| It's 8:00 a.m., and students slowly trickle into Mr.
West's 6th grade history class. The majority of the people, including
the teacher, are white. One African-American, two Orientals, and myself,
a second generation Indian girl, make up the rest of the class.
On the blackboard is written "World Religions." As the
rest of the class prepares for a boring two hours, I can already
feel my stomach sink - what did I do to deserve this?
We are handed a fill-in-the-blank chart of major world religions
and are instructed to look in our books for the answers.
Finishing quickly, I hand in my chart to Mr. West at his desk,
and turn to leave. "Now wait a minute, you put 'monotheistic'
down for Hindooism," he remarks.
"I know," I reply, feeling my face burn as the class
"Hindoos are polytheistic."
"No, they're not,"
"Are you a Hindoo?"
Scattered murmurs break out among my peers, whispering about how
freaky Hindus worship elephants and monkeys. Great.
"Well," Mr. West says standing up and going to the chalkboard,
"from what I understand, Hindoos are all about their caste
system." And he begins a long, irrelevant, and incorrect explanation,
which he memorized from our textbook.
What does that have to do with being monotheistic? I don't even
bother correcting him, to save myself any more embarrassment. I
wanted to get out of there. Fast.
7th grade starts, and it's culture day in history.
"Both of my parents are Indian--" I begin when it's my
"Do you mean Native American Indian, or Middle Eastern Indian?"
my teacher asks.
Sounds like it's going to be another fun year in social studies.
When 8th grade starts, India and Hinduism are summed up in a few
short sentences by the teacher. India is described as filled with
pollution, cows, and poverty-stricken people. Hindus love to bathe
in rivers where they throw the ashes of their parents and yes, they
do worship elephants and monkeys.
"Do you speak Indian?" I'm asked at least two times a
week. "I heard there were two thousand gods and every full
moon you had to give a sacrifice to them. Do you do that?"
No.I try to explain that all the gods are really aspects of one
almighty being. I've never sacrificed anything except my dignity,
which slowly dwindles with each question. The release of popular
award-winning books such as Homeless Bird, which portrays the typical
Indian girl who is forced to get married at thirteen, didn't help
And, who could have guessed, the author hadn't even been to India!
Six entire chapters in the textbook were devoted to Christianity,
whereas one page is given to the history of India and the teachings
of Hinduism. A second page is entirely about Lord Shiva, accompanied
by a rather unbecoming picture of an ancient dancing Shiva statue.
Buddhism gets one paragraph.
This doesn't make sense, as most of the school already knows so
much about Christianity, but hardly any even knew Buddhism or Hinduism
existed. Now that they did, we would be ridiculed publicly. Thank
you, Board of Education.
At last, high school starts. I almost die of shock when I see the
9th grade textbook has devoted an entire 3 sentences to Sikhism
and Jainism. It claims Sikhism "combines the Muslim belief
of one god with the Hindu belief of reincarnation." Christianity
in India and the ever-popular "western influence" get
pages and pages of text.
One of the main pictures which help represent "typical life
in India" is one my fellow students describe as some sort of
drag-queen in make-up doing an obscure peacock dance. Out of all
the dazzling pictures of Indian culture, that is the one they have
to stick in? They chose that one over a picture of, say, the classic
But the fun just gets funnier -- the next picture of a sari earns
a whole two sentences. Oh, but it's not an exquisite silk or glittering
embroidered sari. Nope, it's a dirty yellow (perhaps once white)
cotton sari worn by an old woman bathing in the Ganges River.
In spite of its pollution, "Hindus readily drink and bathe
in the Ganges' water people even come to die in the river."
To further prove their point, they stick in a picture of a filth
and trash laden section of Ganges, not a clean part, which much
of it is.
I kid you not, upon reading this and looking at the picture, a
boy in my class had to be excused to the nurse's office because
his stomach had become queasy.
Now we come to the sacred cow. They say entire streets are blocked
because Hindus don't want to run over our beloved cow. C'mon, even
in America, people aren't going to just run over a local cow; they'll
find a way to move it or get around it.
On an ending note, Indians are technologically behind. They fail
to mention that we have a space program, nuclear capabilities, and
many Indians, believe it or not, have heard of a computer. Every
day, young desi children and teenagers are unreasonably tormented
because of our perceived background. The school textbooks are half
the cause. The average American doesn't know squat about India,
and with the help of poorly researched textbooks, they learn nonsense.
The sheer embarrassment of the situation is enough to make desi
students everywhere wish we could have been "normal" by
Explaining to your peers that you don't worship a thousand gods
like the Greeks; your grandmother doesn't force you to bathe in
dead people's ashes every full moon; and even though you know how
to bhangra, kuchipudi, or whatever it may be, you've never danced
with a drag-queen, is not fun for any young desi.
But why do we put up with it? Jewish, African-American, and Orientals
all have organizations against defamation and they are represented
correctly in the textbooks. Why aren't we?
If Christians can effectively lobby to remove the theory of evolution
from school science textbooks, then certainly we should be able
to at least correct the blatant misinterpretation of our culture.
Reading what you or your child's Social Studies textbooks says on
India and Hinduism and writing a simple letter or e-mail to the
editor can make a world of difference for not only you but for thousands
A letter to the Board of Education for your district can't hurt
either, since they decide which textbooks will be used. It only
takes five minutes of your time, but it can change how you, an Indian,
are viewed in society.
Desis are being ridiculed everywhere in America because of what
today's modern student is learning.
It's not going to change unless we become part of the solution.
-Trisha Pasricha of Houston, TX, is 14. She has recently co-authored
a children's novel with her mother and is now actively seeking a
publisher. She currently writes a teenage advice column in her local