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Rutgers University Backs South Asian History Professor Audrey Trucshke Against Protests by a Hindu Students Group

Rutgers University Backs South Asian History Professor Audrey Trucshke Against Protests by a Hindu Students Group

  • In an open letter, the group, ‘Hindus on Campus’ accused the South Asia and Sanskrit scholar of Hinduphobia.

Rutgers University has issued a statement supporting Prof. Audrey Trucshke after she faced backlash from her Hindu students and was subjected to a vicious online campaign and threats. Truschke is Associate Professor of South Asian History at the university’s Newark campus. In a statement of support, issued on it’s 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 comes 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. “Support academic freedom,” the union of graduate workers, faculty, postdocs and EOF (Educational Opportunity Fund) counsellors at Rutgers University, tweeted. “Our faculty must have the right to conduct research, including on controversial subjects, without being faced with threats, ad hominem attacks, and bad-faith accusations. We stand with  @AudreyTruschke.”

The South Asian Studies Program described Truschke as “an award-winning historian and scholar of Sanskrit,” whose work is influential and widely read in South Asia and the U.S. “While some of her work may be controversial, there are appropriate avenues to engage in debate and discussion over these ideas,” the statement read. “As scholars we feel it is vital to make the distinction between critical analysis of particular texts/ ideologies on the one hand and racialized attacks on religious communities on the other. We know that Professor Truschke welcomes serious scholarly debate and critical engagement with her work. However, there is no excuse for abusive language or violent threats.”

Trucshke told American Kahani she is “heartened to see the Rutgers community — including the administration, the faculty/graduate student union, and the South Asian Studies Program — reaffirm our collective commitment to the values of humanities scholarship, academic freedom, and scholarly integrity. She continued: “It is especially important to me that these statements have recognized the danger that intimidation tactics and political pressures can pose to academic work,” she said. “I look forward to many years of continuing my research and teaching with dedication and passion.”

Since March 6, Truschke’s Twitter account has been flooded with offensive and abusive tweets accusing her of getting funds from Christian missionaries or from Pakistan. In replying to one such tweet, she wrote: “I want to make it clear — the current campaign of bad-faith allegations, defamation, and hate against me is fueling this.”

To another tweet saying Truschke needs “medical care for her mental health,” she replied: “Threats of kidnapping, being crushed, and demands that I be ‘handed over.’ “Those issuing these threats of assault and fueling this hatred should be so, so ashamed.”

Referring to the online vitriol, Truschke tweeted on March 7: “Right now, I’m receiving a lot of threats, some rather specific. So, yes, I pay attention. Here’s an insight — It is hard for historians to research and work when they fear for their safety. We shouldn’t have to do that.”

A followup tweet on March 8 night said: “5,750 blocked accounts and counting. In the last 3 days, I have endured an avalanche of hate speech, anti-Muslim sentiments, misogyny, violent threats, things endangering my family (yes, I have to leave that vague for safety reasons), and aggression towards my students. Stop.

The following day, March 9, she took to Twitter again, to provide an update: “In the last 24 hours, I have blocked 150 further accounts. I also discovered my Instagram message requests. My god. How do I cope? It is hard. It is scary. For distraction, I dive into my work. Today, I worked on an article, in part, about recent events in Kashmir.”

On March 10, she tweeted: “Significant drop-off in the hate mail today. This is what we would expect for a coordinated BJP or affiliate IT cell attack.”

In another tweet, she talks about not facing an accusation of bias from any student in her classroom in 15 years of teaching at five institutions. “I’ve taught hundreds of students who identify as Hindu,” she wrote. “That doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I’m not. But it suggests that this isn’t a grassroots effort.”

Many of Truschke’s colleagues and supporters also took to the micr-blogging site to support her. Civil liberties advocacy group Hindus for Human Rights, in a tweet said: “HfHR stands with Audrey Truschke as she is trolled viciously by hateful Hindutvadis. She is being trolled ONLY because she speaks out against #Hindutva. Any other allegations against her are spurious…”

Historian Manan Ahmed wrote: “I was honored to be invited to visit @AudreyTruschke class this Fall. I observed an amazing and considerate teacher fully engaged with the students. I already know her to be an accomplished scholar. I join @Rutgers_Newark in supporting her.”

