Sikhs Address the California Textbook Approval Meeting (By Prof. Onkar S. Bindra)

California Sikhs have been unhappy over the fact that the K-8 textbooks for History-Social Science in current use have nothing about Sikh ID, culture, or history of their immigration. They consider this to be the leading reason for ignorance of the masses about the Sikhs.

In July this year, it was found out that even the new books submitted by publishers to the California Department of Education (CDE) did not contain information on Sikhs. Realizing that the next chance to get Sikh information included will be only after six years, the writer attended meetings of the (1) Subject Matter Committee on Sept. 29, (2) Curriculum Commission Meeting on Sept. 30, and (3) Ad-Hoc Committee Meeting on October 31. At each of these, he pointed out that the Framework Content Standards require a MULTICULTURAL PERSPECTIVE throughout K-8, and REQUIRE material to create AWARENESS about different people of the State in Grade one, and information on immigration history in Grade four books. He added that the Standards of Evaluation required PROPORTIONATE PORTRAYAL. Pointing out that most books did not include images of Sikh children and their parents in books for Grade one, or history of Sikh immigration in Grade 4, he pleaded that such books not be recommended until these are improved by adding Sikh information. Unfortunately, the C.D.E. bound by deadlines for replacing old books with new ones, recommended books of 10 out of 12 publishers who had submitted new books.

In the light of the above, the Sikh community statewide was requested to plead to the State Board of Education (SBE) to postpone approval of books proposed by publisher and recommended by the CDE, to give publishers time to included Sikh information. A meeting was held at Yuba City on November 6 to coordinate the efforts. A dozen concerned Sikhs attended it on the day of the Nagar Kirtan in which some 60,000 participated. They decided to make a strong representation to the SBE at the forthcoming 2005 History-Social Science Primary Adoption.

Accordingly, 20 Sikhs, from San Jose to Yuba City in Northern California, went to the meeting of the SBE on Nov. 9.

Besides the writer, the following twelve spoke during the Public Comments Session:

  1. Dr. Siri Pritam Kaur Khalsa - President Punjabi American Heritage Society, Yuba City.
  2. Gurpal Singh Khaira - Managing Director, Guru Nanak Mercy Foundation
  3. Dr. Amrik Singh, Teacher Elk Grove School District
  4. Dr. Narinder S. Parhar - President of SIKHS (Sikh Information & Khalsa Heritage Society)
  5. Mr. Sukhdev S. Bainiwal - Bay area citizen
  6. Mr. Paramjit S. Gahra - Lawyer citizen, Bay Area
  7. Dr. J.P. Singh –President, El Sobrante Gurudwara
  8. Mrs. Sarabjit Kaur Cheema - Union City Teacher
  9. Mr. Gurmeet Singh Khalsa - President of Fremont Gurudwara
  10. Dr. Anahat K. Sandhu - Vice-President, World Sikh Council, American Region
  11. Dr. Amarjit S. Bal - Stockton citizen
  12. Mr Inderjit S. Kallirai - Indo-American Cultural Heritage Society

In a joint statement, on behalf of the entire Sikh community, the writer stated as follows: 1. Of the 24.085 million Sikhs worldwide, 583,000 live in North America. The 200,000 California Sikhs, who worship in some 50 Gurudwaras, end their prayers seeking Welfare of the Entire Humanity. They are significant in the socioeconomic fabric of the State. 2 Whereas the Framework Content Standards require a MULTICULTURAL PERSPECTIVE throughout K-8, and REQUIRE material to create AWARENESS about different people of the State in Grade one, and the Standards of Evaluation require PROPORTIONATE PORTRAYAL, most books do not include images of Sikh children and their parents in books for Grade one.

In the absence of such pictures in the textbooks, students will not know that almost all who wear turbans in America are Sikhs, for whom use of tobacco is taboo. They will continue to have fear of the unknown, and to have prejudice against turbaned Sikhs, even the white skinned American Sikhs. The Sikhs will continue to be prime victims of hate crimes that have increased greatly in the wake of 9/11. The poster "Common Sikh American Head Coverings" issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2004 should be reflected in the textbooks.

  1. Sikhs immigration to California started 106 years ago. The Sikh Temple Stockton, dedicated in 1915, has been declared a State Monument.
  2. Pioneer Sikh immigrants worked on railroads and in lumberyards, and many went into farming. They faced discriminatory laws and intolerance from European immigrants. Two Sikh students of Berkeley deserve mention. Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind left studies to serve in the army during World War I, but when he applied for citizenship after his honorable discharge, the Supreme Court denied it. Citizenship of others was rescinded in the wake of this decision. Later, he earned a Ph.D. and became a great spiritual scientist.

