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Hindu American students say no to stereotypes and successfully change textbooks

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Hindu American families showed up from all over California with home made signs asking for equality and dignity in CA textbooks adoption's final public hearing in Sacramento

Over the past two years, the Hindu American Foundation has worked tirelessly and with laser focus on tackling misrepresentations, stereotypes, and omissions about Hinduism and Ancient India in California textbooks. In doing this, we’ve worked in close partnership with the Hindu Education Foundation, and in cooperation with Hindu American parents, and the real heroes in this story — hundreds of elementary, middle, and high school students.

The approach has been as comprehensive as it has been proactive and responsive. From reviewing volumes of drafts and submitting hundreds of line edits to engaging major textbook publishers directly; from trekking all the way to Sacramento several times a year to testify to seeking support and building coalitions with elected officials, academics, and diverse communities, the Hindu American community made history. History, not just for successfully changing textbooks, but for coming together in an unprecedented manner, garnering broad-based support, and sustaining a working coalition towards a single goal: textbooks that are accurate and fair, and don’t treat Hinduism and Ancient India in a way that leaves our children insecure in their identities or bullied by their classmates.

The November 9th hearing at the California Department of Education finally ended a rollercoaster-like process. Hundreds of Hindu American students, parents, advocates, and friends of the community came out to testify one more time for fairness and accuracy. Dozens even gave up their one minute time slot, in spite of preparing and practicing their testimony, taking the day off, and waiting in line for hours, just to ensure that the SBE had enough time to deliberate and take the final vote.

And the results are in…kind of. Exactly what the final textbooks will look like remains to be seen as publishers spend the next 60 days or so making final edits and corrections. But what we do know is this. Two programs from a publisher that were pointed out by our collective efforts as especially bad were rejected outright. All of the stereotypical images and portrayals of Hinduism and India have been removed. And, while far from perfect—in part due to grossly outdated Content Standards mandated by California law and the persistency of colonial-era narratives — the way in which Ancient India and Hinduism will be taught has seen significant improvements.

Five Areas of Improvement
Inaccurate, stereotyped, and exoticized images and captions removed
Inaccurate, stereotyped, and exoticized images and captions depicting Hinduism and India as poor, primitive, weird, and dirty have been removed and will be replaced with more appropriate images depicting Hinduism as a lived tradition. The Frameworks adopted in 2014 also require removing the common graphical misrepresentation of the “caste system” as a pyramidal hierarchy so all publishers will need to make sure their textbooks comply.

Ancient Indian origins presented as ongoing debate
Textbooks will better reflect that the origins of Ancient Indians and information about their civilization is the subject of both ongoing research and rigorous academic debate. Textbooks previously presented the outdated, race-based “Aryan Invasion Theory” (AIT) as fact (the teaching requirement of the AIT is mandated by the Content Standards which were approved by the California legislature in 1998). The new textbooks will take into account that AIT has long been debunked based on new linguistic and archaeological evidence, and colonial era terminology stemming from race-based Orientalist theories such as “Aryanism” and “Brahmanism,” has largely been replaced with phrases such as “Ancient Indians,” “Early Vedic,” or “Early Hinduism,” which are phrases more commonly used in modern scholarship.

Core Concepts About Hinduism explained better
Inadequate or inaccurate descriptions of core concepts and scriptures in Hinduism have been significantly improved upon. For instance, some texts did not even include explanations of dharma, the central foundation of Hindu life. Now they all do. Textbooks will also contain more accurate details about basic Hindu concepts, including karma, moksha, and yoga and more respectful and accurate descriptions of scriptures such as the Vedas and Upanishads.

In terms of specific sections that adversely reflected on Hinduism, one textbook draft that was rejected by the State Board described the Vedas as a book of, “spells and charms” and “secret rituals.” Similarly, the same textbook completely ignored the Upanishads, while misquoting passages from the Bhagavad Gita. Another textbook (also rejected), characterized Indo-Aryans “as people who enjoyed making war” and ‘Indra’ as the “god of war.” Such interpretations of ancient texts, according to the academics who weighed in, were inaccurate and better material was available to provide students an understanding of the civilization and Vedic ideas.

