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California to decide whether ‘South Asia’ will replace ‘India’ in schools

world Updated: Jul 14, 2016 23:07 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times

File photo of painted Harappan pottery found during excavation at a site in Rakhigarhi, 90 minutes east of Hisar in Haryana. A debate is on in US state of California whether ‘South Asia’ should replace ‘India’ as more representative of the geographical spread of early civilisations on the subcontinent.(Saumya Khandelwal / HT Photo )

Should “South Asia” replace “India” as more representative of the geographical spread of early civilisations on the subcontinent? Was religion a key aspect of the “caste” system?

These and many questions regarding the teaching of Indian history in California schools as part of a general overhaul, which have been debated fiercely over the past months, will get a final hearing and a decision on Thursday.

Scores of activists, parents, experts and students have testified in multiple hearings held by the Instructional Quality Commission of California’s department of education over several months.

One of the most contentious changes being proposed is that of replacing references to “India” as a geographical entity with “South Asia” in the History-Social Science Framework, a teaching guide.

On one side of the debate are the Hindu Education Foundation, which works towards “enriching the understanding about Indian civilisation and Hinduism” in the US, the Uberoi Foundation, which, its website said, promotes “awareness of the four major Dharmic religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism” and advocacy group Hindu America Foundation.

On the other side are the South Asian Histories for All (SAHFA), an interfaith and inter-caste coalition of 24 organisations across California and the US, and the South Asia Faculty Group, a group of academics drawn from across US colleges and universities.

Both sides have claimed varied degrees of success.

In a November 2015 note titled “South Asia Studies Faculty Review of Proposed California Curriculum Framework”, the South Asia Faculty Group suggested changes to a section entitled “The Early Civilisations of India” in the Grade 6 curriculum. “We recommend changing the Title of this Section to ‘The Early Civilisations of South Asia’. At several other places in the text, we also recommend substituting South Asia for ‘Ancient India’ or ‘India’,” the group said.

It argued the Indus Valley Civilisation‘s major urban centres, Harappa and Mohenjodaro, were both in Pakistan.

The other groups pushed back, arguing the word India was being erased from California’s textbooks. A petition headlined “School students in California will be forced to learn that there was never an 'India' unless you act!” was signed by more than 22,000 people. And the department decided to retain “India” in many instances, which was claimed as a victory.

Neither side is happy with the changes despite subsequent revisions, and disagreements are likely to resurface at the final hearing on Thursday. The Hindu America Foundation is likely to bring up its objection to the description of the “caste system” in the draft as a “social and cultural structure as well as a religious belief”.

In a letter to the commission, the foundation suggested this description be changed to say the caste system was a “social and cultural structure, rather than a foundational religious belief”.

The ongoing debate has attracted national and international attention, especially in India, where the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh welcomed the effort to prevent all references to “India” from being replaced with “South Asia”.