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In Depth: Contentious debate over India’s historic portrayal in California textbooks

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California Textbooks Public Hearing, Students Silent Protest

California Textbooks Public Hearing, Students hold silent protest in front of the State Department of Education on the day of the public hearing, March 24th, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Diya TV) — More than 100 Hindu-Americans descended upon the state’s capital last Friday to voice outcry over the California Department of Education Instructional Quality Commission’s plans to accept edits to school curriculum, edits that in effect would largely remove references to India and Hinduism, and instead replaced with the terms, ‘South Asia’ and ‘ancient Indian religion.’

The proposed changes could appear in sixth-to-tenth grade textbooks, and begin as early as next year. Many believe implementing those changes would further alienate Indian youth from the history of their native country.

At its core, there seems to be at least three separate views on how to depict & accurately teach California sixth graders about Hinduism & India.

According to the Hindu American Foundation, a Hindu advocacy group, the current textbooks show Hinduism in a negative light, focussing just on the issues of ‘Caste Oppression’. They further clarify that ‘Caste’ is not part of ‘Hinduism’ rather a social construct that, while still a valid issue, doesn’t bear its roots in Hinduism. They also believe, the kids would benefit greatly from learning about other positive references to Hinduism such as Yoga & Meditation. The Hindu American Foundation has been working with the Department of Education and were making incremental progress over the years.

Enter, the South Asia Faculty Group – A group of esteemed scholars with Ph.Ds and decades of research and experience in History, South Asia studies, the Indus Valley civilization, Hinduism and Religious Studies. This group submitted a set of edits that would eliminate mention of “India” & replace with “South Asia”, remove “Hinduism” & replace with “Ancient Indian Religion”. They begin their submissions to the Department of Education with an acknowledgement to the objections by “Hindu nationalist groups”. Diya TV reached out to several members of this group and did not receive any comments on the record, despite repeated request for comment. In their cover letter, they say, 

We recommend that “the religion of Ancient India” be used throughout the framework for the 6th grade curriculum, rather than “Hinduism or “the religion of India.” Gods,” “goddesses,” and “deities” should be in lower case throughout, and Brahmin, the name of a group of people, should be capitalized throughout. We wish to clarify that while “Ancient India” is the accepted usage among Indologists, in other fields, pre-modern South Asia is the common term of reference. Since there is no standardized usage across fields, it is difficult for us to recommend a single standard term for use in the curriculum framework. After careful review, we have settled on a context dependent approach for the use of the terms, “Ancient India,’ ‘India,’ ‘Indian subcontinent’ and ‘South Asia,’ as we explain in the edits. The use of terms like “Ancient India” and “India” in the current version of the draft framework, particularly for grades 6 and 7 is at times misleading. Although “Ancient India” is common in the source material, when discussing the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), we believe it will cause less confusion to students to refer to the “Early Civilization of South Asia or “Ancient South Asia” because muchof the Indus Valley is now in modern Pakistan. Conflating “Ancient India” with the modern nation-state of India deprives students from learning about the shared civilizational heritage of India and Pakistan.ii – South Asia Faculty Group

The Uberoi Foundation for Religious studies, gathered a whole set of esteemed scholars of their own from all over the world, with equally robust credentials & experience to rebut the edits suggested by the South Asia Faculty Group. While they agreed with a few of the edits suggested, they found it troubling that the Group wanted to eliminate mention of India, almost entirely.

Thirty-six of the edits serve to eliminate “India” from the narrative or the word “Hinduism” in reference to early Hindu history. Effectively, it is being recommended that the Commission take on the role of cleansing the ethnic identity of California’s Hindu American children of Indian origin, by removing most instances of the word “India” from their textbooks. This is contrary to the State’s Social Content Standards which require the curriculum to “instill in each child a sense of pride in his or her heritage.” Removing “India” and “Hinduism” in key places does the opposite, leaving children of Indian Hindu origin with no recognizable religious, ethnic, or cultural tradition. Are they expected to re-identify themselves by the nebulous and historically and culturally unsupported term “South Asian”? Can we imagine removing the word “America” from these texts when referencing the nation’s early history because it was not yet officially so named? Is ancient Greece going to become “East South Europe” in future texts? – Uberoi Foundation for Religious Studies

While so far it seemed just a battle of the academics, at the hearing, several members of the Dalit Community came and spoke out both in favor & in opposition of the mentions & representations of caste. Those in favor of keeping mention of the caste oppression and its association to Hinduism, said that removing mention of it would be akin to wiping away their history. Others who spoke in opposition of the mentions of ‘untouchability’ & caste oppression had a more nuanced argument to make. 

