What HAF's Victory Means to a Texan - Hindu American Foundation

What HAF’s Victory Means to a Texan

By December 8, 2014 November 7th, 2019 9 Comments

Growing up in Texas, one of my clearest memories from middle school is when my brother (okay to be honest, my parents), gifted me a gold Ganesh pendant for Raksha Bandhan. I was so proud that I finally had my own piece of jewelry which showcased my identity, like all of my Catholic friends with their own delicate gold crosses.

That pride lasted until about 4 pm the following school day, when I was approached by a classmate, who asked what I was wearing. I was excited to be able to explain my faith, and told said classmate about the Remover of Obstacles. She grew increasingly angry as I was speaking. “God hates that you know! You’re going to go to hell for wearing a false idol. You’re going to burn in hell,” she finally spat at me before walking away.

I was only 12, and I found the incident pretty scary. I didn’t have the language to explain that my pendant was not a false idol. I wasn’t overly concerned about burning in hell, but I was afraid that I was going to be constantly attacked by my peers for my faith, and that was a more troublesome and immediate matter. Most of my peers were more interested in my Pokemon cards than my pendant though, and the incident and emotions passed. My pendant was the only encounter with Hinduism any of my classmates really had until I got to tenth grade, when my well-meaning teacher fumbled through the lesson, mixing up the definitions for karma and moksha, and moving onto Buddhism before I could really process what had happened. At the time I found this lucky, as little to no impact was made on my classmates, and Kavita was just the-girl-who-really-likes-basketball again, sans any conversation.

I got through school luckier than many of my peers. My parents had exposed me to enough opportunities to build and develop my faith that I was able to get through my friend’s questions, and the luck translated to much fewer questions than many of my Hindu peers.

However, I heard the horror stories from my friends, who were asked about their caste, or whether they had a cow in their backyard, or had to listen to snickering remarks about Gandhi dots.  I got knots in my stomach just wondering how I would ever respond to such things if they were to come up. While I was confident in my own beliefs, all of these things were so foreign to the faith that I practiced myself, that I felt unequipped to answer.

This year, I just started graduate school, and was immensely excited to be surrounded by such incredibly intelligent people. However, when I was asked by multiple people if I was a “Hindi”, or why I wore the number 3 (I was gifted a new Aum pendant), I felt the burn of disappointment. I was tired. Why did I have to explain this most basic part of my identity? Wasn’t that what we all went to school for the last 16+ years for? To interact with the world equipped with a basic understanding of how the world, and those in it, work?

When I realized I had an opportunity to be a part of the review process for Texas textbooks, I applied immediately, and was accepted. It meant rearranging my summer, and cancelling other commitments to participate in the weeklong process, but it seemed like a small sacrifice if I could help ensure that textbooks represented the faith I practiced, instead of the faith that distant scholars insisted upon. When I got to Austin, I was prepared to read textbooks in a critical fashion, and ensure that they met all of the standards our state had decided upon to vet for their quality as a resource for students. Instead, I was asked to Control F my way through material, finding any phrase that matched the TEK or ELP, and check off a long list of boxes. Reading a paragraph was subtly discouraged. There was little to no room to make statements about inaccuracies- we barely looked at 50 pages of the entire textbook.

Despite spending a week locked up in a hotel in Austin and poring over the material, I caught no sight of the word Hindu at all. I felt pretty defeated as I realized that for all my time, I had made no impact on the process, and that students would continue to read about caste and cows and tease their Hindu peers about their false idols.

Luckily though, I was never working alone. While I may not have created an impact myself as an independent reviewer, the impressive team at the Hindu American Foundation was able to deliver when given the opportunity to make a change. With Murali Balaji, the Director of Education and Curricular Reform, spearheading a strong team of similarly motivated individuals, textbooks in Texas have accomplished something very simple: they are beginning to actually represent Hinduism. They better reflect the faith I, and an incredibly diverse population of Hindus, practice. They are more accurate than before. With such a diverse population, and such a wide plethora of beliefs, some will argue the nuance of these statements, I’m sure. However, this is a victory for Hindus throughout Texas – and because of Texas’ clout throughout the US, the entire nation.

