Just a light entry today, with a minimum of commentary.
On January 25 the Eccentric Star site posted a lengthy Christian Science Monitor story on Hindu nationalists’ attempts to influence school textbooks—in California. It's enough to try rewriting history on the Indian subcontinent, where the nationalists are permanent political movers and shakers—but in Sacramento?
It's worth reading the CSM story for comic value alone, since the Hindus' attempts to influence California school textbook language make the loopier ideas of U.S. creationists look Nobel Prize-worthy.
Instigating the California debate were two US-based Hindu groups with long ties to Hindu nationalist parties in India. One, the Vedic Foundation, is a small Hindu sect that aims at simplifying Hinduism to the worship of one god, Vishnu. The other, the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), was founded in 2004 by a branch of the right-wing Indian group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
This year, as California's Board of Education commissioned and put up for review textbooks to be used in its 6th-grade classrooms, these two groups came forward with demands for substantial changes.
Some of the changes were no-brainers. One section said, incorrectly, that the Hindi language is written in Arabic script. One photo caption misidentified a Muslim as a Brahman priest.
But instead of focusing on such errors, the groups took steps to add their own nationalist imprint to Indian history.
In one edit, the HEF asked the textbook publisher to change a sentence describing discrimination against women in ancient society to the following: "Men had different duties (dharma) as well as rights than women."
In another edit, the HEF objected to a sentence that said that Aryan rulers had "created a caste system" in India that kept groups separated according to their jobs. The HEF asked this to be changed to the following: "During Vedic times, people were divided into different social groups (varnas) based on their capacity to undertake a particular profession."
The hottest debate centered on when Indian civilization began, and by whom. For the past 150 years, most historical, linguistic, and archaeological research has dated India's earliest settlements to around 2600 BC. And most established historical research contends that the cornerstone of Indian civilization - the practice of Hindu religion - was codified by people who came from outside India, specifically Aryan language speakers from the steppes of Central Asia.
Many Hindu nationalists are upset by the notion that Hinduism could be yet another religion, like Islam and Christianity, with foreign roots. The HEF and Vedic Foundation both lobbied hard to change the wording of California's textbooks so that Hinduism would be described as purely home grown....
Eliminate mentions of discrimination against women as discrimination against women; put a noble spin on the despised caste system; portray Hinduism as somehow mystically wedded to the land despite evidence to the contrary. I should also mention that the Vedic Foundation until recently had a note on its site claiming Hinduism was 111.5 trillion years old; current theories hold that the Solar System itself is only 4.6 billion years old.
Why the Hindu nationalist groups feel they should export their worldview to the Left Coast is unclear. I could make all sorts of arguments about how these groups stand to reap soft-power benefits downstream from Californian schoolchildren trained to see the Hindu nationalist worldview as right and just. But maybe it's just embarrassing that some nations and states take their science and history more seriously.