American elementary and secondary schools show India in a bad light!

USA is home to some strong 80,000 odd Indian students, some 20 lakh well-earning Indian families. Every other American worker or an expert must know how the Indian brainpower moves some of the biggest American enterpprises. So, the current negative perceptions of Indians taught in American schools could at best be only a short-lived phenomenon.

It looks that when the whole world is feeling the impact of globalisation and the peoples of the world are waking up to new realities in the emerging world, when old equations drastically change, some countries  seem to live in a more prejudiced cocoons.

A recent report that a study shows that American elementary and secondary school textbooks show India not in true light!

Asia Society is a well-known society that gives more academic and other scholarly pursuits to enhance the understanding of Asia and Asian countries and their cultures.

A 1976 survey by the Society, we are told, did cover some 306 books in 50 states and these books were studied by a team of some 103 experts and the findings were very blatantly wrong.
The picture of India seems negative from these books. So, says Prof.Arthur Rubinoff of the Toranto University, the outcome is that the American politicians, the Congressmen and the Senators, have wrong perceptions of India. John W.Mellor, the author of one book, India: A rising middle power says that US policy towards India is a product of some stereotypes, the popular and uncritical and much prejudiced views of India being a country of snake charmers and  Hindu sanyasis, caste, Dalits etc have give some wrong messages.

It is natural for a powerful country like America and more so for a highly materialistic and highly hedonistic modern culture like that of Americans, is very likely to get put off by the age-old customs and practices of a millennium-old Hindu civilisation and history. India after all is an ancient civilisation as the Christian and Jewish civilisations. Any developed and old religion is likely to be misunderstood for outsiders. Even when the Muslims and their Islamic religion is now misunderstood by the West, the Samuel Huntington’s thesis is so blatantly flawed and  for Americans to expect to approach such theme like Hinduism and its tenets in a spirit of  open mind is not easy.

A state department (Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs) study in 1982 found that “American attitudes about India focus on disease, death and illiteracy”.

It is not surprising. If only we Indians can retort:” You, Americans, how would you feel if we take America as a society where the black Americans are being treated as we once treated the Dalits in India, where in American the plight of single mothers, the deprived underclass live in such squalor and neglect, where to get any health benefit is next to impossible…You face the entire world’s hatred as to American approach to world affairs…”

America has done much good for the welfare of the world’s people. At the same time, America is seen as doing equally more harm than any other nation, being a mega state by your proneness to resort to war and military domination, you occupy territories in the Middle East for just to get a hold on the oil reserves, you consume more, you pollute the earth more and you are causing so much misery for the many peoples who lived under your occupation in the recent history.

Soon and on, one can pour scorn over American brutalities.

But this picture is also wrong and unbalanced. We have to see America as an open society, as a society given to much economic wealth creation, still American business practices are the best in the world, American wealth creation has triggered so much good in the lesser developed world.

America has produced so many peace-loving leaders. Leaders like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are still widely admired in this part of the world. American researchers and scientists have done much for the advancement of the world, they have been winning more Nobel Prizes, and America is a society where real talents flower to fullness.

But to expect the Americans so quickly to realise for themselves how India is emerging as a software superpower and how Indian IT companies are giving competition to the American counterparts is all stories we have to wait for some more time to penetrate the American public opinion and the American public realm.

Recently, there is a backlash of sorts. A group of scholars, some non-Hindu and others Indians, calling themselves various as “a non-Hindutva Hindu”, “a  practicing agnostic Hindu and  others have brought a book, Invading the Sacred: Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America(Infinity foundation-a Princeton-based non-profit organisation founded by Rajiv Malhotra) and the book analyses the study of Hinduism in the last 300 years in America and Europe.

There is one American Academy of Religions and it is this body that has contributed largely to this negative picture of India and Hinduism.

In 2005 an Indian group moved the court in California against the education board’s textbooks for VI standards with such objectionable material. The court partially upheld the Indian objections and yet one Sanskrit professor from Harvard, Prof.Witzel, intervened and the court withheld the changes fully. One doesn’t know why.

However, there is nothing to be worried too much. The Hinduism study is well-established in Europe and UK  and everyone knows the pioneering work done by eminent scholars.
The Indian Hindu sanyasis are also a powerful presence in America and one needn’t make much of this motivated  prejudices.

But there is a need to have high-level university courses in the study of comparative religions, inter-religious studies. The time is here to study the religions and the religious conflicts of the day in a deeper and a more objective and more scholarly manner in keeping with the Western critical  scholarly traditions.

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