The faculty group disagreed with the removal of caste mentions.

it is not acceptable to delete from the curriculum framework, mention of caste or the phenomenon of untouchability. The Rg Veda itself contains evidence of a hierarchically organized society, with an entire group of people outside its pale. – South Asia Faculty Group

Yet, they recommended the deletion of ‘Valmiki’ & ‘Vyasa’ two important figures that according to some, essentially make the argument of how ‘caste’ is a modern problem not rooted in Hinduism.

According to Samir Kalra, it is the opinion of the scholars working with the Hindu American Foundation, “It(caste) is an economic & social structure and even though it did exist in Hindu society, it also existed in Christian society, in Muslim society as well as Sikh Society in India. Caste in itself confuses two very different systems, the ‘Varna’ & ‘Jati’ system. What originally was known as ‘Varna’ & ‘Jati’ was not rigid & hierarchical as came to be known within the caste system”

‘Valmiki’ was a Dalit & a theif, who recognized the ill of his ways and later became a poet and is the author to one of most famous poems that we now know as the ‘Ramayana’. Due to his changed conduct he no longer belonged to the Dalits and changed his varna to become a ‘Brahmin’

Vamsee Juluri is a professor of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco and has spearheaded a campaign of opposition, penning a letter to the California Board of Education on March 18, which was published online as part of a petition. It called for the board to shoot down the proposed edits by South Asia faculty group, in curriculum and received almost 18,000 signatures in six days. “If this is indeed correct that ‘India’ is not an accurate term for ‘India’ before 1947,” Juluri wrote, “how is it possible that the word ‘India’ has been in usage in some form or another from the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans? Did Columbus go searching for ‘South Asia’?”

Juluri’s efforts weren’t singular — numerous public awareness campaigns, including letters from other professors of religion and history, disputed the faculty group’s assertions that the framework should be edited. During the public comment period, the Hindu American Foundation, other Hindu organizations, community members and other non-Hindus relayed their sentiments of inaccuracies in the proposed edits and the last-minute process by which they believed the framework proposal was initially and uniformly accepted, even after prior recommendations from numerous academics were accepted. They opined, too, that the proposed edits would erase their cultural and religious histories from textbooks, and that it would be detrimental to the education of young Indian-Americans.

“Having studied the Vedas, I proudly wear my sacred thread as a symbol of my earnest study and scholarship, as did my mother and foremothers before her,” said 12-year-old Vaidehi Dandekar, a 7th grade student from El Cerrito, Calif. “As a young woman, I am proud that my enthusiasm and achievement in studying the Vedas is simply reflective of the long tradition of scholarship and oral storytelling by women….and men…..in India’s rich history. The accurate portrayal therefore in our classroom, of women in India’s history as leaders, sages, scholars, and often spiritual authority figures for families and communities is incredibly important for all members of my learning environment.”

The commission heard the outcry, and voted to reject some of the proposed changes, though its revised set of recommendations will not be published until two weeks before a May 11 State Board of Education hearing.

David Barclay contributed to this article.

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Big night for South Asians, Riz Ahmed and Aziz Ansari take home Emmy’s

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Riz Ahmed

British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed claimed a 2017 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series for portraying Nasir “Naz” Khan in The Night Of – a Pakistani college student who becomes caught up in a homicide investigation.

LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed claimed a 2017 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series.

Portraying Nasir “Naz” Khan in The Night Of, Ahmed plays a Pakistani college student who becomes caught up in a homicide investigation. His character also spends time in prison.

“I want to say it is always strange reaping the rewards of a story based on real-world suffering,” Ahmed said when accepting the honor. “But if this show has shown a light on some of the prejudice in our societies, xenophobia, some of the injustice in our justice system, then maybe that is something.”

Ahmed also thanked the South Asian Youth Action for “helping me prepare for this and The Innocence Project.”

“I don’t know if any one person’s win of an award or one person snagging one role or one person doing very well changes something that’s a systemic issue of inclusion,” Ahmed later said in a press statement. “I think that’s something that happens slowly over time.”

Prior to Ahmed winning his Emmy, only one other person of Asian descent had won an Emmy. Archie Panjabi won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2010 for her portrayal of Kalinda Sharma on CBS’s The Good Wife.

The 34-year-old actor, also known as Riz MC has starred in an array of films. He was first known for his roles in independent films The Road to Guantanamo (2006), Shifty (2008), Four Lions (2010), Trishna (2011) and Ill Manors (2012). His breakthrough role was in Nightcrawler in 2014 alongside Jake Gyllenhaal. His recent film credits include Una, Jason Bourne and the first Star Wars Anthology film, Rogue One.

