Biblicists Target Hindus


May 25, NEW DELHI, INDIA (DAILY PIONEER) — Editorial opinion on the hotly contested issue of changing textbooks to accurately reflect Hinduism.

Unknown to most Indians, the raging controversy over the California school textbooks being challenged by Hindu American parents is rooted in the staunch commitment of certain academics to the Biblical version of Creation. Herr Michael Witzel, whose professional reputation is linked to the Aryan Invasion Theory, which derives from a Biblical perspective, denies the decisive scientific evidence to the contrary.

His devotee, Mr Steve Farmer, is equally convinced that "Genesis 1:28 contains god's words". Mr James Heitzman, the 'expert' secretly hired by the State Board of Education (SBE), has famously claimed that the non-decay of Francis Xavier's body is a true miracle. Mr Stanley Wolpert, another expert, insists the Aryan Invasion happened even though there is no proof for it.

It will be surprising if Harvard University, which made president Larry Summers step down for his controversial opinions, retains Herr Witzel on its rolls for long. Not only is he a Creationist; he reportedly teaches his doctoral students the Sanskrit alphabet! Does Harvard teach the English alphabet to doctoral candidates in English? A decade ago, Herr Witzel's Sanskrit Department was mired in a lawsuit, and it seems matters have hardly improved since. Professional worries could explain why his friends have launched a mis-information blitzkrieg about the Hindu American Foundation lawsuit against SBE, when hearings have not even begun.

Prof Witzel's claim that his letter of December 7, 2005 to the California Department of Education (CDE), which checkmated the reasonable corrections sought by Hindu parents in the schoolbooks, was signed by "world specialists on ancient India - reflecting mainstream academic opinion," does not stand scrutiny. Far from being "world specialists," many signatories are not academics at all; many are linguists (the dubious discipline on which the Aryan Invasion rests) or Sanskrit professors, rather than historians or archaeologists with expertise on India. Many are Marxists; others have controversial theories about South Asia.

To begin with, Prof Witzel himself teaches Sanskrit and is no expert on ancient Indian History or Hindu dharma. He clearly lacks the credentials to determine how Hindu children should be taught their religion and history in a manner that does not demoralise them. Mr Steve Farmer's theories regarding Harappan scripts have been discredited by academics, including JM Kenoyer and Asko Parpola, who signed Witzel's appeal. The famous Marxist ideologue, Ms Romila Thapar, is an 'expert' on ancient India with poor knowledge of Indian classical languages, including Sanskrit.

Mr S Palaniappan holds a PhD in Engineering and works for a company in Houston! Prof Homi Bhabha teaches English and American Literature and Language. Prof Madhav Deshpande and Ms Patricia Donegan teach Linguistics; Dr Garrett Fagan teaches Roman History and Ms Joanna Kirkpatrick has done work on Anthropology, folk art and gender studies.

Then, Prof Hideaki Nakatani teaches Philosophy in Tokyo; Ms Sudha Shenoy Business and Law in Australia; Mr Lars Martin Fosse was a commercial translator; and Prof Wim van Binsbergen teaches African History at Leiden. Prof. Rajesh Kochhar did his Ph D in Astrophysics and worked for 25 years (1974-1999) at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore; Mr Dominik Wujastyk taught in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology at the School of Oriental and African Studies; Dr JM Kenoyer teaches Anthropology and Prof Maurizio Tosi teaches Archaeology in Italy.

This worldwide signature campaign is not about sixth-grade textbooks. It is an issue of Hindu dignity and civil rights everywhere in the world; hence the decision of the California Parents for the Equalisation of Educational Materials (CAPEEM) to file a Federal lawsuit is remarkably bold and correct. Victory here will drastically curtail the Hindu-baiting industry in the West, with a trickle-down effect in India. This is the first time a Hindu community has filed a lawsuit against a state agency (California State Board of Education and California Department of Education) for violation of its civil rights, and against discrimination, defamation and mistreatment of their religion and people.

The California SBE initially followed due process, and recommended changes desired by the Hindu groups to the Curriculum Commission. At this late stage, however, it illegally entertained the baseless objections of Prof Witzel and ordered a revision of the whole process. A second expert panel was surreptitiously set up, comprising Professors Witzel, Stanley Wolpert and James Heitzman, all signatories of the Witzel Letter, thus openly violating Curriculum Commission criteria that experts should not be affiliated to groups suggesting or objecting to the proposed changes.

It is obvious that Hindus received unfair and unequal treatment in the matter of how sixth grade students in the public education system would be taught about the Hindu religion. Both the substance of the final edits and the procedure adopted by SBE and CDE was flawed.

This has the effect of officially promoting a Judeo-Christian conception of Divinity to the exclusion of other perspectives, with the result that the Hindu faith is projected in a negative manner as compared to other religions. This deprives Hindu students of an educational experience at par with that of their peers, and thus violates their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Even worse, the constitutional requirement of State neutrality towards religion in general and towards different religions, was discarded. The CDE thus tacitly endorsed certain faiths by accepting the changes they wanted, and denigrated Hindus by portraying their religion inaccurately.

The CDE justified its move to overturn the accepted amendments mooted by the Hindu community on the specious plea that some groups were associated with third parties deemed to be 'nationalist Hindu' or 'Hindutva supporters.' This is an express violation of the First Amendment and its promise of Free Speech, which protects the rights of individuals to express themselves free of government retribution, as also the right to associate with persons of their choice.

The worst aspect of the behaviour of the California authorities was their sudden decision to conduct private meetings without informing the known interested parties, and refusing to keep or release records of previous meetings. This inexplicable volte-face, which made them abandon their own procedures by establishing a second expert panel and adopting its recommendations in a non-transparent manner, requires an explanation. One hopes the Federal suit will expose these backroom manoeuvres.


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