But yoga is so hip!

A casual glance at the headlines would indicate that reporters love to cover stories about changes to public school curriculum. Especially changes to public school curriculum that allegedly are motivated by political or religious viewpoints. The debate over inclusion of intelligent design theories in textbooks has been hot for months. Reporters are still going crazy over the big, bad intelligent designers and their Pennsylvania and Kansas curriculum battles.

So how is it possible that reporters have, for the most part, managed to completely miss the dramatic success that Hindu nationalists had this week in revising California textbooks over the objections of renowned scholars? If the Hindu nationalists themselves hadn’t sent me a note (I subscribe to one of their listservs), I wouldn’t have known about it:

California Hindus were celebrating today their victory in yesterday’s meeting of the State Board of Education Curriculum Commission. The Vedic Foundation and Hindu Education Foundation worked for months to have changes made to sections of California textbooks that deal with India and Hinduism. Then there was a hasty intervention by a group of scholars of Indology which threatened to reverse many of the changes. Fortunately, the Curriculum Commission sympathized with the Hindus and allowed only a few changes to what Hindus had requested.

The estimated population of Hindus in America is small but growing rapidly: over 1 million adherents. Like most groups, Hindus have some pretty serious and conflicting divisions. The Hindus who won this victory are Hindu nationalists. The controversial movement got going around 100 years ago in response to British rule, the political victories Muslims were having in certain regions and the success Christians were having in conversions and subsequent subverting of the Hindu caste system. It has gained stature and adherents in India in recent decades.

Hindu nationalists have a few beliefs outside the mainstream of academic thought, including one view that science can prove human civilization has been around for 1,900 million years. They believe Hinduism originated in India and that Aryan culture traveled to Iran from India rather than vice-versa. They also believe Sanskrit is the mother language of every language in the world, including that of Native Americans. These unorthodox views are disputed by most historians and linguists who believe that the Vedic religion and Indo-Aryan Languages came from Central Asia along with the Aryans around 3500 years ago.

Curriculum battles in California are heated not only because the state is the nation’s largest textbok purchaser, but other states tend to follow California’s lead in textbook approval. Religion has been a required course of study in California since 1987 where students learn about Judaism, Hinduism and Christianity in sixth grade, and Islam in seventh grade.

While nationalists are not a Hindu majority even in India, they are a powerful political group. For months they heavily lobbied California’s Board of Education to make changes in the textbooks, such as asserting that Aryans were not a race, but a term for persons of noble intellect.

The lobbying prompted Harvard Indologist Michael Witzel to write a letter to the California Board of Education which said, in part:

The agenda of the groups proposing these changes is familiar to all specialists on Indian history, who have recently won a long battle to prevent exactly these kinds of changes from finding a permanent place in the history textbooks in India. The proposed revisions are not of a scholarly but of a religious-political nature, and are primarily promoted by Hindutva supporters and non-specialist academics writing about issues far outside their area of expertise.

But, if the Hindu Press International report is to be believed, the nationalists won. It seems like this would have been an excellent story for reporters to follow before now, whether from the education, religion, or intelligent design angles. It’s also a great reminder that one of the best things a busy religion reporter can do to stay on top of the beat is to subscribe to religious media.

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  • Dan Crawford

    National Geographic now subscribes to the latest fad in religions, Buddhism. They’ve apparently moved beyond prehistoric monsters, embryonic stem cells and global warming to spirituality.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Mollie, do you know the name or author of the book those illustrations are from? I saw it some months ago, noticed it as a great potential gift for a friend of mine who likes Hindu mythology and cute art, and neglected to write anything down about it.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Avram, I’m not sure but I found the image through Googling. Of course, now I don’t remember my search terms.

  • Stephen A.

    The problem with Christianity is that it doesn’t have “cute” gods like these illustrations.

    I bet it would be hard to draw Jesus with big eyes and his tongue sticking out, for example.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Bet it wouldn’t, Stephen! (Warning: Annoying music on that page.)

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    Truly scary. But also so….cute. God as “cute.” That ought to do it. I knew that’s all millions of nominal Christians needed – a cute savior.


  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Hold on a moment. I just followed that that Google News link, and one of the stories there was “Hindus and Sikhs Protest Curriculum Changes in Calif. Textbooks” (Viji Sundaram, Dec 02, 2005), which says (if I’m reading correctly) that the Hindu nationalists lost the fight. Was there a reversal the next day?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    I have not followed coverage on this but the story you link to predates the press release I posted from the Hindu nationalists. Viji Sundaram’s story, which received wide play in the Asian press, was written before the curriculum battle closed.

  • Sunil

    For the past few months, an obscure debate has been raging on about California school textbooks, which actually boils down to a vexed and important issue: Do Hindus have the right to be treated as equals with followers of other religions, or are Hindus and Hinduism to be deemed, ipso facto, inferior and objects of scorn?

    The proverbial unbiased observer would, on considering the facts, suggest it is a fundamental right of a major world religion to be treated on par with other major world religions. This would stand to reason, as rational people have long since ceased to believe in the superiority of certain races, or languages, or cultures.