Likewise, Dalip Singh Saund, who earned a Ph.D. from Berkeley, had to go into farming because he could not get a job. When elected Judge first time, he was not allowed to serve, because he had not completed one year as a citizen. On his re-election, he did serve as a Judge. In 1956, he was elected to the U.S. Congress. He was the first Asian to serve as Congressman and served three terms. In recognition of his services for Civil Rights, an U.S. Post Office in Temecula has been dedicated to him.

The writer had earlier submitted to members of the SBE copies of "Sikhs in Northern California"; a short DVD produced by the KVIE, the local PBS station. The video clip correctly points out that History of Sikh immigration has not yet found place in school textbooks. The writer said, "The 4th grade textbooks should have history of immigration, and stories of Dr. Bhagat Singh and Dr. Dalip Singh Saund, Congressman, in compliance of the Content Standards.

Ending his presentation, the writer said, "Since the textbook approval takes place only every six years, and previously approved textbooks are available, we urge you to approve the books only after publishers have included pictures of Sikh children, parents and grandparents with their head coverings, and other relevant information."

Dr. Narinder Singh Parhar and Gurpal Singh Khaira mentioned the unique features of the Sikh scriptures, Sikh religion and ethics, especially standing for religious freedom of even non-Sikhs, citing the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur. Paramjit Singh Gahra said, "ONE OF THE BIGGEST BOONS OF THE SIKH TRADITION IS THAT TOBACCO IS TABOO". He asked, "Wouldn't this knowledge about Sikhs have a positive effect, as young children do start smoking early in schools?”

Dr Anahat Kaur Sandhu, Vice-President of World Sikh Council-American Region, emphasized the role Sikhs play in the building of California and recommended that teachers utilize the available resource material and presented to the SBE, a copy of the book “Religion in Ohio”.

Inderjit Singh Kallirai talked at length about the importance of Sikhs in our daily life. He said, "If you travel along Highway 5 from Bellingham in the North to San Diego in the South, I can assure you that one of my fellow Sikhs and/or Indo-Americans can provide you services, assistance and support along your journey: From Gas to a Sandwich, from treating you when sick to providing you a warm and safe bed when you are tired; From Fresh Peaches to Raisins, from repairing your automobile should it breakdown to that convenient refreshment. Not only that, if you use a computer or Laptop, then the Pentium chip was designed by an Indo-American, the Hotmail service by another Indo-American Sikh, and the World Wide Web's backbone - Fiber optics by another Indo-American Sikh."

Sukhdev Singh Bainiwal, Sarabjit Kaur Cheema and Gurmeet Singh Khalsa (All from Fremont) related woeful stories of the verbal and physical abuse suffered by their kids at school. Krishna Kaur Khalsa, in her written submittal, stated, "Being a white American born Sikh doesn’t shelter one from ridicule and harassment. My husband has been called Osama Bin Laden and Rag Head by mistaken youth of Placerville, where we live." Siri Pritam Kaur Khalsa said, "ONLY education can change attitudes towards those that look or dress different. It is important that Sikh children be able to see themselves in the books and that all-American children learn about the contributions Sikhs have made to American society." Talking of murder of innocent Mr. Balbir Singh Sodhi in a hate crime in Arizona and killing of his brother in San Francisco in the wake of 9/11, Dr. Amrik Singh of Elk Grove became very emotional.

Dr JP Singh who has conducted Arab Muslim Sikh Cultural Awareness Training of Law Enforcement Officials, for the US Department of Justice Community Relations Service, to minimize the mistaken identity hate crime killings, reported that 85% of the Law Enforcement personnel did not know who Sikhs were. He pleaded for inclusion of US DOJ Poster type Sikh images in the First Grade Social Studies Books. He added." It is my belief that images registered in a child’s mind at that age will go a long way in helping them in understanding the communities they live in and someday may even deter them from committing mistaken identity related hate crimes."

Dr Amarjit Singh Bal & his wife (a retired teacher), in a joint statement, stated, "The lack of information about Sikh Americans in the textbooks used in the public schools continues to keep the populace ignorant about Sikh Americans. The lack of understanding and appreciation among children and adults has perpetuated prejudice against the Sikh Americans. The pre-existing ethnic prejudice against Sikh Americans further intensified after 9/11 because of mistaken identity. Sikh children and adults have been victims of hate crimes. I view the adoption of 2005 textbooks for California public schools as a great opportunity to advance the cause of equal treatment of all people who inhabit this Great State.”

Representatives of the SBE, CDE and the Publishers have told this writer that the public comments by the Sikhs were very informative and educative, and made a deep impression on them. We have made some progress. The speakers are determined to continue efforts to get information on Sikhs included in books of all publishers with the cooperation of the Publishers and the CDE/SBE. They want to be involved in the revision of the History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools from the beginning, in the end of 2006. They want to ensure inclusion of History of Medieval India in Grade 7 and of Sikhism, the 5th largest world religion, in the elective course “Survey of World Religions”. (The author, a former Professor at PAU, Ludhiana, India, can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]).

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