Educational boards across the United States, are actively involved in a process of textbook reform. They, along with parents, students and other volunteers to decide which books contain accurate information, so that they may be used in the school curriculums in their respective states. At the forefront, is the California board of education. Parents, students and host of other volunteers have been working with the California curriculum commission to pore over suggested textbooks to find and eliminate inaccuracies relating to India and Indian culture, heritage etc. After a lot of time and effort spent by a lot of people a list of suggested changes were approved by the commission. Most changes were related to historical and cultural inaccuracies about India, Hinduism, etc. Just as it seemed that the process was on the verge of completion, there was a large spanner in the works.
Enter Michael Witzel and his band of India-baiters. According to this group, all the changes that were suggested were done so at the bequest of pro-Hindutva groups to conform to their religious-political views! Apparently there is a hidden agenda involved in removing inaccuracies from text-books ! These academics (most of whom are not of Indian origin mind you) who seem to know more about India and its culture that Indians suggest that this process has more to do with religion and politics rather than ensuring that the next generation does not arrive into the world with a jaundice view of India!
Anyways, this gets more interesting...Michael Witzel sent a letter to the California state board of education on a Harvard letterhead ! Now the interesting question that follows is...
"does Harvard University support or even condone this particular viewpoint of one of its faculty members, since the letter has been sent on its official letterhead?"Once would really appreciate their comments on this topic. But, none has been forthcoming. Was this a feeble attempt at trying to scare the school board with an officious letter (one from Harvard no doubt). Did these people have the official sanction of one of the older and most respected the universities in the world ? Why did Michael Witzel remove the link to the above letter as soon as word got out that he had used the letterhead without consent from Harvard ? Fortunately, enough people had copied and cached the original.
Adding spice to the this incident are the comments by Witzel and his coterie on the Indo-Eurasian list. Quoted below are certain excerpts from an email sent by Witzel on this list...
The Hindus in North America ( HINAs) are not just hiina, "lost, abandoned", but they (understandably) cling to their homeland in all manners they can come up with. "Reforming" our schoolbooks according to an imagined Golden Age (Ram Raj), hoary India is just one of the expressions we can observe.Well, hiina, definitely has more connotations than just lost or abandoned. It means without, deprived of. It also means base and lowly and is probably one of the most derogatory words in the language. Doesn't Witzel, an Indian expert and his group of experts know this? Is this a deliberate attempt at trampling on the Indian community in the US ? Is it unacceptable for expatriates to want to feel at home and learn understand and stick to their culture ? Why is it made to sound like a crime ?
This particular excerpt...
They also tell their daughters to study Classical Indian dance (not exactly a highly regarded occupation back home)This comment is shocking enough that I believe it doesn't warrant any further comments from anyone else.
More comments from the same list...
they build many temples and have Sunday schools (as many other ethnicities do). But, they hardly invest in Higher Education as other successful Asians have done. Nor allow their children to study items outside Law or Medicine, such as Indian Studies, --- the only way that members of their group could speak with real authority (for example, in school books).Hmmm...people of Indian origin have probably among the most educated and well-placed people in the country. Indians are always involved in improving the community, and giving back. They just do not make that much of a noise about it. They are also the best behaved and law-abiding citizens and pay their taxes (all of which cannot really be stated about any other community in the United States). So, how is it that there is little or no opposition to the construction of synagogues, mosques, churches of various denominations and even temples dedicated to Satan ? Doesn't this personify hypocrisy at its worst ? And very few people dictate what their children to study what they want. Students typically pick engineering and medicine because these fields provide the best opportunities for career growth and income. Where would this country be without it quota of highly-qualified Indians? And why would any person of Indian origin wish to take up Indian studies, where eminent scholars like Witzel are bashing India at every nook and corner ?
And the trump card - caste !
Or at least, they look for a spouse within the same general Indian caste (jaati), or worse, class ( varna), or worst, among any Indians. They have seen too many of their children marry US people (whether of other Asian or of European descent; Blacks seem unthinkable).What percentage of marriages in American are inter-racial ? And what percentage of the others are outside of the same economic strata ? These are really small, negligible numbers. They may be changing, but so are the thoughts/ideas of Indians. I think that Witzel and co. must put their own house in order before looking over the fence.
His knowledge about Indians in the US is summed up by this wonderful statement...
as they are NRIs ("non returning Indians" , as I just learned from a Hindi movie),So, it seems that the incomparable Michacel Witzel picks up much of his authentic information from movies! Lest anyone has forgotten, doesn't NRI stand for Non-resident Indian ? Or is Bollywood the leading authority about India now ?
Another authority on the subject is Steve Farmer. He claims to be another expert on the matter. In his own words...
"I have read many of the ancient Indian texts, in translation. I have been working hard on learning Sanskrit the last few months"What he seems to forget, is that a translation is somone else's opinion of the subject matter, at best! Also, people have spent entire lifetimes learning Sanskrit and ancient Indian textbooks and haven't gotten close to understanding it all!
the seriousness of the leaders of the campaign can be gauged by the following conversation thread that occurred in the Indo-Eurasian list...
Michael Witzel writes...Other issues that Witzel and his group seem to have has to do with how God is spelled in the textbooks, especially when relating to Indian Gods. While textbooks use "God" to refer to the other religons, they want the usage changed to "gods" and "godesses" (lower case) while referring to Indias deities!
"Many short mantras (the later biija mantras) like oM have humble origins the Veda. Him (hiM) is used in the Veda to call your goat .. and your wife."
Steve Farmer replies
"What if you want to call your goat and your wife _simultaneously_, Michael? :^) "
Steve Farmer adds...
"I will try it on my girlfriend tonight."
If the reforms/changes suggested in the textbooks do not go through, then these changes wll remain in most US school books until 2012 ! And this would be a serious disservice to the culture and society that is India.
I believe that this is an active issue that Indians in the US and all over the world must actively pursue. At least until the reforms suggested go through, or Michael Witzel and his coterie back down and show respect to India and Indians everywhere. The fastest and most efficient way to do it is to utilise the power of the blgosphere and mainstream media. Although Sepia Mutiny had run a story regarding this issue, they seemed to have assumed that the experts were right. Most experts listed in Witzel's original letter are not of Indian origin! I think all of us on the blogosphere (whether of Indian origin or not), must express solidarity behind the parents and volunteers who have worked hard to make these changes and try to block out the unnecessary negativity caused by the involvement of Michael Witzel and group.
Another pro-active step is to write to the president of Harvard (Lawrence Summers) and complain about the misuse of the Harvard Sanskrit department's letterhead and ask for an explanation from the university.
Other necessary steps include writing to/contacting the the members of the California Curriculum commission...
- Alan Bersin, CA Secretary of Education. (Fax: (916) 323-3753)
- Karen Steentofte, Chief Counsel, State Board of Education (Fax: (916) 319-0176)
- Ruth Green, President, State Board of Education (Fax: (916) 319-0176)
- Sue Stickel, Deputy Superintendent of Schools
- Jackie Goldberg, Assemblywoman, (Fax: (916) 319-2145)