Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Monday, January 30, 2006

To the textbook writers belongs history

Don Quixote tipped me off to a hard-fought battle over "facts" about India in California textbooks. Apparently someone was offended about how Indian history was portrayed, especially the fact that women haven't fared well there:

Anjali Patel, a Cupertino parent with two daughters and a founding member of Hindu Education Foundation, is among many Indo-Americans who contend that new proposed sixth-grade social studies textbooks misrepresent Hinduism and portray Indian history in a negative light. When she reviewed the textbooks early last summer, Patel said she found problems with the depiction of women. She believed the books sought to overemphasize negative aspects of Hindu history, while downplaying the negative aspects in the history of other world religions, including Islam and Christianity.
Patel's complaints fell on receptive ears in California and the textbooks were revised. The problem is that, once revised, myriad other Indian groups weighed in, complaining that they'd been revised straight into other inaccuracies that offended them:
One of the biggest issues for the Hindu Education Foundation is the textbooks' depiction of women. In one section, the group recommended that the line "men had many more rights than women" be changed to say that "men had different duties than women." They also objected to what they saw as an overemphasis of the caste system in ancient India, with some members such as Milpitas parent Madhulika Singh arguing that the caste system had very little to do with Hinduism or ancient India. To complicate the matter further, the Dalit Freedom Network, an advocacy group for "untouchables" in India, sent a letter to the Board of Education contending that proposed changes by the Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation were an attempt to soften India's history of caste-based discrimination. Nanci Ricks, executive director for the Dalit Freedom Network, an advocacy group for "untouchables" in India, said the caste system should be "defined within the context of Hinduism because that's where it gets its origins." "Ninety-eight percent of Indians in this country are in the higher castes," Ricks said. "They have never had to deal with what it's like to be an untouchable. They say it doesn't exist because, for them, it never did."
The name calling has also begun, with the original reviser being castigated as "anti-Hindu" and "anti-Indian," while many of those weighing in are being called "Nationalists," a term at which they take offense. I don't have a dog in this fight because I know so little about India. I know that it's a huge country with different traditions in different regions. I know that India has fewer female births nationwide than is natural because they are aborting their females as fast as they conceive them -- something that argues in favor of the view that women are not treated well in broad segments (unless to be aborted is merely to be treated "differently"). Likewise, I know that until the British outlawed it, broad swaths of Indians practiced suttee, another tradition not known for being woman friendly. What's fascinating about the textbook fight is how explicitly it exposes the fact that big states such as California and Texas, through their textbooks, control the world's perception of history. In these states, every day is 1984 day, with the government given the opportunity to write history to suit current norms and demands. Talking to Technorati: , , , ,