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The Hindutva deluge in California

Hindutva has ferried to the forefront in a raging battle of academic might in United States of America, reports Kanupriya Vashisht.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2006 17:41 IST

Christianity, Darwin, and the recent Intelligent Design controversy took a back seat in California recently as the hydra-headed Hindutva ferried to the forefront in a raging battle of academic might between pro-Hindutva groups and "secular" scholars, over textbooks on Indian history presented to "impressionable minds" in America.

Texas-based Vedic Foundation and the New Jersey-based Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) galvanized a campaign to revise Indian history textbooks on the ground that they showed ancient India in poor light and singled out Hinduism for "bias, distortions and prejudicial treatment". The seculars, on the other hand, rushed in with equal fervour, warning the California Board of Education (CBE) against making revisions of "a religious-political nature".

The rival group, led by Michael Witzel, an American professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University, had the support of a number of academicians including Indian historians Romilla Thapar, DN Jha and Shereen Ratnagar. (http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/witzelletter.pdf)

Some of the contentious issues that churned up in this clash were the reported projections about ancient India, the Aryan invasion, the caste system, and the status of women in India.

Witzel, in a letter to CBE president Ruth Green, suggested that the groups seeking revision have a hidden agenda. "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," he wrote.

About 50 international scholars specializing in the study of Indian history and culture endorsed the letter of Prof Witzel. The Board accepted the recommendations of the scholars and has been working with a panel of reputed scholars of South Asia to incorporate those changes that are required to meet the standards of objective scholarship.

The Hindu groups charged the CBE with going back on the recommendations made by an expert it had appointed to go into the controversy - Shiva Bajpai of California State University, Northridge.

About 200 changes were sought by the two Hindu groups backed by the Hindu American Foundation.

In some cases, the changes suggested and approved by the groups tended to show a sanitized version of ancient Indian history and to depict Hinduism as a religion without any reference to its caste system. For instance, the widely held belief that the Aryans came to India from Central Asia and created a caste system in which the natives occupied the lowest rung was taken out of the textbooks. "The Aryans created a caste system..." was replaced with, "During Vedic times, people were divided into different social groups (varnas) based on their capacity to undertake a particular profession."

Also, the fact that sudras "performed services for members of the three higher castes" was changed to merely "performed services for all classes and did more labor-intensive work."

First Published: Jan 25, 2006 17:41 IST