The California Textbook Review Scandal


The Issues

Process Overview

Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) and Vedic Foundation (VF), two premier Hindu organizations, worked on behalf of the Hindu community in California to provide factually correct information about ancient India and Hinduism in textbooks. They followed the CBE guidelines to provide detailed line-by-line comments on the textbook sections related to India and Hinduism.

The CBE hired an expert, Dr. Shiva Bajpai, Professor of History at CSU Northridge, to review the comments provided by these organizations. However, before the Board could approve the recommendations of Prof. Bajpai, a group of academics promoted by the Indo-European Research (IER) group petitioned the CBE to discard the comments of Hindu organizations. The CBE appointed three members of the politically-motivated IER group to review comments.

On December 2, the California Curriculum Commission reviewed all the comments provided by the group promoted by IER and rejected most of them, while affirming the recommendations of Prof. Bajpai. However, we understand that the SBE is siding with the IER group and has ignored the Hindu community’s input as well the recommendations of Prof. Bajpai and its own Curriculum Commission.

Contrary to the California state regulations, the CBE resorted to working with hostile academics with questionable political and ideological motivations in clandestine, closed-door meetings while denying information about the proceedings to Hindu organizations and ignoring their queries.

Examples of Incorrect and Biased information

  1. Basic information regarding Hinduism is riddled with errors: e.g. the chronological priority of two major scriptures is given in the wrong order: the Mahabharata is placed before the Ramayana. This is akin to stating that the Gospel was written before the Hebrew Bible.

  2. One textbook states that Hindi is written in the Arabic script with 18 characters. The correct information is that Hindi is written in the Devanagari (Sanskrit) script with 46 characters.

  3. One textbook states that the monkey King Hanuman is so dear to Rama that whenever the Ramayana is recited, he is present. The textbook proceeds disparagingly: “Look around, see any monkeys?”

The blatant errors on rudimentary facts indicate that the material was authored by non-experts whose knowledge about India and Hinduism is severely limited. However California and many other states in the US have a sizeable Indian American population today. There is therefore every reason that the Hindu community should be treated on par with other communities by ensuring that the task of writing textbook sections related to their civilization involves Indian academics who are experts in ancient Indian history and are also practising Hindus.

Hindu organizations have pleaded with the CBE that negative portrayal of India and Hinduism is harmful to the proper development of the young minds of children of Indian ancestry. In many instances, children have been ridiculed and have faced harassment from their classmates after disparaging discussions took place in the classrooms (e.g. "see any monkeys?"). Unfortunately, the CBE has been unwilling to pay attention to the concerns of Hindu parents even after children spoke at the SBE meeting describing their experiences.

An Example of a Controversial Topic

California Parents

California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Materials (CAPEEM) filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of California against the California State Board of Education and the California Department of Education. The complaint is about the civil rights of Hindus and Hindu children, the derogatory portrayal of Hinduism & Ancient Indian Civilization and the violation of Federal laws and statutes.

The civil rights of Hindu school children are violated by advancing an inaccurate and derogatory picture of Hinduism in sixth grade school textbooks.   The California Department of Education and State Board of Education meetings on the matter failed to address Hindu concerns. Hindus are being discriminated against.

Various Hindu groups and parents participated in this process since the Grade 6 History-Social Sciences textbooks came up for adoption last year. After being let down by the CDE and SBE, the parents decided to proceed legally to restore the civil rights of Hindus and eradicate discriminatory practices against them. Action is urgent as school children are the ones who will suffer damage due to the derogatory presentation in the textbooks. Many students have spoken to the CDE and SBE about their experiences in the classroom and the complete disconnect between their school curriculum on Hinduism and what they know and practice at home.

CAPEEM has retained Venkat Balasubramani to represent its interests. Venkat is an attorney who has worked in the past with public interest groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on civil rights matters.

Swami Vivekananda on calumnies heaped over Hinduism and Hindu civilization by foreign missionaries: “What is meant by those pictures in the school-books for children where the Hindu mother is painted as throwing her children to the crocodiles in the Ganga? The mother is black, but the baby is painted white, to arouse more sympathy, and get more money. What is meant by those pictures, which painted a man burning his wife at a stake with his own hands, so that she may become a ghost and torment the husband’s enemy? What is meant by the pictures of huge cars crushing over human beings? I have heard one of these gentlemen preach in Memphis that, in every village of India, there is a pond of the bones of little babies… What have the Hindus done to these disciples of Christ that every Christian child is taught to call the Hindus ‘vile’ and ‘wretched’ and the most horrible demons on earth?” Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works, Vol. IV (1945 ed.)