Rutgers University Student Assembly Passes Resolution to Adopt Scholarly Definition of ‘Hinduphobia’
- The resolution was adopted on April 23 at the ‘Understanding Hinduphobia Conference’ hosted by the Hindu Students Council, to discuss the history of discrimination against Hindus and how it has manifested itself in present times.
Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) has passed a resolution to adopt a scholarly definition of ‘Hinduphobia.’ It defines Hinduphobia as “a set of antagonistic, destructive, and derogatory attitudes and behaviors towards Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) and Hindus that may manifest as fear or hatred,” as per a tweet by the Rutgers Hindu Students Council (HSC). “Rutgers University’s Student Assembly (RUSA) becomes the first American University student government to recognize Hinduphobia, including a scholarly definition of #Hinduphobia institutionally,” says the tweet.
The resolution was adopted on April 23, at the Understanding Hinduphobia Conference, hosted by the HSC, to discuss the history of discrimination against Hindus and how it has manifested itself in present times. During the day-long, virtual conference, Hindu scholars, community activists, students and administrators introduced participants to critical aspects of global and historical Hinduphobia and the definition of Hinduphobia; and suggested how institutions can uphold this definition and what happens when they don’t.
Some of the speakers included Indian political scientist and historian Meenakshi Jain; scholar and activist Dr. Indu Vishwanathan, Parth Parihar, general secretary of the Hindu Students Council; Arvind Sharma, Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University; Jeffery Long, professor of Religion and Asian Studies at Elizabethtown College; and attorney Vishal Ganesan. In a series of tweets, the HSC highlighted some of the salient features of the conference which discussed topics like the historical origins of Hinduphobia, contemporary manifestations of Hinduphobia, and the impact of Hinduphobia on Hindu Americans.
The events that led to the conference began earlier this year. In March, a group of students at the Rutgers Newark campus initiated a petition requesting the university to take strong action against historian and Professor Audrey Truschke for “demonizing Hinduism.”
The petition, shared on Twitter by the ‘Hindu on Campus’ group, expressing concerns” over Trucshke’s views, alleging that she taught students that “Hinduism is inherently oppressive, racist, misogynistic and violent.” In the petition, 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 response to the petition, Rutgers University has issued a statement supporting Truschke, after she faced backlash from her Hindu students and was subjected to a vicious online campaign and threats. 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.”
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, which has only worsened over the years.