Thanks to the Hindu American Foundation’s work, the challenges I faced won’t hold for my cousins, for my nieces and nephews, or for my children.


  • Harshada Jashwant says:

    Very well said, Kavita. I really admire the efforts youngsters like you are putting in to bring the positive changes and pave the road for other kids. Keep up the good work.

  • Nicely written Ms. Pallod. Thanks to the work you and others in the Hindu American Foundation have done, our textbooks are better for all students, and that build a more plural, tolerant, accepting, and educated society.

  • Sweta Maheshwari says:

    Thank you so much for your part in this effort. Since Texas is the largest purchaser of textbooks, many publishers follow Texas guidelines for all the books they publish. Because of hardworking people like you, students all over the U.S. will have a better understanding of what Hinduism is really about. I too look forward to the day I no longer have to explain that I’m a “Hindu” not a “Hindi.”

  • Jonathan says:

    Thanks for sharing. When I was a kid, we had these Egyptian Muslims as neighbors. They had a daughter probably around 10 years old. One day I was outside and she said “I hate you!” to me and I asked why. She said “because you are not Muslim!!” and ran off. This incident is forever burned in my mind. I believe HAF is doing great work and its annual Human Rights Report highlights the injustices we are suffering, particularly in countries that have large Muslim populations. Islam is a history centric religion with exclusivist claims which wants to see Hinduism destroyed. We cannot and will not let that happen.

  • SSM says:

    Good work, Kavita. I am glad people like you are engaging in advocacy to correct Americans’ misassumptions about Hinduism. Fortunate that your childhood was fairly discrimination-free, barring one or two incidents. That is impressive in evangelical Texas!

  • jigerpatel says:

    Thanks for writing this Kavita. Many of us who grew up in small town America had it worse. I really hope the changes in Texas would trickle down to states like Arkansas.

  • Sumedh Sathaye says:

    When I am told “you are going to hell!”, I reply “thank you, and I’ll see you there!” That shuts them right up.

Leave a Reply

10/28/22Dr. Anandibai Joshi

Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi is credited with being the first woman from India to study medicine in the United States. Born in Bombay in 1865, she was married at the age of ten to an older man who had been her teacher. Dr. Joshi had a child at the age of 13, but the child died when only 10 days old. She believed that with better medical care, the child would have lived, and she frequently cited this as motivation for her desire to attend medical school. Her husband encouraged her in her academic pursuits and in 1883, Joshee joined the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, now known as the Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. She graduated in 1886 with her degree in medicine; her M.D. thesis focused on Hindu obstetrics. Unfortunately,  Dr. Joshi was only able to practice medicine for a few months before passing away from tuberculosis.

Science in Hinduism

10/2/2022Gandhi Jayanti

Gandhi Jayanti marks the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the ‘Father of the Nation’ for India and the Indian Diaspora. To honor Gandhi’s message of ahimsa (non-violence), volunteer events and commemorative ceremonies are conducted and statues of Gandhi are also decorated with flower garlands. Gandhi and the satyagraha (truth force) has inspired many of America’s most prominent civil rights and social impact movements and leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez. The United Nations declared October 2 as the International Day of Non-Violence in honor of Gandhi, whose work continues to inspire civil rights movements across the world.

Examining the Impact of Mahatma Gandhi on Social Change Movements

Why we should not tear down statues of Gandhi

10/1/2022First Hindu temple in US

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 facilitated the journey of many Indian immigrants to the United States. In this new land, many created home shrines and community temples to practice and hold pujas (services). As Hindu American populations grew in metropolitan and rural areas, so did the need to find a permanent temple site for worship. In 1906, the Vedanta Society built the Old Temple in San Francisco, California but as this was not considered a formal temple, many don’t credit this with being the first. Others believe it is the Shiva Murugan Temple built in 1957 in Concord, California, whereas others believe it is the Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devanstanam in New York that should be considered the first. Today, there are nearly 1,000 temples in the United States . Regardless of where you live, you have the right to practice your faith.

A Guide To Temple Safety and Security

5 Things to Know About Visiting a Hindu Temple