California education board votes to remove Sikh image from texts

Sacramento, USA - The state Board of Education voted to ask a publisher to remove from a seventh-grade history textbook a picture of a Sikh religious leader that many followers said was offensive and inaccurate.

The board agreed Thursday to the recommendation from state Department of Education officials and the textbook's publisher, Oxford University Press, to remove the historical portrait of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, from "An Age of Voyages: 1350-1600."

The controversial image shows Guru Nanak wearing a crown and with a close-cropped beard. The depiction runs contrary to Sikh faith, which requires observant men to wear a turban and not to shave their facial hair.

The image is taken from a 19th century painting made after Muslims ruled India. After Sikhs complained that the picture more closely reflected a Muslim man than a Sikh, Oxford offered to substitute it with an 18th century portrait showing Guru Nanak with a red hat and trimmed beard. But Sikhs said that picture made their founder look like a Hindu.

The publisher now wants to take the picture entirely from the textbook, which was approved for use in California classrooms in 2005. There are about 250,000 Sikhs in California.

Sikh leaders say they want a new, more representative image of Guru Nanak, similar to the ones they place in Sikh temples and in their homes. The publisher has rejected those images as historically inaccurate. No images exist from the founder's lifetime, 1469 to 1538.

Adams said he does not know how many copies of the book already have been printed but said California schools have bought 509 copies.

Oxford University Press publisher Casper Grathwohl did not immediately return a telephone message Thursday from The Associated Press.

The board voted to urge the publisher to cover the picture with stickers in books that already are printed. It also wanted the stickers to portray an alternate picture of Guru Nanak or give an explanation of the controversy.

Still, Sikh leaders at Thursday's meeting argued that deleting the image of their founder downplays the significance of Sikhism.

"They should have been more courageous and accepted our recommendation," said Onkar Bindra, a retired teacher. "It is really in their authority to ask all the school districts not to use it anymore."