Writer, organizer, and arts curator Nikhil Mandalaparthy tweeted: “Prof. @AudreyTruschke’s work has taught me so much about the complexity and richness of India’s history. As a Hindu, I am in full solidarity with her. The abuse, harassment, and death threats she’s receiving for speaking out against Hindutva are unacceptable.”

In the Hindus on Campus letter, students said Truschke “falsely linked Hindus with extremists and white supremacists rioting at Capitol Hill,” and claimed that the “Bhagavad Gita, a central Hindu sacred text, “rationalizes mass slaughter” and violence,” and that “rape” and “rape culture” was endemic to Hinduism and Hindu texts.” They further accused the historian of tweeting that Hindu deity Ram was a “misogynistic pig,” and whitewashing Hindu genocide by Mughal king Aurangzeb. 

They demanded that Trucshke be disallowed to teach a course that involves materials related to Hinduism and India “due to her inherent prejudiced views,” and that the university publicly condemns her “for causing trauma to Hindu students, alumni, and the Hindu community.” The letter urged the university to provide a platform “where Hindu students can bring in faculty and researchers who can provide realistic representations of Hinduism and India.”

In the statement of support, Rutgers said it will begin a dialogue with members of the Hindu community who are studying at Rutgers. It said the university “emphatically affirms its support for all members of the Hindu community to study and live in an environment in which they not only feel safe, but also fully supported in their religious identity. After all, our academic excellence is inseparable from our diversity of perspectives and voices. We remain committed to fostering full, open, and respectful engagement on ideas across this spectrum.”

Meanwhile, Hindus on Campus, in a series of tweets, expressed their disappointment and disapproval of the university’s support to Truschke. “We are deeply hurt by the response of Rutgers Newark. In response to a petition signed by a large number of Hindu students and our allies. Rutgers – a university that claims to pride itself on diversity and inclusion – continues to signal that Hindu student voices do not matter,” the group tweeted.

In a followup tweet, it said the statement “unintentionally demonstrates their lack of commitment to Hindu students. They defend Truschke’s claims under the banner of ‘free speech’ & take the stance to protect her from Twitter trolls that send ‘vile messages and threats.’”

Another tweet said: “As Hindu students, we cannot study and live in an environment in which we feel unsafe. How are we supposed to feel safe, when a Professor can block us (a student-run handle) with no prior engagement — yet can continue to tweet at us & energize her followers who call us ‘dotheads.’”

In another tweet, the group wrote: “Bad behavior coming from anyone, especially those in authority, must be dealt with fairly. Every religious community deserves this respect, but Rutgers conveniently leaves out their Hindu minority and holds us to a different standard. Why is that? Our voice deserves to be heard.”

Earlier in January, Dr. Ramesh Rao, Professor of Communication Studies, Department of Communication,  Columbus State University, Columbus, GA, sent an open letter to the Rutgers authorities about Truschke’s “provocative social media activity targeting Hindus.” Rao says in the letter, published on IndiaFacts.

“Truschke has become “well-known for her social media posts mocking, deriding, provoking, and needling Hindus,” the letter reads. Rao alerted authorities to a tweet where the professor announced her new course. “I begin teaching History of South Asia II (Mughals to Modi) on Jan 19, one day before the inauguration,” she wrote. “One of my opening images will be this, from DC yesterday, with the question — What do we need to know to explain why there is an Indian flag here?”

“Why insert Modi’s name in the title of the course if not to provoke,” Rao asks in his letter. “Who vetted this course and approved it? Who are all complicit at Rutgers in approving courses and allowing faculty to use such provocative titles for their courses?” He adds: “A more clear and precise title for the course could have been ‘Indian History: From the Mughals to the Present.’ The tweet also offers those in the know a peep into the trajectory of Prof. Truschke’s course: Mughals, good for India; Modi, bad for India.’”

Truschke is the author of “Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court, Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King,” and most recently, “The Language Of History: Sanskrit Narratives Of A Muslim Past.” Her most well known and controversial work remains to be Aurangzeb, in which Truschke offers a perspective on the public debate over the Mughal emperor, who is often condemned as the cruelest king in Indian history, and makes the case for why his often-maligned legacy deserves to be reassessed. The book generated fierce backlash in India, particularly from Hindutva groups, making Truschke which has only worsened over the years. She also faced calls to ban Aurangzeb and even to ban her from India.

Bhargavi Kulkarni has been a journalist for nearly two decades. She has a degree in English literature and French. She is also an adventure sport enthusiast, and in her free time, she likes to cook, bake, bike and hike.

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