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Hindu text case: Legal aid sought
Suman Guha Mozumder in New York | January 30, 2006 20:31 IST
The Hindu American Foundation upped the ante in its teach-real-Hinduism in American schools campaign by announcing it has hired a law firm to represent it in its imminent interactions with the California State Board of Education.
The HAF said it has retained Olson, Hagel and Fishburn, LLP, of Sacramento, CA, to represent the Foundation in its dialogue with the SBE.
The Board is currently considering a California Curriculum Development Commission determination that several edits and corrections of textbooks regarding the teaching of Hinduism to public school students be accepted.
Central to the issue are an estimated 170 revisions proposed by Hindu groups such as the Vedic Foundation and Hindu Education Foundation, as well as individuals, to the CDC, an advisory body to the SBE that reviews textbooks every six years and takes suggestions for improvement from the members of the public to improve content.
The process was started last year and was almost nearing completion in December 2005 when academics, including Michael Witzel, Wales Professor of Sanskrit in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies in Harvard University, and other academics, including many Indian Americans, sent a letter to the board on the grounds that the nature of the edits and corrections, carried out allegedly at the behest of some Hindu groups, were prompted more by the groups' ideological agenda rather than historical fact.
Consequently, Witzel, and others like noted historian Stanley Wolpert were retained by the Board, and the Commission was asked to revisit the changes approved by the committee. However, in a turnaround in December, the commission decided to revert to the original edits suggested by the Hindu groups and, following a vote, rejected most of the Witzel panel amendments to the original edits.
At that time, the HAF expressed satisfaction over the development .
"We are happy because we felt at the HAF that it was really a conflict of interest for the curriculum commission to turn around and hire the very people like Prof Witzel who objected to the changes and as such it was not providing a fair forum for the Hindus," Suhag Shukla, legal counsel for the HAF, told rediff India Abroad last month.
Last week, however, the HAF alleged that it is apparent that the SBE and its staff failed to adequately address a substantial number of the VF and HEF edits, and improperly allowed certain individuals to undermine the procedures available for public debate and resolution of these issues.
The most recent example of this, it said, appears to have occurred at a January 6, 2006, meeting in which previous determinations of the Curriculum Commission were apparently re-opened and reviewed in a private session from which the VF, the HEF and the HAF were excluded.
"We believe that the Curriculum Commission of the California State Board of Education made its recommendations to the SBE based on an accurate understanding of science, history and the sentiments of those people in California that actually practice the Hindu faith being taught in schools," Shukla said last week.
'It would be completely inappropriate – and we believe illegal – for those recommendations to be modified by the staff and board members as the result of a closed meeting. HAF is committed to ensure that a fair and open process is followed, and the decision to retain counsel on this matter reflects our concern that the appropriate process is perhaps not being followed in this case,' she said.
Although a final determination with respect to these matters may be made by the SBE at its February meeting, attorneys representing HAF were to appear at the SBE meeting this month and express the concerns of the Hindu groups.
"We are fully cognizant of how strongly our constituents feel about the textbook issue, and we at HAF are determined to utilize every possible option to ensure that the SBE process remains fair and impartial for Hindu Americans," Shukla said.
The HAF said the law-firm will handle communications with the SBE on behalf of the HAF and ensure that 'the concerns of the Hindu American community' regarding textbook portrayals of Hinduism are conveyed.
'Hindus throughout the United States are watching the process with concern since the results have broad implications for all Hindus,' said Mihir Meghani, president of the HAF.
'For many years, Hinduism was taught from a non-Hindu perspective. All that we are asking is that Hinduism be taught as per state law, which asks that the education 'Instill in each child a sense of pride in his or her heritage; develop a feeling of self-worth…; eradicate the roots of prejudice... and enable all students to become aware and accepting of religious diversity while being allowed to remain secure in any religious beliefs they may already have.'