Early in the morning, on 9 November 2017, hundreds of people flooded the headquarters of the California department of education. They lined up in the building’s glass atrium, waiting to testify before the members of the state board of education. That day, the board was scheduled to vote on whether various new history and social-science textbooks were going to be adopted for use in California’s government-run schools. The board president reportedly stated that the hearing was “the longest in the history of the state Board of Education.”
A point of contention before the board that day was the material in these textbooks that referred to South Asia. Thenmozhi Soundararajan, an anti-caste activist who testified that day, estimated that of the roughly 500 people present, 470 were there to discuss concerns related to this material. A key concern—among others, such as the description of the Indus Valley Civilisation and the origins of Sikhism—was the representation of caste in Hinduism.
The people present, and their concerns, can be divided into two broad camps. One camp was led by South Asian Histories for All, an inter-caste, multi-faith group of activists that Soundararajan founded. SAHFA cited inaccuracies regarding caste and other issues in the textbook material, and called for a delay on the books’ approval so that they could be submitted for further editing. The other camp, which Soundararajan said greatly outnumbered SAHFA, was led by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a non-profit that claims to advocate for Hindus in the United States, and the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF)—an outfit affiliated with the Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh, the US-based wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. This camp, too, was heavily critical of certain parts of the textbooks, which they felt denigrated Hinduism. They did not, however, ask for the board’s decision to be delayed.