    However, it turns out that in the case of Hinduism, ancient prejudices are still at work. It appears that religion is the one area in which it is perfectly acceptable to be an extreme bigot. Interestingly enough, Buddhism, which in many of its basic beliefs is almost identical to Hinduism, fares much better in the respect sweepstakes.

    The paradox is that religious minorities are treated shamefully in white and/or Christist countries, and Arab and/or Muslim countries. This may stem from the beliefs of these faiths and ethnicities in explicit imperialism and world conquest. In India, the numerical minorities (Christians and Muslims) are treated as minor royalty and are the ones oppressing Hindus. Yet, all the propaganda would have you believe the exact opposite.

    On the other hand, Christian belief has a special place in the West. Although that has typically been of the nature of primus inter pares, first among equals, it is worth noting that the God in whom we trust, according to US currency notes, is very much the Christian God. With evangelical millennialists rampant, the US now sees ‘intelligent design’ (belief masquerading as science) and diminishing separation of Church and State. You apply misninterpretations of Hindu texts and teach that to kids but noone there is ready to teach real sins of Crusades and millions of deaths caused because of Christianity. Evil Christian missonaries moving from country to country and destroying native faiths and selling there beliefs. (live example is Mollie, shame on you for posting such pics….but hey don’t worry…Hinduism is not like Islam so we will not bite you, Hinduism is deep Spiritual mother of all)

    Hinduism, like Judaism, can reasonably induce guilt because Christian colonialism has directly caused the deaths of 30 million Indians, mostly Hindus (see Mike Davis’ Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino and the Creation of the Third World), and the transfer of at least $10 trillion to Western coffers, in the process beggaring the nation. Yet, instead of tender treatment, Hindus get more oppression.

  • Rajitha Duraivelan

    Tamil is the primary classical language of the World.Also it’s the mother of Indian languages and father of Sanskrit. Sanskrit is a semi artificial literary dialect. Without knowing the antiquity of tamil and the understanding of the sangam tamil literatures, study on hinduism / indian culture wont be a complete one.

  • Ram Lakhan

    Raed this piece below in India Outlook Magazine to understand why Hindus are demanding changes in California. The agenda is not political. Hindus are merely demanding parity with other religions in 6th grade textbooks. Focusing only on social problems in Hindu society while not doing the same for Islam, Christianity and Judaism is unacceptable double standards


  • Ram Lakhan

    Also, note that the Suhag Shukla’s Hindu American Foundation is different from both the Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation and their role also seems very different. Their letter to the CA state board of education can be accessed from the link below.


    Sacramento, CA (Feb. 14, 2006) – The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), through its law firm, issued a letter to the California State Board of Education (SBE) last Thursday, February 9, 2006, demanding a fair and open process in the ongoing textbook adoption process. HAF became involved in the process when it became apparent that the California Department of Education (CDE), SBE and its staff improperly allowed certain individuals to undermine the procedures available for public debate and resolution and failed to adequately address a substantial number of the Hindu edits.

    “We at HAF are asking the SBE to ensure that the latest subcommittee, formed to assess the Hindu edits and corrections, act in compliance with all of the requirements provided by law. Specifically, the committee must fulfil the mandate of the education code which prohibits the adoption of instructional materials that adversely reflects on one’s creed or ancestry,” said Suhag Shukla, Esq., Legal Counsel for HAF. “We’re requesting that the SBE correct numerous procedural errors that have already occurred and consider fairly the views of the Hindu American participants and practicing Hindus.”

    Of key concern to HAF was that the remaining proceedings of the subcommittee be conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. The Bagley-Keene Act requires that certain state agency meetings be conducted openly so that the public may remain informed. It also requires that the public be given a minimum of ten (10) days notice of the time and location of such meetings and that agendas be made available. To date, staff of both the CDE and the SBE have had several private communications and closed-door meetings with advocates opposing the Hindu participants, while denying HAF and the participating Hindu groups notice or access. These actions, HAF asserts, have subverted the public process and deny all notions of fairness.

    “We believe that the recommendations made by the Ad Hoc Committee to the SBE on November 8th and then reaffirmed at a public hearing by the Curriculum Commission on December 2nd, were based on an accurate understanding of science, history and the sentiments of those people in California that actually practice the Hindu faith,” said Ms. Shukla. “It is patently unfair, and perhaps illegal, for a private, closed-door meeting between Board members and an advocate opposing the Hindu participants to undermine these publicly resolved recommendations.”

    HAF has also brought into question the reliance of the CDE and SBE on a professor of Sanskrit as an expert on Hinduism and ancient India. “It’s akin to consulting a professor of Latin about Christianity or Roman history,” asserted Ms. Shukla.

    Attorneys from the law firm of Olson, Hagel and Fishburn, LLP, met on behalf of HAF with the Chief Counsel of the SBE on Friday, February 10, 2006, to discuss further the issues outlined in Thursday’s letter. They will remain in close communication with the SBE and CDE until an equitable resolution is reached.

  • http://www.spy.org.uk/drk drk

    You don’t say what changes have been made – only that “hindu nationalists have revised textbooks against the onjections of renowned scholars”

    which scholars? which objections? what specific changes were made to the texts that are bad?

    More information please!