Known for politically-motivated rap lyrics, he also has fostered success as a musician. He has been active in charitable work, raising funds for Syrian refugee children. His film accolades and advocacy and charity work earned him a spot on the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world in 2017.

Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe won the Emmy for ‘Outstanding writing for Comedy Series’ for the episode ‘Thanksgiving’ in the second season of Netflix’s ‘Master of None’. As the duo walked up to the stage to accept the Emmy, the crowd started to clap and slowly rose to a full blown standing ovation. Waithe gave the acceptance speech, thanking Aziz for “making me co-write” and thanked her “LGBTQIA family” adding “I see each and every one of you”

Ansari and Waithe beat Alec Berg of ‘Silicon Valley‘, Donald Glover & Stephen Glover of ‘Atlanta’ and Billy Kimball and David Mandell of ‘Veep’

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Grammy nominated Indian American singer Raja Kumari signs with Sony Music

NEW YORK (Diya TV) — Grammy nominated singer and songwriter Raja Kumari has inked a recording and exclusive representation management agreement with entertainment giant with Sony Music.

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Raja Kumari inks recording and exclusive representation agreement with Sony Music

NEW YORK (Diya TV) — Grammy nominated singer and songwriter Raja Kumari has inked a recording and exclusive representation management agreement with entertainment giant with Sony Music.

Known for being a talented lyricist, rapper and recording artist, her music combines classical Indian roots with hip hop and rap, creating a unique style of music. The 31-year-old has composed music for Iggy Azalea, Gwen Stefani and Fifth Harmony. She has also worked with Timbaland, AR Rahman, Tricky Stewart and Fall Out Boy.

“It is really exciting and inspiring to be in India right now. I have always wanted my music to be the bridge between the East and West. I want to push the south Asian profile forward worldwide and I think working with an amazing team of Sony Music will help me achieve this,” Kumari said in a statement from Sony Music. “I believe this is just the beginning of my journey in the motherland and I know that together we will create some amazing music for the people worldwide. I’m here to make history!”
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“Her global music sensibilities and song-writing will resonate equally with the Indian as well as the international audience,” said Rohan Jha, Pop Lead at Sony Music India. “We feel we have an exceptional artist on board, and we are sure she will enthrall music fans across the globe.”

Her first song, penned for Iggy Azalea, “Change your Life,” was nominated for a Grammy Award. She also wrote six songs for Gwen Stefani’s “This Is What the Truth Feels Like,” album, which debuted number one on the Billboard Top 200 chart in 2016.

Her debut single ‘Mute’ is fostering rave reviews. Sony is set to release her next single soon, under their renowned label.

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Three Indian-American Writers named among 2017 Henry Award Winners

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Henry Awards

Three Indian-American authors have been selected to the 2017 class of Henry Award winners.

SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — Indian-American authors Shruti Swami, Amit Majumdar and Jai Chakrabarti were named among the 2017 class of the Henry Awards, distributed annually to commemorate short stories of the highest merit.

First presented in 1918 and funded by the Society of Arts and Sciences, the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories is an annual collection of the year’s twenty best stories published in U.S. and Canadian magazines.

Swami, who garnered the honor for the second time in as many years, was selected for her works on Night GardenThe San-Francisco resident was Vassar College’s 50th W.K Rose Fellow in 2012, and has been awarded residencies at the Millay Colony for the Arts, Blue Mountain Center, Hedgebrook, and Willapa Bay AiR. She is a Kundiman Fiction Fellow and a 2017-2018 Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose University.

Amit Majumdar, who is a nuclear biologist by trade, is also Ohio’s first poet laureate. He was selected for his short-story, Secret Lives of the Detainees, published by Kenyon Review. Majumdar grew up in Cleveland and currently works as a diagnostic radiologist specializing in nuclear medicine practicing full-time in Columbus, where he lives with his family.

Majumdar’s poems have appeared in The Antioch Review, Image, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, National Poetry Review, The New England Review, Smartish Pace, and The New Yorker.

Chakrabarti won the award for his work, A Small Sacrifice for an Enormous Happiness, published by A Public Space. He is a 2015 “A Public Space Emerging Writer’s Fellow” and a graduate of the Brooklyn College MFA program. His previous works have appeared or is forthcoming in Barrow Street, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Coffin Factory, Union Station, and A Public Space. Chakrabarti lives in Brooklyn with his family.

Tahmima Anam, a celebrated writer from Bangladesh who also won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ prize, was also named to the list of 2017 winners.

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