More than 160 people, mostly Indo-Americans from all over California, attended the meeting, which included nearly four hours of public comment. An overflow crowd watched the hearing on TV in two adjacent rooms.
In statement after statement, members of the Hindu Education Foundation and the Vedic Foundation, including parents and children, said changes to the textbooks are necessary to counteract negative stereotypes of Hinduism, and put it on a par with Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Those statements were countered by critics, including members of the Friends of South Asia, who said the changes are an attempt to whitewash India's history and give it more of a Hindu flavor.
But in the end, the committee sided with speakers such as James Heitzman, a professor at the University of California, Davis, and a content expert for the state, who strongly recommended approval of the edits.
"I believe, along with many of
my academic colleagues, that this actually represents a compromised position that includes some of the best inputs from a variety of groups," Heitzman said. "And it also represents a comprehensive understanding of the history of South Asia as presented by the academic community.
Afterward, Shalini Gera, of the Coalition Against Communalism, one of the organizations that opposed many of the edits proposed by the Hindu Education Foundation and Vedic Foundation, said she was happy with the committee's decision. But Gera said the textbooks still do not go far enough to describe accurately the roots of the caste system in ancient India.
"We're happy they did throw out the changes that were based on sectarian grounds," Gera said. "These groups wanted all mentions of the caste system and untouchables removed from the textbooks, so I am happy that the state did not wipe them out."
Khanderao Kand, a Sunnyvale resident and a member of the Hindu Education Foundation, said it seemed as if the board already had made its decision before holding the pubic hearing.
The subcommittee approved some 70 changes in the 126-page document. . But it rejected proposed revisions from the organizations on thornier issues polytheism, women's rights, the caste system and migration theories that have ignited a passionate debate among scholars and the Indian community over the interpretation of Indian history.
Gautam Desai, a member of the Hindu Education Foundation and Bay Area coordinator for Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, said it's important that all religions are presented on equal footing.
"It's unfortunate that caste discrimination occurs, and that needs to be studied," Desai said. "But not as part of ancient history of Hinduism or India, but as part of contemporary history."
Attorneys for the Hindu American Foundation have indicated that they intend to file a lawsuit against the state Department of Education if the state Board of Education approves the edits as proposed at its meeting in March 8.
While most of the edits clarify and simplify complex issues of Indian history, other recommendations include replacing "caste" with "class," and adding "some historians believe" on historical references.
Staff writer Jonathan Jones covers ethnic, religious and cultural issues. He can be reached at (510) 353-7005 or firstname.lastname@example.org.