By Tim Wyatt
A school has apologised and withdrawn a workbook on Hinduism from its website after a row erupted over a passage that suggested some Hindus have used terrorism to defend their beliefs.
The head teacher of Langley School, a state school in Solihull near Birmingham, said she was “devastated” at what she described as an “oversight” in posting the materials online.
The apology followed intense criticism online from a number of Hindu and British Indian activist groups, some of which suggested that the offending passage in GCSE Religious Studies: Religion Peace and Conflict was a deliberate attempt to attack Hinduism and India.
The Hindu Forum of Britain, an umbrella group, in a letter to the exam board AQA, whose logo appears on the materials, said the workbook was “vexatious, inaccurate . . . and totally misinterpreted” key tenets of the faith.
The section that sparked the row stated Hindu holy texts and tradition say war can be morally justified if it is in self-defence or to protect sacred tradition or a righteous cause.
“If the cause is just, Hindus will take up arms,” the paragraph adds. “Some Hindus have turned to terrorism to protect Hindu beliefs.”
Later, the workbook also notes how in recent years in India there have been examples of lethal “religious intolerance” towards minorities such as Muslims and Christians. “These are in direct contrast to what Hinduism teaches: tolerance, respect.”
Clare Thorpe, head teacher at Langley School, said the workbook was not used for teaching in class, but had instead been uploaded some time ago to the school’s website as a “further reference material”.
“We have taken swift and decisive action to remove the document from our webpage,” she added.
Although the resource featured the logo of AQA, the largest exam board for GCSEs and A-levels in England, it was not produced by AQA, the board insisted.
“We did not produce the workbook that has been shared on social media and our logo was used on it without our permission,” a spokesman said. “Some of the material in it seems to have come from a textbook — we have spoken to the publisher, which has withdrawn the book from sale while it addresses the issue.”
The publisher, Hodder, said of the textbook: “When our attention was drawn to this, we acted immediately to remove the book from sale until we could investigate further. We are having the content reviewed by another Hindu organisation at the moment. Once we have this review we will then take appropriate action and we will continue to review and improve our processes and checks to ensure that we learn from this error. We have issued a statement with our apology; it certainly was never our intention to cause offence or insult”.
The row has attracted attention in Indian news media, prompting hundreds of Hindus online to criticise the connection drawn between their faith and violence.
One of the groups that drew attention to the resources is Insight UK, a movement advocating on behalf of British Hindus and Indians. It has in the past held protests in support of the Indian government, in particular its contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, a 2019 law that allowed refugees from neighbouring nations a pathway to citizenship unless they were Muslims.
On Saturday, Insight UK is hosting an online webinar discussing the “availability and quality” of teaching on Hinduism in RE curriculums.
Vigorous defences of Hinduism have grown in India and its diaspora since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took office in 2014. The BJP historically draws most of its support from India’s Hindu majority and is also closely linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a nationalist, right-wing group dedicated to promoting the ideology Hindutva, or the supremacy of Hindus.
Religiously motivated violence against non-Hindus in India has increased in recent years, most often featuring sometimes deadly attacks on Muslims after claims they had killed or eaten cows, an animal revered by Hindus.
Read more from the Religion Media Centre:
‘Anti-Muslim’ law brings violence to India