Revisionist History For California Textbooks - Whose History?

January 28, 2006

India's history is under debate in California in the latest chapter of US textbook revisionism. Californian school history textbooks were altered to support Hindutva and related perspectives, under the advice of Hindu organizations like The Vedic Foundation and Hindu Education Foundation. This is as politically explosive in the US as it is in India and elsewhere.

Schools are where we first socialize with the burgeoning world. And school textbooks are where we decipher the world's written memory - history and how 'we happened'. The debate in California is between Hindu nationalists and others, including academics, who are outraged by the whitewash that is being performed in saffron. Coalitions have broadened. The Hindu nationalist - Hindutva - character of the revisionists has put diversity and religious pluralism at risk.

The advocacy site describes this as the "Hindutva assault on school history textbooks of the kind that went on a few years ago in India". According to ZMag the positions are "consistent with the attempts of Hindutva groups toward rewriting history in India, where sectarian education campaigns undertaken by Hindu extremist groups demonize minorities through the teaching of fundamentalist curricula".

In the US, controversies over history textbooks are nothing new. They have been documented for current reference. Jonathan Zimmerman in a review of Joseph Moreau's Schoolbook Nation (2003) writes: "The texts have always presented a hodgepodge of complex and even contradictory perspectives, reflecting the diverse interests and influences of the Americans who sought to change them: neo-Confederate white southerners in the 1890s, anti-British immigrants in the 1920s, African Americans in the 1960s, and so on."

Books analyzing content and attacks on textbooks include Frances FitzGerald's America Revised (1979), James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995), Joseph Moreau's Schoolbook Nation (2003), Jonathan Zimmerman's Whose America? (2002) and Gerard Giordano's Twentieth-Century Textbook Wars (2003).

While revision of South Asian history was due, as was evident when issues of incorrectness arose in Virginia some time ago, the ideologues have overstated their case in California. The Christian Science Monitor correctly takes this to be the global assertion in the US, of a particular religious nationalism. It notes that: "The Board of Education has already heard from South Indians who argued that the HEF [Hindu Education Foundation] and Vedic Foundation represent a North Indian upper-caste perspective."

Times of India
Sepia Mutiny on issue in Virginia
CSMonitor - India history spat hits US

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deepti lamba
January 28, 2006
09:46 PM

The Shiva Lingam symbolises the Aryan invasion- the Phallus represented the patriarchy of the invading tribes and the Yoni represented the Dravidian traditions of matriarchy that had been subjugated through wars and religious assimilation.

Try teaching this little bit of information at one of the 'Hindu catechism' classes that NRI's send their kids to during the evenings.

January 28, 2006
10:54 PM


That was quite a fertile thinking.. if it was meant as a joke.. then it was a rather crude one... if you were at your creative moment... then you need better inspirations! :-)

Dont you thank your stars that what you joke about aint a Muslim or Christian subject?? Then either you will need a Govt. to save you or Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh would pronounce their own fatwas!


deepti lamba
January 28, 2006
11:05 PM

Actually Desh, I did my specialization in Ancient Indian history and our professor, who incidentally was a Tantric, gave us mind blowing information on ancient practices, symbols etc and this was one such shocking piece.

I guess, my professor would have been stoned for her radical teachings or burnt for being a witch.

January 29, 2006
06:05 AM

Gazelle, Your post is completely biased and fails to mention the other side of the story. If asking for fair and equal representation of ones religion is enough to characterize 1000s of parents as hindutva fanatics, without even examining merits of the case as Michael Witzel did in his letter to California school board then it reveals prejudice. There is no similarities between politically motivated text book versions made in india and proposed changes in California, misrepresentation and denigration doesn't become facts over course of time.

For those who wish to understand otherside of the story here is the url:

January 29, 2006
08:27 AM

zuSNa, thanks for the link.

I have no particular attachment to Michael Witzel's views. The political environment does blur views.

I am intensely aware of the need for revision of the textbooks. I mention this. I am also aware that academic scholarly views need to be "balanced" [?] with the religious communities' own scholars' perspectives.

I think this needs to be done on a point-by-point basis on the merit of the truth of the claims as far as possible. It is extremely rare that this actually happens smoothly, or that an uncontroversial truthful picture emerges.

Personally, the balance here, if ever achieved, in the end, is a frightfully fragile thing.


January 29, 2006
09:21 AM


On second thoughts (from the site you suggested)the author of the article Kalavai Venkat is quite simply bashing christianity and islam .... and know not what else, presumably to make the case that hinduism is under assault or is not being acknowledged (as has been for who knows how long presumably).

This way of defending hinduism (or christianity, islam or judaism...) is firstly, intolerant, and secondly, counterproductive because it is damaging the body of hinduism (or christianity ...) itself. he is using the anti-hindu label as easily as his baseball cap gift to another. it is, a neurosis, that religious and/or ethnic groups take to be 'natural' and 'obvious'. The casualty dear zuSNa is the deeply religious value - tolerance itself.

best, g

Proud Desi
January 29, 2006
01:43 PM

Angana Chatterji wrote this in her dangerous column for Znet, which you have conveniently quoted -- "The positions taken by HEF and VF are deliberate, and consistent with the attempts of Hindutva groups toward rewriting history in India, where sectarian education campaigns undertaken by Hindu extremist groups demonize minorities through the teaching of fundamentalist curricula. "

Do you know that she is a Hindu-hating academic, her work is vicious. There are petitions up to get her fired from respectible citizens. Plese do your homework and don;t quote her!

January 29, 2006
05:56 PM

California Textbooks - specific issues #1

Select edits with comments


Interview: Professor Michael Witzel (Harvard) - Rediff, December 30, 2005

January 29, 2006
05:57 PM

California Textbooks - specific issues #2

Dr. Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate, on Hindutva Reinvention of History

Detailed comments by the Hindu groups HEF & VF on Witzel, Wolpert, Heitzman, etc (pdf)

January 31, 2006
05:35 PM


I guess you are right! I am open to the different interpretations - but some - like bringing in the play of Dravidian and Aryan (assuming the AIT theory to be correct) somehow seems a little to far-fetched to me :-)

This symbolic interpretation also ASSUMES that there were "religious" wars... which I still believe to be unrealistic way back then.

At the time I was studying in school, I remember two main deities being common in Harrappa, "Aryan tribe" and "Dravidian" - Shiv and Shakti. That was too much of a coincidence to me! In fact if you look closely, vedic thought is based on just two entities - Matter (represented by Shiv) and Energy (represented by Shakti). Of course, being a man and someone who respects Einstein, its a little "discomforting" to know that E = Mc(2) - it takes a heck a lot of Shiv (even using so much speed) to even equal Shakti!! ;-)


deepti lamba
January 31, 2006
05:48 PM

Lol, dkaps- I could, then, talk about Prakriti and her consort Prakrat ;)

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