Indian societal structures described with greater accuracy and nuance
Textbooks now provide students a framework to distinguish between Hindu religious teachings and Indian social practices, as they relate to Indian social structures, by explaining the difference between varna and jati. Varna is best understood as the Hindu understanding of four personality types based on gunas or inherent qualities, while jati are the thousands of social groups which developed and commonly coalesced around occupation. Textbooks also better describe the historical evolution of Indian society, and how over time, its class structure shifted from being fluid to more rigid, and how perceived notions of hierarchy impacted Indian society. Textbooks will teach about the discrimination and oppression faced by various segments of society, but within the appropriate historical timeframe. Textbooks will also specifically mention the contributions of Hindu figures from diverse backgrounds, such as Hindu sages, Vyasa and Valmiki, and contain information about the Bhakti and other movements that both shaped Hindu practice and sought to eradicate social evils such as caste-based discrimination.

The syncretic relationship of Hinduism with other Indic religions depicted
Most textbooks have removed comparative language which presented Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism as only in direct opposition to, and in some instances, improvements upon, Hinduism. Historically, and through current times, while there has been occasional social and political conflict between the various communities of Indic faiths, the larger story is one of peaceful coexistence, shared values and cultures, familial bonds through inter-marriage, and syncretism, including commonly worshiping at one another’s temples, and sharing and celebrating religious festivals together.

One textbook draft, for example, previously stated:

During the 500s BCE some Indians felt unhappy with the many ceremonies of the Hindu religion. They wanted a simpler, more spiritual faith…Some seekers developed new ideas and became religious teachers. One of these teachers was Siddhartha Gautama…

The group of 38 leading academics pointed out that this way of framing the development of Buddhism inaccurately painted a picture of Hinduism not being a “spiritual faith,” in spite of Hindu spiritual movements that both pre-dated and were contemporaneous to the time of Buddha. They also stated that the draft language ignored the existence of ceremonies and rituals in Buddhist practice.

In addition to textbook needing to be accurate, the California Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content requires that the Framework and textbooks need to avoid “adverse reflection,” which can result when a religious group is portrayed as inferior.

The Cost of Inaccuracy
The quest for more accurate teaching about Hinduism and India in California public schools is far from over. The stakes are high and the greatest price will be paid by our children and generations of Hindus not yet born, if left to inaction.

The results of a 2016 nationwide bullying report by the Hindu American Foundation detail chilling evidence about the impact inaccurate and biased presentations of India and Hinduism has on Hindu children. The poor presentation of Hinduism is one of the biggest sources of anxiety cited by the middle and high school students surveyed.

About 53% said that their units described Hindus as worshiping idols
Nearly 25% reported that their classes taught that “most Hindus do not believe in dating and will get an arranged marriage”
60% reported that Hinduism was linked with the caste system, with 47% noting that their units on Hinduism taught them that “higher castes discriminate against lower castes”
40% of respondents said their units taught them that “individuals can only marry people of the same caste”
20% said their instructional content claimed that “the caste system only exists because of Hinduism”

The survey also found that:

Half of the total sample size indicated feelings of awkwardness or social isolation because of their religious identity
About 1 in 8 respondents said their teachers made sarcastic remarks about Hinduism in front of a class
About 1 in 4 respondents said they had been bullied within the past year, with about a third saying those who bullied them were “making fun of Hindu traditions”

A further drilling down into the data concluded that Hindu students’ perceptions of religion-based bullying was “tightly correlated to their perception of the focus on caste in their Hinduism curriculum, potentially mediated by a perception that their religion was being taught negatively.”

The devastating mental and physical impact of bullying on childhood health are well known. That the damage can follow into adulthood is not. Research has found that children who are bullied are at higher rise for depression, anxiety, and panic attacks as adults. If data demonstrates that inaccurate and stereotyped information about India and Hinduism potentially give rise to bullying, there’s an easy fix. Teach about it in the way other traditions and cultures are taught — accurately and respectfully. All children, including Hindu children, deserve at least that.

Furthermore, the impact is not just limited to Hindu American children, but also non-Hindu children who may have their first, and often only exposure to Hinduism in sixth grade textbooks. Accordingly textbooks may shape their views towards Hindus and Hinduism for years to come, with potentially serious implications.

What’s Next?
While the textbooks that the Hindu community sought to have rejected were in fact rejected and those that had good materials from the beginning were adopted, others that were mediocre to just okay managed to make it through the process but were required to rectify some of the errors and omissions by the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), including replacing stereotypical images. The publishers have two months from the date of the last hearing to make the edits required by the IQC and approved by the State Board. The choice of which textbooks to use will then go before the districts as the end to a two year plus process.

