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Navya Shastra calls for a broader representation of Hindu traditions and fairer treatment of Dalits in California textbooks

Troy, Michigan--January 26, 2006--Navya Shastra, the international Hindu reform organization, has called for a broader representation of Hindu traditions and a fairer treatment of Dalits in California textbooks.

The current version of the school textbooks equates Hinduism with a monolithic reading of the Vedic tradition, which has historically been interpreted in many ways. In addition, Hinduism is comprised of several strands that might appropriately be described as non-Vedic, such as Vira Shaivism, Tantra and tribal traditions. By equating Hinduism with the Vedic tradition, the California school board would be endorsing a narrow formulation of a multifaceted and inclusive faith tradition, the vast majority of whose adherents have never read or recited Vedic texts, though they might proclaim nominal allegiance to them.

Navya Shastra recognizes that activists are currently limited to proposing edits to existing texts, but we feel that we must protest the constraint, because the Hinduism sections are extremely poor to begin with. Many commentators have noted the wild distortions and falsities, misplaced pictures and even sarcasm in the textbooks. Navya Shastra strongly suggests that future textbooks be written with the consultation of scholars who have also had an experiential understanding of the religion.

Navya Shastra is also dismayed that the school board is considering redacting out any mention of Dalits. While the former untouchables of India have been called or call themselves many things, including Avarna and Harijan, the term Dalit is increasingly considered an empowering symbol of unity among a section of the former untouchables, including those who still retain their Hindu affiliation, and eliding their identity must be viewed as an act of upper-caste hegemony.

Navya Shastra also requests that the school board recognize the positive contribution of Dalits to Hinduism, and strongly suggests replacing the photo of the Dalit performing a menial task* with one that illustrates a Dalit immersed in a faith practice. For while the caste system has treated many Hindus very unfairly, the liberating resources of the tradition that affirm the equal worth and dignity of all beings should also be presented. We firmly believe that a child is fully capable of comprehending a balanced presentation of religion without becoming disillusioned with her faith. In addition, all religious traditions must be treated in the same manner.

Navya Shastra exhorts the school board to look beyond Indian nationalist politics, which has unfortunately become an issue in the controversy, and to remember that what is at stake is not any Indian political position, but rather the depiction of a world religion with two million American followers.

* Macmillan/McGraw-Hill Textbook under review