“India” is to be replaced with “South Asia” for students in California!

A small group of South Asia studies faculty recently asked the California Board of Education to change the History Social Science Frameworks (Syllabus) so that the word “India” will be removed and replaced with “South Asia.” They believe that India did not exist before 1947 and want a stereotypical and concocted generalization like “South Asia” to be used for almost all discussions of Indian history before 1947. (Note: the picture above is a satirical depiction of how absurd it would be if every country were changed to its mere geographical location – no other country is being changed thus, only India to ‘South Asia’)

If you thought the California textbooks were problematic, they are going to get far worse now, and they won’t be any change for another ten years if you don’t act fast! Please sign in support of the open letter to the board initiated by several scholars below. If you are a student, teacher or parent, please do mention that when you sign. Finally, please remember this concerns the future of India and all its people, and please do not be abusive in your comments!


You seem to have been taken for a ride! You cannot seriously expect California’s educational system to be respected anywhere in the world if you go ahead with your recent decision to delete all references to “India” in middle school history lessons and replace this word with the geo-politically motivated  Cold War era relic of a phrase “South Asia.” Would you presume to deny the reality of India’s existence and history, and its deep significance to Indian American students in California, simply because a few misinformed professors of “South Asia Studies” wrote you a letter recommending you re-educate California’s children in this bizarre manner?

We have examined the “South Asia studies” professors’ claim. They want the History-Social Science Frameworks that determine what children are taught in California for the next ten years to remove most references to “India” before 1947 because, they believe, India gained independence from Britain only in 1947, and there was no India before 1947! That, at least, is the conceit of their claim.

If this is indeed correct that “India” is not an accurate term for “India” before 1947, how is it possible that the word “India” has been in usage in some form or another from the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans? Did Columbus go searching for “South Asia”? Are the islands of the Caribbean Sea called the “West South Asian-es” instead of the “West Indies”? Were the indigenous peoples of the continents that came to be called the Americas misnamed as “American South Asians”? Was it the British East “South Asia” Company that led colonial trade and exploitation? Was it the “South Asian Ocean” which constituted the center of the world’s largest trade network before the rise of modern Europe? Do you write, perhaps, with “South Asian” ink? When you have to choose between Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Indian food do you tell your family and friends, let’s have “East Asian,” “East-East-Asian,” “Middle North American,” and … “South Asian”?

We hope you recognize that the California Board of Education and the South Asia studies faculty who have misguided you into this bizarre direction are on the threshold of becoming an object of ridicule and pity! The rock solid truth is that has India existed, in some administrative and territorial form or the other, and as a civilizational presence noted by observers and travelers from all around the world, for well over two thousand years of recorded history. The Europeans who ruled over it for the past four hundred years called it, very clearly, “India,” and so did its people. Before they came, there were terms like “Hindustan” and “Bharat,” which hundreds of millions of ordinary people in India use widely to this day (as opposed to “South Asian” which is used by a tiny, elite cult-like complex of academics and activists). We must, therefore, ask: what gives a few professors  unable to distinguish between high-theory speculations in the university classroom and the reality lived and fought for by over a billion people, nearly one-sixth of the human race, the right to try and decimate one’s right to one’s own name? Is it not intellectual arrogance?

What is even more absurd and self-contradictory in their recommendations is their suggestion (which is one of the changes you seem to have accepted) that “India” be removed in all references to the past, but then used again in phrases like “ancient Indian religion” – the new phrase being used to replace the term “Hinduism.” Is this the kind of logic and rigor that students of California, the high-tech capital of the world, are going to be taught? Are teachers going to be expected to tell their students, “Ok, class, in ancient South Asia (not ancient India), the people practiced the religion of ancient India (not Hinduism)”?

How are the hundreds of Hindu American children who came to Sacramento these last few months to speak of the pain and hurt caused by decades of racism and ignorance in your schoolbooks going to feel now? Can members of your board, or these professors of South Asian studies, stand face to face with these bright young students and debate them? Can any of you explain why you think it is a good idea to erase a whole people’s sense of their own past?

It is time to end the discriminatory treatment that Indian origin and Hindu students have faced in American classrooms. If you accept the logic of the South Asia faculty who want all references to India before 1947 changed to the vague “South Asia” because it was technically “not India” till it declared independence, then you should be prepared to apply the same logic rigorously to all nations mentioned in California’s history textbooks. Do go right ahead and replace all lessons about all nations before they declared independence to some sterile geographical category. So all references to “America” before 1776 could be changed to “Northern Western Hemispherical Landmass” perhaps!

We hope you recognize the complete absurdity, irony and indeed cruelty of what you are about to do. Education and civil rights ought to march hand in hand. Please do not go down in history as the board that stole the right of a billion people to their own name, not in the 21st century, and not in California. We urge you to reject all the changes pushed by the South Asia faculty group that attempt to erase India and Hinduism from California’s schools. Let “India” remain “India” and “Hinduism” remain “Hinduism,” and respect reality at least that much.


Vamsee Juluri

Professor of Media Studies, University of San Francisco

Yvette Rosser, Ph. D.

Independent Researcher & Expert on History Textbooks

Ramesh Rao

Professor of Communication, Columbus State University

Vishal Misra

Professor of Computer Science, Columbia University

Madhu Kishwar


Ramdas Lamb

Associate Professor, University of Hawaaii

Kausik Gangopadhyay

Associate Professor, IIM Kozhikode

(The petition is available at this link)



5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie Ellison
    Mar 20, 2016 @ 01:46:45

    Where’s the petition or exact contact information?