Arts & Culture

15th Annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles kicks off tonight

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LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — Now in it’s 15th year, the Indian Films Festival of Los Angeles is scheduled to kick off tonight with the premiere of “Lipstick Under My Burkha.” Widely recognized as the premiere showcase of groundbreaking Indian cinema globally, this year’s rendition of the festival will take place from April 5-9, and will be held at Regal L.A. LIVE: A Barco Innovation Center.

“As India’s diverse array of talented filmmakers continues to be recognized around the world for their compelling and daring work, IFFLA is extremely proud to collect the best films from emerging voices and experienced masters and present them to Los Angeles,” said Mike Dougherty, Director of Programming, in a press release.

Lipstick Under My Burkha, directed by Alankrita Srivastava

Lipstick Under My Burkha, directed by Alankrita Srivastava will open the 15th edition of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles

The festival will open with “Lipstick Under My Burkha,” which features an ensemble cast of Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak, Aahana Kumraand Plabita Borthakur in a dramatic, but irreverent and vibrant film about women and faith. The film was first screened in Tokyo in 2016 and has since been lighting up the festival circuit. including just winning the Audience Award at the Glasgow Film Festival. The film’s director, Alankrita Shrivastava, will be in attendance at the screening.

Some of highlights include:

‘An Insignificant Man’ The political climate in India has seen the rise of a leader with rags to riches story. Narendra Modi the current Prime Minister of India gained in popularity rose to the top, while another man Arvind Kejriwal, challeged the status quo and the establishment forming a new party called the ‘Aam Admi Party’ or AAP translated mean Common Man’s Party.

‘An Insignificant Man’ takes you through an astounding journey with the behind-the-scenes access attained by first-time documentarians Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla. Embedded in Kejriwal’s campaign for a year, these new filmmakers use their exclusive footage and media coverage to piece together a gripping, eye-opening account of the AAP’s herculean effort to wrestle power away from an establishment long divorced from the needs of its people.

Sexy Durga IFFLA alum Rajshir Deshpande stars in the controversial and provocative “Sexy Durga”, directed by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan. It is a road trip movie that exposes the vulnerability of women in Indian society to exploitation that masquerades as chivalry. 

Shorts Program, Spice Sisters

Shorts Program, Spice Sisters

A personal favorite of mine is the shorts programs. It is a wonderful way to sample many different types of films and stories. Many filmmakers have showcased their short film at IFFLA and have returned with a feature film. It is something special to witness the filmmakers’ journey and be able to interact with them at this intimate film festival.

This year’s shorts programs are full of vibrant and boundary-pushing films. I spoke with Managing Director Nitin Sonawane about the upcoming festival and what guests can look forward to this year. One main point is how the festival strives to be on the pulse of what is happening in India. Also, Nitin Sonawane added that you can look at one film and think, “Wow, this is going on in India and then look at something completely different and that is also going on India.”

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This year’s festival will close with a screening of “Hotel Salvation,” the debut feature of Shubhashish Bhutiani, whose 2013 short film “Kush” was shortlisted for the Live Action Short Film Oscar and won IFFLA’s 2014 Audience Award. “Hotel Salvation” premiered in the College Cinema section of the 2016 Venice Film Festival. The film’s star Adil Hussain (Life of Pi, Umrika, Parched) will attend IFFLA’s Closing Night gala representing the film.

This year’s festival will also mark the world premieres of two films, the North American premieres of five additional, as well as five U.S. premieres. This festival premieres work representing nine languages, and highlights a combination of exciting first and second-time filmmakers and experienced cinema masters returning with new work.

Gala tickets, passes and more information about the festival can be found at www.indianfilmfestival.org .

Diya TV is a media sponsor of the festival.

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What it means to be an Indian American celebrating Holi in America

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Holi celebrations at Radha Madhav Dham

AUSTIN, TX. (Diya TV) — The past few weeks have been sombre for many Indians across the U.S. With increasing incidents of hate crimes, many are getting calls from loved ones in India, checking if it was safe to continue living here. It was then with a sign of hope, that the festival of colors, Holi, announced the arrival of spring. Besides a late winter chill and thunder showers in Austin, thousands came out to play Holi this weekend.

Holi Celebrations across the world!

#WATCH: #Holi celebrations across the world! Including some messages from #Bollywood celebs and the captain of #Indian #cricket team Virat Kohli. #HappyHoli everyone!

Posted by DiyaTV on Monday, March 13, 2017

The popular Holi at Radha Madhav Dham was like a fun healing retreat to those who attended. Participants were down to a third due to the cold rains. People of all communities came together to dance around each other and throw fistful powdered colors at friends and strangers willing to play.

