"jagbir singh" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sat Jun 4, 2005 10:11 am
by Julie Patel.
May 30, 2005: Imagine a religion where a goddess is chief of
elves that wander the Earth and where people play in cow
urine during holy festivals.
These are some of the glaring errors and misconceptions
Hinduism that Mona Vijaykar, a Saratoga mom, has spotted in
approved textbooks, literature and other teaching materials
son's school and elsewhere. Over the years, Vijaykar more
seen subtle mistakes because teachers are unfamiliar with
Indian religions such as Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism.
Vijaykar has tried tackling the problem in a grass-roots
contacting teachers and asking to speak to their classes
and Hinduism, explaining the significance of ancient Indian
languages or the origin of religious customs.
Take the bindi, the decorative mark some Hindus wear on
"Does anybody know what this mark, a bindi, means?" Vijaykar,
pointing to a tiny leaf-shaped dot on her forehead, asked a
fifth- and sixth-graders during a recent visit to North Star
in Redwood City.
Life? Hope? Happiness? Love? the students guessed.
"I think it's if a girl is married or not," offered
"Yes, that's true in some places," Vijaykar said, adding
also symbolize the figurative "third eye" or the "mind's
helps people understand something—not just see it. She
bindis in ancient India originated from the practice of
putting sandalwood paste on their foreheads to cool off.
One thing bindis don't symbolize is the caste system. But a
social studies textbook approved for classrooms across the
teaches students that misconception.
"Caste is often shown with a mark on the forehead," reads a
in McGraw-Hill's "Ancient World: Adventures in Time and
a photograph of a girl with a bindi.
"That's completely wrong," said Kishore Sharma, a priest at
Sunnyvale Hindu Temple, who received a doctorate in Sanskrit
India's Banaras Hindu University.
"It's a cyclical problem," Sharma said of the difficulty of
about world religions. "A teacher learns the wrong thing and
reinforces the misconception without even realizing it."
LACK OF RESOURCES
Vijaykar said many of the teachers she's spoken with
the lack of resources on world religions and are hungry for
information. She recalls a teacher at her son's former
Redwood Middle School in Saratoga, who invited Vijaykar to
several years ago to add to her lesson on India and world
Vijaykar remembers being outraged by a handout on various
the Hindu god.
The handout—produced by Teacher Created Materials, an
publishing company in Westminster—listed Parvati as a
is "chief of all of the elves" that roam the Earth. Company
officials didn't return requests for interviews.
"They might as well be talking about fairies in a fairy
Vijaykar said. "It makes the religion sound silly and
it's plain wrong."
Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian
Harvard University, had a similar reaction: "Elves? That's
false. That's ridiculous."
Eck runs Harvard's Pluralism Project, which develops
world religions with the goal of promoting awareness about
diversity in the United States.
"Teachers who may not have a lot of training in religions of
world—including those like Hinduism that are extremely
and multidimensional—should not be the only voice
in the classroom," Eck said. "After all, the traditions
teaching are not only practiced by people who live on the
of the world but by people who live on the other side of the
One book that has launched Vijaykar into heated discussions
mostly with teachers—is "Homeless Bird," by Gloria
won a National Book Award in 2000. It is one of five books
to Indian culture out of 606 novels the state Department of
Education recommends for middle-schoolers. Not one of the
is written by an Indian or Indo-American.
URINE AND DUNG?
Vijaykar's biggest concern is a scene describing Indians at
religious festival playing with colors made of urine and cow
"It's disgusting,"' she said, raising her voice. "How do you
the Indian students in the room feel when they read this
know it's wrong but how can they challenge a book with such
Whelan defended her research in an e-mail to the Mercury
noting that she didn't try to represent the entire spectrum
India's diverse culture. "All I have written is all too true
small villages," she wrote.
But Vijaykar said the book reinforces stereotypes: a girl
into an arranged marriage at 13 and required by her in-laws
like a slave.
Vijaykar said the book's references to the caste system and
burning are important to discuss but they shouldn't be
first and only exposure to the culture.
"It makes you think the caste system and arranged marriages
this rich ancient culture has accomplished throughout the
centuries," she said.
Vijaykar said she hopes students and teachers of all faiths
cultural backgrounds act as watchdogs in classrooms.
"We're all experts in our own cultures and religions," she
said, "and if it's misrepresented, we have to say
SOURCE: San Jose [California] Mercury News.
by Julie Patel.