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Saturday, January 28, 2006 

Revisionist History For California Textbooks - Whose History?

India's history is under debate in California in the latest chapter of US textbook revisionism. Californian school history textbooks were altered to support Hindutva and related perspectives, under the advice of Hindu organizations like The Vedic Foundation and Hindu Education Foundation. This is as politically explosive in the US as it is in India and elsewhere.

Schools are where we first socialize with the burgeoning world. And school textbooks are where we decipher the world's written memory - history and how 'we happened'. The debate in California is between Hindu nationalists and others, including academics, who are outraged by the whitewash that is being performed in saffron. Coalitions have broadened. The Hindu nationalist - Hindutva - character of the revisionists has put diversity and religious pluralism at risk.

The advocacy site friendsofsouthasia.org describes this as the "Hindutva assault on school history textbooks of the kind that went on a few years ago in India". According to ZMag the positions are "consistent with the attempts of Hindutva groups toward rewriting history in India, where sectarian education campaigns undertaken by Hindu extremist groups demonize minorities through the teaching of fundamentalist curricula".

In the US, controversies over history textbooks are nothing new. They have been documented for current reference. Jonathan Zimmerman in a review of Joseph Moreau's Schoolbook Nation (2003) writes: "The texts have always presented a hodgepodge of complex and even contradictory perspectives, reflecting the diverse interests and influences of the Americans who sought to change them: neo-Confederate white southerners in the 1890s, anti-British immigrants in the 1920s, African Americans in the 1960s, and so on."

Books analyzing content and attacks on textbooks include Frances FitzGerald's America Revised (1979), James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995), Joseph Moreau's Schoolbook Nation (2003), Jonathan Zimmerman's Whose America? (2002) and Gerard Giordano's Twentieth-Century Textbook Wars (2003).

While revision of South Asian history was due, as was evident when issues of incorrectness arose in Virginia some time ago, the ideologues have overstated their case in California. The Christian Science Monitor correctly takes this to be the global assertion in the US, of a particular religious nationalism. It notes that: "The Board of Education has already heard from South Indians who argued that the HEF [Hindu Education Foundation] and Vedic Foundation represent a North Indian upper-caste perspective."

also on Blogcritics and Desicritics with discussion and additional links

badmash.org (cartoon source)
Times of India
Sepia Mutiny on issue in Virginia
CSMonitor - India history spat hits US

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