After a contentious public policy process of over two years, the California State Board of Education on November 9 approved a set of 6th and 7th grade history textbooks that contain discriminatory portrayals of Muslims, and erase the histories of Buddhists, Dalits (those formerly and pejoratively known as “untouchables”), Sikhs, and other South Asian communities.
Some of this content was raucously cheered on by Hindu nationalists and supremacists, who lobbied for the removal of references to the caste oppression in textbooks — akin to white nationalists demanding the erasure of slavery. These textbooks violate the state’s own 2016 History-Social Science curriculum framework to which publishers were required to adhere.
“The State Board just approved textbooks that unfairly characterize Muslims as hostile. Rhetoric like this contributes to over half of Muslim students in California facing religion-based bullying. We understand that alternative facts emanate from the current White House, but we’re disappointed to see them in California textbooks,” said CAIR California Legislative and Government Affairs Coordinator Yannina Casillas.
Sikh American activist Palvinder Kaur of the Jakara Movement added, “Anti-Muslim rhetoric affects many communities. When textbooks attack Muslims, they also impact every student perceived as Muslim. Each community must be understood within their historical context according to the primary sources, not the imaginations of those with political agendas.”
“Upper-caste Hindu nationalist lobby groups have been putting tremendous pressure to erase our history,” said Dolly Arjun of the Dalit American Coalition. “They’ve been operating off the white nationalist playbook, when they fight to erase uncomfortable historical truths.” Some of the most discriminatory content in the drafts of new textbooks like National Geographic’s World History: Ancient Civilizations, erases any mention of the word Dalit, referring to 200 million members of India’s community, who continue to experience and fight caste oppression.
“Publishers received guidelines that explicitly mentioned histories of Dalits, and of caste oppression,” added Thenmozhi Soundararajan of Equality Labs and co-founder of South Asian Histories for All. “The state approved a textbook that literally erased our name, and another referred to Dalits by using a slur. Would you accept a textbook that used the N-word to describe African Americans?” In allowing these erasures and these slurs in the textbooks, the state may be in violation of the Prohibition of Discrimination section of the California Education Code, which seeks to ensure all Californian students an education free of discrimination.
“This kind of historical erasure by Hindu nationalists isn’t new, and isn’t limited to California,” says Sapna Pandya of Hindus for Justice. “This effort is being driven by the current wave of Hindu supremacist politics in India, which has played out over the past two decades. State-funded educational and cultural organizations are being systematically restructured to reflect Hindu nationalist ideology and ‘alternative facts.’ For example, some Indian textbooks are being rewritten to erase the name of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who’s hated by Hindu nationalists. It’s like removing George Washington’s name from U.S. history textbooks.”
“This is appalling,” said Sudipta Sen, Professor of History at UC Davis. “I cannot believe that instead of adopting the edits recommended by the 2015 Faculty Committee – composed of leading historians and scholars of South Asia – and while disregarding the recent petition of 100 leading US scholars of South Asian history, social science and related disciplines, the Board only cited suggestions made by lobby groups such as the Hindu American Foundation. It is deeply concerning to see the expert opinion of the best historians of India and South Asia from across the US dismissed in this way. We cannot let publishers issue new textbooks for our schoolchildren with such egregious factual errors and biases.”
“Just as California refuses to give in to white nationalist pressure, it must not succumb to Hindu nationalist lobbying,” states Anirvan Chatterjee, a spokesperson for the South Asian Histories for All coalition. “We demand that the California State Board of Education ensures that the histories and identities of Dalits, Muslims, Sikhs, and others aren’t erased or demonized in our textbooks. Every student deserves textbooks that are diverse, plural, and based on rigorous scholarship.”
- May 2016: California Curriculum Body Acknowledges Reality of Caste System; Hindu American Foundation concedes on word “Dalit”
- July 2016: California curriculum body accepts edits by scholars of Islam, affirms caste has religious basis, keeps ‘ancient India’
- November 2017: Historic Failure: Will California history textbooks erase caste oppression?