  2. Ram Jagessar
    Apr 02, 2016 @ 21:54:02

    It may be difficult to win this battle for retaining India instead of changing to South India, for different reasons than posted in this article. Let me give our experience in Ontario Canada where in 2001 we got the Ontario Legislature to accept South Asian Heritage Month as a celebration of the arrival and heritage of “South Asians” in Canada.

    I was the secretary of the Indian Arrival and Heritage Month Committee and know all the details. It’s not that our group in Toronto did not want to use the word Indian. For several years before we had been celebrating Indo-Caribbean Heritage Day, Indian Arrival Day and then Indian Arrival and Heritage Month. We made it clear that by Indian we meant people of the Indian sub continent, including present day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan. In other words, Greater India. In other words, Greater India, ethnic India, cultural India rather than political India of today.

    The Caribbean Indians here in Canada accepted the Indian tag quite willingly, as we considered ourselves to be ethnic and cultural Indians, our ancestors had come from the old Greater India. We have been celebrating Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad and several other Caribbean nations since 1979.

    But there was serious resistance from others here. The Pakistanis would have nothing to do with Indian Arrival and Heritage Month as they did not consider themselves Indians in any way. The Bangladeshis similarly did not respond to invitations to celebrate Indian Arrival and Heritage Month for the same reason as the Pakistanis. The Tamil Sri Lankans here were angry with India about political matters in Sri Lanka and were not interested. Neither were the Sinhalese Sri Lankans. We could not detect much enthusiasm from the Afghanistanis here, and not much either from the Nepalese and Bhutanese.

    Much to our surprise, we found that some Punjabi Sikhs didn’t buy the Indian Arrival and Heritage Month idea. They were at the time very angry with India over problems with the Indian government and some were pushing for an independent state of Khalistan. Gurudwaras had pictures of Sikh martyrs killed by Indian soldiers on their walls.

    That left just the Indians with roots in India, including those who had come directly from India, the Indo-Caribbeans, the Indo-Fijians, the ethnic Indians from East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) and one or two other small groups. We have in Canada ethnic Indians who have come from over 15 countries.

    Indian Arrival and Heritage Month and the general use of the word Indian to cover this million strong community were not working out too well, and seemed to dividing us rather than uniting us. The word South Asian was around, used in academic circles and in some government circles as well, but few of us considered ourselves South Asians. It was just a made up word.

    In 2001 we were quite happy to see an Indian member of the Ontario Parliament introduce a bill to legalize Indian Arrival and Heritage Month, and to hear that all major political parties liked the idea. But after a while the legal drafters discovered a problem with the Indian Arrival and Heritage Month Act. Canada already has a federal Indian Act of 1876, which applies to the province of Ontario, and deals with various native or First National “Indians”.

    An Indian Arrival and Heritage Month Act would cause immense confusion with the Indian Act 1876 and the various “Indian” bands like the Sioux and Cree and Meti .It would probably not get approved in the legislature at all. Would we consider changing the name to South Asian Heritage Month Act?

    What choice did we have? It was either South Asian Heritage Month Act or no act at all. South Asian was the politically correct word, which would cause the least problems. We said yes to South Asian Heritage Month and it was signed into law the same year 2001. May 5 was chosen as South Asian Arrival Day, referring of course to May 5 arrival of the first Indians to Guyana in 1838.

    I have to report that South Asian Heritage Month has had much greater overall acceptance and support than Indian Arrival and Heritage Month. Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Afghanistanis, Bangladeshis and others have joined in, and this celebration is spreading out from Ontario to many other provinces in Canada. Some of us Indo Caribbeans celebrate South Asian Heritage Month and others continue with Indian Arrival Day. Almost none of us consider ourselves South Asian as our identity statement That is something we use with outsiders, with government agencies, with funding applications and some publicity. Using South Asian hasn’t helped much in unifying this group (by whatever name we are called), but then it hasn’t caused roadblocks and opposition as the use of the word Indian for us all did in the past. We can all live with South Asian whereas some of us previously could not live with Indian.

    I will ask those who want Indian instead of South Asian: what would you have done when told that Indian Arrival and Heritage Month was not going to work because of the word Indian?

    Ram Jagessar



  3. Authors of posts
    Apr 20, 2016 @ 11:50:15

    The word India is again an import – courtesy Mr Columbus. The word that needs to be in vogue and in our common diction is – Bharat.Academics will always seize India and so will be the case with Law makers (as was in Canada).South Asian Heritage is a diaspora and nothing makes it clearer than the word Bharat. So why do not we use Bharat? That is my one big question.
    Comment by: Prabhat Gupta



  4. Authors of posts
    Apr 20, 2016 @ 12:20:29

    Response to comment by Prabhat Gupta:
    In fact the word ‘India’ is put equivalent to Bharat (and unfortunately, not vice versa) in the Constitution, when in Article 1 it says, ‘India, that is, Bharat ….’. The real problem is that for the last 69 years the government of India simply used the word ‘India’ in its international dealings. Bharat has never been used all these years while presenting this country in international gatherings. The reason seems to be Nahru considered the word ‘Bharat’ to be chauvinistic and he was averse to that sentiment. He was an ‘idealist’ totally cut off from the harsh realities of the world and living in a ‘fools paradise’, which he learned the hard way in the war with China.
    Can’t we use the word ‘Bharat’ instead of ‘India’ now, is the real issue.
    Government of India can and should use this word. This step would not only restore this country a due respect, honour its Constitution but also defeat the nefarious design of the campaigners of ‘Replace India with South Asia’.
    Comment by Shreepal Singh



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