On 12 April 2016, Aria Thaker, a copy editor at The Caravan, published an article in Vantage, titled ‘In California, A Debate Over History Curricula Has Brought to Fore Denials of Caste in the Indian American Community.’ In it, Thaker detailed how, for over a decade, Hindu groups in California have been trying to soften or erase references to the caste system in the History-Social Science Framework: a teaching guide that outlines the social-studies curriculum for California’s government-run schools. The edits to the South Asia-related material of the Framework were proposed by two main camps: first, Hindu groups such as the Hindu American Foundation, the Hindu Education Foundation and the Uberoi Foundation; and second, the South Asia Faculty Group, an interdisciplinary committee of fifteen South Asianist academics. A coalition of anti-caste activist groups spoke out on the issue as well, largely in support of the faculty group.
Published below is a rejoinder to Thaker’s article by Vamsee Juluri and Yvetter Rosser, who lead Scholars for People, a collective of academics who oppose the faculty group. Data analysis and tables by Srinivas Udumudi. It is followed by Thaker’s response.
The recent article in Caravan about the California history textbooks debate has ignored the crux of our petition and the growing concern among scholars and the public about the attempt by a group of South Asia Studies faculty in the United States to eliminate several key references to India and Hinduism in the curriculum.
The article instead focused almost exclusively on trying to portray the issue as a conflict between RSS-affiliated Hindu-American groups downplaying the evils of the caste system and reasonable South Asia studies scholars attempting to oppose their pernicious designs. However, given the fact that virtually none of the changes proposed by Hindu organizations and individuals about caste as well as other issues were accepted by the board, and the fact that most of the changes proposed by the South Asia Studies Faculty group about caste as well as broader issues were accepted, that sort of characterization is quite besides the point today.
Let us consider instead if any of the following positions of the South Asia Faculty group, several of which were actually accepted, could be even remotely interpreted as being about fighting off Hindu nationalist groups seeking to sanitize the caste-system: