A coalition of 75 Hindu temples and spiritual organizations from across 20 states in the U.S. have sent a letter to Rutgers University in New Jersey expressing their “disappointment and concerns” about Prof. Audrey Truschke’s comments on Hinduism. The signatories allege that Truschke’s views have caused “intense trauma not only to Hindu students on campus but also to the broader Hindu community.”
Truschke is an Associate Professor of South Asian History at the university’s Newark campus.
The letter, coordinated by the Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), which includes some of the largest temples and spiritual organizations in the U.S. and Canada, comes against the backdrop of an ongoing controversy involving Truschke’s alleged “disparaging comments” about Hindu texts, deities, and festivals. “We cannot help but feel intensely hurt and abused when a professor uses her authority and deliberately misinterprets Hindu sacred texts or slanders Hindu deities while rationalizing such behavior as ‘academic freedom,’” reads the letter dated July 1.
“We are thankful to all the temples and spiritual organizations who signed this letter after hearing about Professor Truschke’s statements and actions,” CoHNA president Nikunj Trivedi said in a statement. “This letter demonstrates that there is a broad and deep concern within the Hindu community and a sense of sadness due to the continued maligning of our religious texts and deities.”
In the letter, the signatories outline what they see as Truschke’s usage of verses from Hindu texts “to create false narratives about Hinduism and India, peddle bigotry and Hinduphobia, and advance the idea that Hinduism rationalizes murder, rape, and other social evils.” They say they “cannot help but feel intensely hurt and abused when a professor uses her authority and deliberately misinterprets Hindu sacred texts or slanders Hindu deities while rationalizing such behavior as academic freedom.”
At the same time, the letter also condemns any violence and threats of violence against Truschke, because such acts go against Hindu ethos. However, it notes that “bigotry and Hinduphobia on social media and in scholarship cannot be excused as academic freedom, especially when these remarks have grave consequences for how Hindu students at Rutgers will be perceived by their own peers”
With rising anti-Asian hatred and violence across the country and Rutgers’ recent affirmation of its commitment to its Asian (and Hindu) campus population, “it is imperative that the university also stamp out hatred and bigotry by those in authority,” the letter notes.
In addition, the signatories dismissed concerns by certain Rutgers faculty members and organizations, who called the Hindu students who opposed “right-wing extremists” or a foreign government. “These sideline the real issues at hand and deny Hindu students the right to bring about legitimate grievances to reach a solution and subject them to further abuse and ridicule,” the letter says. “The university must not fall prey to such propaganda and must ensure the safety and protect the rights of the Hindu students – many of whom are still afraid of speaking up from fear of being bullied and harassed on social media or other places.
In March, Rutgers University issued a statement supporting Truschke after she faced backlash from her some Hindu students and was subjected to a vicious online campaign and threats. In a statement of support, issued on its Twitter handle, the university said it “emphatically supports Professor Truschke’s academic freedom in pursuing her scholarship,” abhors the vile messages and threats that are being directed at her, and calls for an immediate end to them.
The March 8 statement came after the group ‘Hindus on Campus’ sent an open letter to authorities “expressing concerns” over Trucshke’s views, alleging that she taught students that “Hinduism is inherently oppressive, racist, misogynistic and violent.” On its Twitter account, the group said more than 5,000 people signed the letter. The group describes itself as a student-led group to create “a safe space for diaspora Hindus to share their experiences with anti-Hindu bigotry.” Similar statements of support were issued by the faculty/graduate student union and the South Asian Studies Program.