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The Controversy Over California Textbooks and Indian Politics

May 9, 2016
Plain English Version

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Textbooks are what children learn from. States revise their books from time to time. California is now doing it. It is looking at social study textbooks used in the elementary schools.

Students, advocates, and teachers are giving their views. The changes can have political meaning. Textbooks can be subjects of sharp differences.

The world is always changing. Many South Asian Indians live in California. They want the textbooks to reflect new ideas.

One change they want to make is to have the textbooks call them Indians and not South Asians. India is part of the map of South Asia. America is part of the map of North America. Most people do not say North Americans when they mean Americans.

S AThere are many nations in South Asia. The other nations are not part of this debate.

A bigger issue is the caste system. Many want a change in the textbooks in how they talk about the caste system.

Caste is a social system that defines the status of people. Hinduism is the major religion of India.

Many Hindus want to separate the religion from the practice of caste. They say it is not a part of the Hindu religion. They say it is a part of the broader Indian culture. Many others in India and here do not agree. They say the caste system is part of the practice of the Hindu religion.

The textbooks are a natural place to apply ideas. It can get personal. The caste system is in the textbooks. It does not matter if it is a religious or community practice. Some Hindu students say the subject makes them a target of bullies.

In the case of the caste system, the textbook debate mirrors debates in India.

What pairs the map of South Asia with the debate about caste? Well, textbooks and the politics of a changing world.

Source: The New York Times May 4, 2016

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