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Hooray for silly religious groups!

India history spat hits US

In the halls of Sacramento, a special commission is rewriting Indian history: debating whether Aryan invaders conquered the subcontinent, whether Brahman priests had more rights than untouchables, and even whether ancient Indians ate beef.

The foes – who include established historians and Hindu nationalist revisionists – are familiar to each other in India. But America may increasingly become their new battlefield as other US states follow California in rewriting their own textbooks to bone up on Asian history.

“Some of the groups involved here are not qualified to write textbooks, they do not draw lines between myth and history,” says Anu Mandavilli, an Indian doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California, and activist against the Hindu right. Speaking of one of the groups, the Vedic Foundation in Austin, Texas, she adds, “On their website, they claim that Hindu civilization started 111.5 trillion years ago. That makes Hinduism billions of years older than the Big Bang.” (The assertion has since been pulled from the site.)

So, this is like creationism in reverse. 111 trillion years? You’d think they’d be flying around in outer space.

The hottest debate centered on when Indian civilization began, and by whom. For the past 150 years, most historical, linguistic, and archaeological research has dated India’s earliest settlements to around 2600 BC. And most established historical research contends that the cornerstone of Indian civilization – the practice of Hindu religion – was codified by people who came from outside India, specifically Aryan language speakers from the steppes of Central Asia.

Many Hindu nationalists are upset by the notion that Hinduism could be yet another religion, like Islam and Christianity, with foreign roots. The HEF and Vedic Foundation both lobbied hard to change the wording of California’s textbooks so that Hinduism would be described as purely home grown.

“Textbooks must mention that none of the [ancient] texts, nor any Indian tradition, has a recollection of any Aryan invasion or migration,” writes S. Kalyanaraman, an engineer and prominent pro-Hindu activist, in an e-mail to this reporter. He and other revisionists refer to recent studies that don’t support an Aryan migration, including skeletal anthropology research that claims to show a continuity of record from Neolithic times. Such research has not convinced top Indologists to abandon the Aryan theory, however.

Yes, because ancient traditions are always good sources of factual information.

“There is no such thing as an objective history,” Jain says. “So when we write a textbook, we should make students aware of the status of current research of leading scholars in the field. It should not shut out a love for motherland, a pride in your past. If you teach that your country is backward, that it has no redeeming features in our civilization, it can damage a young perspective.”

Or, maybe we should teach the best ideas historians have come up with, regardless of whose feelings it hurts.

(via Pharyngula)

Categories: Religion
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