Americans don’t agree about their history. Indians don’t agree about theirs either.
For years, this has fascinated Sonia Paul, a California-based radio reporter. She has reported on divisions among Indians over their history and culture, both in India and in the United States. Her own family heritage is mainly Indian but also Filipino, and through her family she has been exposed to Catholicism, Hinduism and Sikhism.
So when Indian Americans started debating school history textbook updates in 2016, she contacted me and proposed we do an episode of The World in Words.
In the podcast, you’ll hear from Sonia’s father, a Hindu who worships in a Sikh temple, as well as from prominent Indian Americans like Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation which tries to convey a sense of Hinduism that’s a bit more nuanced than “caste, cows and curry.” Many HIndus in Callifornia resent that their religion is associated with poverty and caste discrimination.
Sonia also speaks with Benjamin Kaila of the lowest Dalit caste whose education and employment were restricted back in India. He now lives in California and argues that school textbooks must continue to include discussions of caste.
Supporting that view is Stanford anthropologist Thomas Blom Hansen, who tells Sonia the caste system is “justified in the Hindu scriptures,” and should continue to be taught in California’s schools.
“It would be irresponsible romanticism to cut that out just to please some parents in California who may feel uncomfortable today because they have become a modern liberal Hindus,” Hansen says. “The analogy would be that there are some white kids who feel uncomfortable hearing about slavery, so we shouldn’t teach slavery because it makes them feel terrible.”
Check out more resources on this issue from Sonia here.
00:03 Trump speaks Hindi.
2:30 “South Asia” or “Ancient India”?
2:40 “Dalits” or “Untouchables” or avoid all mention or caste?
3:35 A hearing in Sacramento.
6:38 “There’s so much more to India than just the caste system which is now a thing of the past.”
8:30 “To still have the types of stereotypes that we see in the textbooks…is just appalling and shocking.”
10:03 “We prefer to be called Dalits.”
10:40 The caste is “part of the Hindu tradition.”
12:35 Are people from privileged backgrounds “caste-blind”?
14:15 Why Sonia’s Hindu father attends a Sikh temple.
18:40 What’s in a name? The surname”Paul” can be deceptive.
20:10 “My grandfather was an Untouchable Hindu.”
21:30 A school beating. Benjamin’s father dares not intervene.
22:40 Y2K job opportunities.
24:35 Back in Sacramento.
26:20 “My religion is shown with an impoverished woman walking away from a pile of trash.”
28:33 A note about accent discrimination.
29:40 For more on the Trump-Modi connection, check out this episode of the Otherhood podcast.
This story originally aired on The World in Words, and published on Public Radio International, on April 27, 2017.