Pyrrhic victory for US Hindus

It is a sad and undeniable truth that the California Hindu community has failed to win a substantive victory in the US courts in the matter of the shoddy depiction of Hindu faith and culture in school textbooks. The substance of the so-called success boils down to the judge accepting that rape was committed, but refusing to redress the victim’s grievance. Injustice has thus been perpetuated against the Hindu community and it is a measure of the moral weakness of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) that its leaders are claiming legal triumph over the California School Board of Education (SBE).

HAF won its legal point that SBE revised the sixth grade textbooks in violation of approved procedures, but its principal demand that the SBE be directed to drop the currently approved textbooks and revisit the entire textbook adoption process was denied. Judge Patrick Marlette of the California Superior Court accepted that SBE revisions on the presentation of Hindu dharma did not conform to the California Administrative Procedures Act and the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act.

This is because the school board allowed diligently approved changes with California Hindu parents to be hijacked by a group of known Hindu-baiters, including proponents of the discredited Aryan Invasion Theory. Embarrassingly for the SBE, even Profs Michael Witzel and Romila Thapar admitted the textbooks contained passages that are "very culturally biased and insensitive." They said the authors of the impugned textbooks lacked the knowledge and qualifications for the task and suggested dumping the textbooks and authors and hiring international (sic) scholars from The Academic Indology Advisory Council set up by them!

Judge Marlette therefore had no difficulty in upholding the HAF claim that the textbook adoption process was flawed and illegal and that California SBE had conducted the textbook approval process under invalid "underground regulations." It is therefore quite untenable that the Judge denied HAF the desired relief in the form of rejecting the textbooks adopted under this illegal process (when even Witzel felt they should go), saying this would disrupt every California public school student using any and every textbook adopted under SBE’s unlawful policies. The judge said SBE be permitted a reasonable opportunity to correct the deficiencies in its regulatory framework governing the textbook approval process while maintaining the current system in the interim.

De facto, this means California SBE can improve its procedures while continuing to maintain incorrect and offensive material in the textbooks. The devastating impact of this judgment will now be felt in educational contests in each and every American county and state, if not combated vigorously at this stage itself. HAF counsel Suhag Shukla’s contention that merely the adoption process for the textbooks must be repeated misses the point entirely. What is at stake is the content of the books; the flawed and biased adoption process only underlines this mischief.

When the process of textbook revision began last year, the Curriculum Commission accepted the changes mooted by representatives of Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups, but posted changes desired by Hindus for re-review by Hindu-baiting academics! The Jews, for instance, sought removal of references portraying Christianity as an "improvement" upon Judaism. Many changes desired by Hindus simply rectified obvious errors, such as the claim that "Hindi is written with the Arabic alphabet, which uses 18 letters that stand for sounds," when Hindi is written in the Devanagari script and has 52 characters.

Hindus received unfair and unequal treatment in the matter of how sixth grade students in the public education system would be taught about the Hindu religion. Why should Hindu children be taught that "Hindus worship talking monkeys and throw widows into fires?" Why should the primordial stories in Hindu scriptures be branded as ‘myths’ when the scriptures of monotheistic traditions are said to come from Only One (mutually exclusive) God(s)? Why should later-day social evils like untouchability and rigid caste divisions be linked falsely with India’s ancient civilization, when they are products of the medieval encounter with Islam?

The judge’s refusal to order revisions in the textbooks has had the effect of officially promoting a negative projection of the Hindu faith as compared to other religions. This deprives Hindu students of an educational experience at par with that of their peers, and thus violates their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.

The judgment also tacitly ignores the violation of the constitutional requirement of State neutrality towards religion in general, especially towards different religions. The California Department of Education indirectly endorsed the monotheistic faiths by accepting the changes they wanted, while denigrating Hindu dharma by portraying it incorrectly. It remains to be ensured, therefore, that the textbooks eventually incorporate a fair representation of Hindu faith and culture, rather than fashion cosmetic legal standards for judging textbooks. California needs to respect and enforce the guideline which states that a child should feel proud of his/her heritage. This is an issue of Hindu Civil Rights.

The ball now lies in the court of the California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Materials (CAPEEM), which is pursuing the matter of substance in the Federal Court. Meanwhile, HAF should continue to fight for supplementary educational materials (correctives) being issued by the SBE to rectify the distortions and biases in specific chapters of the textbooks.

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