Holi celebrations, Ranch at Brushy Creek

Holi celebrations, Ranch at Brushy Creek

Holi celebrations, Ranch at Brushy Creek

Holi celebrations, Ranch at Brushy Creek

Holi celebrations, Ranch at Brushy Creek

Holi celebrations, Ranch at Brushy Creek

Several other temples and various neighborhoods organized the festivities. There was plenty of Bollywood dance and music. Indian hot chai broke into the cold weather to further raise spirits. No one missed getting drenched with water—another quintessential part of Holi that was replaced by the drizzle.

One of the most beautiful aspects of living in a multi-racial country is the sharing of festivals.People of all races bringing forth so many colors of life. Each festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil—one way or the other.

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Five Indian American Members of Congress feted at Indiaspora Gala

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Congressmembers Pramila Jayapal, Tulsi Gabbard, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Ami Bera at the Indiaspora Gala 2017 in Washington DC.

Congressmembers Pramila Jayapal, Tulsi Gabbard, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Ami Bera at the Indiaspora Gala 2017 in Washington DC.

(L-R) Congressmembers Pramila Jayapal, Tulsi Gabbard, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Ami Bera at the Indiaspora Gala 2017 in Washington DC.

WASHINGTON, DC (Diya TV) — Were it not for Donald Trump’s stunning win in November, the political story of Election 2016 could arguably be the ascent of the Indian-American community, who surprisingly now have five members in the United States Congress.

Kamala Harris of California, long rumored as a potential Presidential candidate, is now the first-ever Indian-American to serve in the U.S. Senate.

Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Chicago-area businessman endorsed by President Barack Obama, won a House seat in his second try.

Seattle’s Pramila Jayapal, a disciple of Bernie Sanders, became the first Indian-American woman to serve in the House after capturing Washington’s 7th district.

Silicon Valley’s Ro Khanna, in his second attempt in California’s 17th district (and third overall), upset eight term Congressman Mike Honda.

Despite a campaign fundraising scandal involving his father, Dr. Ami Bera secured his third term in California’s 7th district south of Sacramento.

In addition, Tulsi Gabbard, the nation’s first Hindu in Congress, overwhelmingly won her third term representing Hawaii’s 2nd district.

All of them are Democrats and all were honored at the Indiaspora Gala, an Indian-American centered inaugural ball.

“Our legacy is nothing that we’re going to do. Our legacy is built on what the next-generation does,” said Rep. Bera before the crowd of 500 that came to the Marriott Marquis in Washington, DC.

It was the second time M.R. Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora, organized a gala of this nature. Four years ago, it was pegged around President Obama’s reelection. But given the historic nature of this election to the Indian-American community, the date was moved up to coincide with Congress’ swearing-in date.

“We’re 1% of the population and we’re finally 1% of Congress itself,” said Rangaswami.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal added “that we, Indian Americans, have a presence and have power in this country that matches now politically everything else that we do.”

The bipartisan gala brought scores of members of Congress to attend, including many heavily involved in the US-India relationship like Republican Senator from Alaska, Dan Sullivan.

“It’s an incredible community in terms of the rising political influence, but also in terms of what the Indian-American community is doing throughout the country,” said Sullivan.

Houston Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee believes this new crop of colleagues will “make a real mark on the United States Congress primarily because they bring to this nation a recognition that we are a nation of many. And out of many, comes one. And comes unity.”

Former Democratic Vice Presidential hopeful and current Virginia Senator Tim Kaine once oversaw the US-India relationship as the chair of the subcommittee in foreign relations. He appointed a number of Indian-Americans to cabinet posts when he served as governor of Virginia and believes strongly despite the upcoming change in administrations, “the ties are so natural” that the bond between the US and India will continue to grow.

It’s a viewpoint shared by Democratic member of Congress Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, who told Diya TV, “when people come from India to the United States, with their entrepreneurship, with their family values, with their commitment to community, they make America, more American.”

“No matter which way the political winds blow,” said Rep. Gabbard, “the commitment is there on behalf of the leaders of this country to strengthen the US-India friendship.”

Other dignitaries in attendance included United States Assistant Secretary of Commerce Arun Kumar, potential U.S. Ambassador to India in the Trump administration, Ashley J. Tellis, DC Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sri Srinivasan, New York Democratic Congressmembers Joe Crowley and Carolyn Maloney, Indiana Republican Congressman Todd Rokita, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Nisha Desai Biswal, Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Navtej Sarna, Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress and Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014.

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