asia.

Nathan Glazer, a Professor Emeritus of sociology at Harvard raised questions over the absence of historical validity of the term South Asia, in a letter to the New York Times. “I have no strong feeling about the matter, even though the term is bereft of much meaning for me. But it is worth asking of the academics the kinds of questions that academics love asking about everything,” says Rohit.

“When and where was this term first used? For what reasons? To what extent might it reflect the politics of the American academy, something at which Prof Glazer hints?” he asked.

The question of caste is even more complex as eliminating all orientations to caste from the course book would set up an absolute act of representative violence, resounding the ruthless history of ferocity indorsed upon Dalits by Hindus over periods. Unfortunately, it would fit into that most American of conducts: historical amnesia about America’s own disremembering of its ferocity against its Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Sikh, or African-American populations.

Conventional outlooks:

Simultaneously, it is a reasonable fact that caste does not exhaust Hinduism, and that for a frighteningly large number of Americans, Hinduism is still above caste and cows. “As a parent, I share the worries of many Indian-Americans that my son should not be labelled on the basis of a limited, stereotypical, view of India centered on caste. The analogy would be Indians viewing White Americans solely as perpetrators of slavery. If we are to view the controversy through the metaphor of battle, the honours seem to be divided. India will remain in the textbooks, representing a victory for Hindu-American groups,” adds Rohit.

But, in accordance with the opinion of the academics and a broad-based alliance of progressive groups, South Asian Histories for All, references to caste will not be detached from the books. But this is probably to be the last we have seen of this conflict.

“I am not optimistic that the academics and Hindu-American organizations will find any common ground. But a richer portrayal of Hinduism in the textbooks, warts and all, may be a possible shared objective on which there can be agreement, before the endless wars over Hinduism in the US resume,” says Rohit.