caste talk

California history textbooks won’t gloss over caste, will use ‘India’, not ‘South Asia’

A panel debated specific sentences in the history syllabus and decided to include more factual descriptions of Indian castes, unlike in the current curriculum.

Education officials in California, United States, on Thursday decided to change how castes and untouchables are portrayed in history textbooks for the sixth and seventh grades. During a meeting of the State Board of Education’s instructional committee, nearly 200 people spoke to voice complaints about this, after which the panel approved a curriculum that includes teachings about the caste system and uses the term India instead of South Asia.

This comes after months of public criticism about how India is shown in these textbooks. The committee discussed numerous specific sentences that are part of the history syllabus, which comes to 400 pages. “Whether we like our history or not for any particular reason, we have to stick with the facts,” committee member Risha Krishna said during a discussing on how to phrase a sentence about jatis, The New York Times reported.

According to some Hindu advocates, the curriculum emphasised the caste system too much, warning that it could make Indian students vulnerable to bullying in schools. Several students had told committee members that they were teased after learning about castes. However, activists for Dalits said providing false interpretations of the caste system will not help protect students in any way, besides being inaccurate as depictions of India.

Following four hours of debate, the vice chairman of the committee, Bill Honig, said the group “tried to put in strong contributions of these societies” and will now focus on fairly portraying all sides in the curriculum. “We try to avoid any characterisation of illegitimacy,” he said, adding that they tried to convey the “diversity of this region” to sixth- and seventh-grade students.

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