Every ten years the California Department of Education’s Instructional Quality Commission updates the framework in California school curricula.
It seeks inputs from scholars and others and also hosts a public hearing on what should be added or removed from the
curriculum framework and textbooks.
Over a dozen professors who call themselves the ‘South
Asia Faculty Group’ from various universities jointly sent a
letter to the commission, asking for ‘India’ to be replaced with
‘South Asia’ and ‘Hinduism’ with ‘the religion of Ancient
India’ in history and social science textbooks taught in
Grades 6 through 10 at California public schools.
These suggestions have created a rift in the community as
well as among faculty members at universities, leading to
protest and petitions to halt such edits.
A tense public hearing was hosted by the
commission in Sacramento March 24 to determine whether
additional edits were needed for the history and social science framework (HSS Framework) for California public
At the meeting, several Hindu organizations, professors
and students shared their concerns with the commission on
replacing such words from the HSS framework.
Charlene Cheng from the California Department of
Education’s communications division told India Abroad that
the Instructional Quality Commission’s History-Social
Science Subject Matter Committee met March 24 to review
comments received during the second field review of the draft
framework and to determine whether to recommend additional edits to the State Board of Education when it considers
the framework at its May 2016 meeting.
“California has an 18-member IQC of education experts
that periodically updates frameworks to reflect new research
as well as the state’s increasing diversity,” Cheng said when
asked about the need for the edits.
Among the recommendations South Asia faculty members
‘A flourishing urban civilization developed in India from as
early as 3300 BCE along the Indus River’ — here ‘India’
should be changed to ‘South Asia.’
‘How did the religion of Hinduism support individuals,
rulers, and societies?’ Change ‘Religion of Hinduism’ to
‘Religion of Ancient India.’
Use ‘South Asia’ instead of India because many of the king-
doms in question also straddled territories in present-day
Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The letter sent by South Asia faculty members dated
February 24 asked that 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 materi-
al,’ the South Asia faculty said in their letter, ‘when discussing
the Indus Valley Civilization, we believe it will cause less con-
fusion to students to refer to the ‘Early Civilization of South
Asia’ or ‘Ancient South Asia’ because much of 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
Not every professor agrees with these arguments.
Vamsee K Juluri, Professor of Media Studies at the
University of San Francisco, launched the petition, ‘Don’t
Replace ‘India’ with ‘South Asia’ in California History Social
Science Frameworks.’ The petition received over 22,000
Professor Juluri is pleased that the petition and subsequent
protests forced a reconsideration by the IQC at its meeting
and hopes ‘India’ will stay in the text books.
“The main problem is not inherently the phrase ‘South
Asia’,” Professor Juluri told India Abroad, “but the deletion
of ‘India’ from several key places in the frameworks —
for example, removing India from a line on ‘India and the
Muslim world were prosperous’ to ‘the Islamic civilization
was prosperous’ — implying that India was merely part of
the Islamic empire.”
Most professors, he said, teach today that ‘Hinduism’
Kamala Visweswaran, Pro- fessor of Ethnic Studies, University of California,
San Diego, is one of the 15 South
Asia faculty members who wrote
to the Instructional Quality
Commission and the California
Board of Education, recommend-
ing changes in the History-Social
Studies curriculum framework
“We have made a series of recommendations in our submissions to the Board of
Education,” Professor Visweswaran said, explaining their
recommendations to India Abroad.
“Some recommendations concern the representation of
caste and gender in pre-modern South Asia,” she said. “We
have also recommended that the discussion of Hinduism,
Buddhism and Jainism be expanded in different parts of
the curriculum framework.”
California, Professor Visweswaran said, periodically
undertakes a state-mandated review of the curriculum
framework and textbooks; the last review was conducted
ten years ago.
As university professors held in international regard
and who specialize in the areas of archeology, anthropology, linguistics, Sanskrit, science studies and genetics,
religious studies, Hindu studies, Sikh Studies, Islamic
Studies, Women’s Studies, and Dalit Studies, she said the
objective is to review the curriculum framework and to
provide balanced, scholarly recommendations for the
California Board of Education to draw upon when
weighing competing community demands and political
“The study of ‘Ancient India’ or pre-modern South Asia
requires multi-disciplinary and specialized exper-
tise,” said Professor Visweswaran. “We suggest that
that the Board of Education take such expertise into
account when it takes action on curricular matters.”
She also shared her view on changes like ‘India’ to ‘South
Asia’ or what India was called before Independence. “Our
scholarly assessment is that the ancient civilization of the
Indus Valley is a shared cultural heritage between the
countries of modern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan; it
does not belong uniquely to India.”
The use of the term ‘South Asia’ in some places of the
curriculum framework, she added, reflects more accurate-
ly this shared civilizational heritage.
Explaining what ‘India’ was called before
Independence, Professor Visweswaran said that ‘India’
was called many things long before Independence. It was
referred to as Indika by the Greeks, as al-Hind or Hind
by the Arabs and Persians, as Bharat or Bharat Mata by
different groups of Indian nationalists; and also as
Malabar, Mysore, Hyderabad, Thanjavur, Bengal, Punjab,
etc — in other words by the names of the numerous kingdoms and states that constituted the territory that would
eventually comprise the modern nation-States of
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The Rg Veda, she said, makes no mention of ‘India,’
‘Hindus,’ or ‘Hinduism’.
“It was composed by people who called themselves
‘Aryas.’ In the Sanskrit of the Rg Veda, Sindhu is a word for
‘river, and is often used in the plural form,” said Professor
Visweswaran, and added, “The Indus script has yet to be
deciphered, but it has no linguistic relationship to the
Sanskrit of the Rg Veda.”
— Ritu Jha
School curriculum creates
rift in community over ‘India’
A scene from the Kumbh Mela on the banks of the Godavari river Nashik, July 30, 2003. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees gather for the Kumbh Mela, which occurs four times every 12 years at four different river bank locations in India.