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Stop Demonization Of Indians And Hindus In California School Textbooks

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California State Board of Education, Sacramento, CA, 

Instructional Quality Commission, California Department of Education, Sacramento, CA,

California School Districts,


Dear Members of the State Board of Education, Instructional Quality Commission and California School Districts 

We, a coalition of parents, students, educators and community members from diverse backgrounds are writing to express our deep anguish and concern over the denigrating portrayal of Hindus and Indians in the textbook drafts being considered for adoption by the California Department of Education (CDE). We find it disheartening that this comes at a time when we are hearing about an increasing number of instances of bullying of Hindu and Indian children in the classrooms.

It is sad to note that many of the textbook drafts, including the ones by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), McGraw Hill, National Geographic and Discovery, utilize an outdated, inaccurate, and stereotyped narrative on Hindus and Indians. Overall, these textbook drafts continue to use an Orientalist narrative and reflect 19th-century colonial era accounts of India and Hinduism.The drafts callously use caricatures of Hindu Deities in many places, while mischaracterizing and distorting their meanings. They use modern day pictures of slums and shanties and cows eating trash to disparage ancient Indian civilization, all the while portraying all other ancient cultures and religions in a sensitive, positive and aesthetic manner.

The sixth-grade textbook draft by a publisher named HMH, for instance, even goes so far as to depict Indian laborers working alongside monkeys, thereby perpetuating racism against students of color.

Furthermore, the textbook drafts do not hesitate to characterize ancient Indians as a “mysterious” and primitive and as war mongers - people “who enjoyed making war”, while completely ignoring or minimizing positive contributions of  Indians and Hindus. The drafts, for sixth grade, in particular, fail to adequately cover ancient India’s abundance of scientific, and artistic achievements.and Hinduism’s important religious and philosophical teachings.  It is highly problematic and inequitable that the teachings, cultures, and histories of other religions are presented in an extremely positive manner, while Hindu teachings are portrayed in a demeaning manner in the same textbooks. For example, the HMH textbook draft uses concepts such as ‘Unicorns’ which are in no way connected to Hinduism to explain the culture and religion, while positive references to the invention of the alphabet, or descriptions of ancient heroes and noted philosophers used to portray the ancient Greeks and Hebrews. In fact, some textbook drafts even explicitly portray Hinduism as inferior to other religions, in blatant violation of California law.

For over a decade, Hindu-Americans have been working very hard to fight stereotypes and obtain a dignified, accurate, and equitable portrayal of India and Hinduism in the textbooks. In the recent History Social Science Framework revision cycle that concluded in 2016, hundreds of parents, educators, and students themselves who have faced the brunt of such stereotypes in schools voiced their concerns directly to you and engaged positively to bring about many important changes. It is extremely disappointing that many of the textbook drafts completely ignore or minimize important additions and changes to the Framework, especially in the ancient India and Hinduism sections. If they had been implemented properly, these changes could have helped ensure some improvement in the manner in which India and Hinduism are portrayed in the textbooks, and achieved some parity for these sections relative to other cultures and religions.

Unfortunately, many of the textbook drafts remain rife with blatant inaccuracies, disparities, errors of emphasis and omission, and adverse reflections. But most disturbingly, they continue to highlight an inherent bias, prevalent in the terminology and imagery used across all the sections. Specifically, these biases are rooted in Orientalist narratives that selectively highlight certain issues to portray a distorted, inaccurate, and incomplete picture of Hindus and Indians.

California law and the Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Instructional Material state that the purpose of the textbooks is “to project the cultural diversity of society; instill in each child a sense of pride in his or her heritage; develop a feeling of self-worth related to equality of opportunity; eradicate the roots of prejudice; and thereby encourage the optimal individual development of each student.” They also prohibit any “descriptions, depictions, labels, or rejoinders that tend to demean, stereotype, or patronize minority groups.”

At a time when bullying reports and surveys have indicated that one in every three Hindu children in America has reported being subjected to bullying in the classroom because of his or her religious beliefs, it is crucial to rectify this incredible bias at the root cause: the textbook drafts.

We, therefore, urge you to reject all instructional materials that adversely reflect upon Hindus and Indians, in violation of California law.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this urgent matter.



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