Statement on Hinduphobia at Rutgers University – March 2021

Hindu Students Council’s statement on recent events at Rutgers University

March 12, 2021

Hindu Students Council (HSC) stands with the Hindu students of Rutgers. We are disappointed by the Rutgers administration’s lack of support for its own Hindu students and its cavalier dismissal of Professor Audrey Truschke’s racist demonization of the Hindu faith. We encourage Hindu students at Rutgers to continue using their voices to push for change, and we urge our allies to connect with Hindu students at Rutgers to learn about the harm that Truschke’s words have caused them.

In response to the recent statements from Rutgers students that are posted on the social media handle “Hindu on Campus,” Truschke has offhandly and repeatedly dismissed these testimonials by insinuating that they are orchestrated or fabricated. She has deflected attention from her Hinduphobic comments by claiming, without evidence, that the handle is working with the “BJP IT Cell” in India and thus tying students’ concerns to Indian politics. Deplorably, this otherizing attitude is what Hindu American students often face when they relate their experiences of discrimination or even persecution. As HSC, we affirm the right of Hindu students to be believed and to be taken seriously, when they speak out against anti-Hindu bigotry.

The denial of this basic privilege has created an atmosphere of distrust towards and targeting of students who are speaking up against this discrimination. It has led Hindus at Rutgers to be verbally threatened for political views that they don’t hold. Truschke uses this approach to silence Rutgers students, who become too intimidated to speak out about legitimate issues in fear of being unfairly politically branded.

Hindu students at Rutgers University have protested Truschke’s brazen disregard for Hindu texts and bhagavans because she creates a perception of Hindus as inherently violent and morally corrupt. Her most controversial tweet, calling Shri Rama a “misogynist pig,” misquoted Professor Robert Goldman’s translation of the Hindu epic Ramayana. Goldman found her tweet “highly inappropriate” and intimated that her words “have nothing to do with our translation.” Her most recent controversy from December 2020 is an editorial which argues that the Bhagavad Gita – one of the most sacred texts in the Hindu tradition – justifies “mass slaughter.” These words directly tie large swaths of Hindu people and practices to violence and are plainly bigoted.

Yet, the statement by the Rutgers administration does not recognize this pattern of bigoted behavior. It attempts to airbrush Truschke’s actions as merely “controversial” and as falling under the ambit of research that academics must be allowed to freely conduct. The University’s own policies on academic conduct require that faculty speech not fall into recognized patterns of anti-religious or racist bigotry. Misrepresenting another scholar, as she did to Goldman, is also a serious ethical violation. Academic freedom is not absolute; it comes with boundaries that, in this case, have been clearly and repeatedly transgressed. Even worse, when Professor Truschke uses social media to make dangerous insinuations aimed at her objectors–Hindu students at Rutgers and beyond–she enables bigoted violence that goes beyond any protection that free speech might ever afford.

The only action Rutgers has taken so far is to demand that violent threats towards Professor Truschke stop. We agree with this. We do not condone violence directed towards anyone. It is directly against the Hindu principle of ahimsa. Yet, it is equally true that Truschke has given cover to many on social media to send vile and bigoted messages towards Hindu students at Rutgers, as well as towards the Hindu On Campus team which has spoken up for those same students. For us, it’s telling that the University does not speak out against these violent messages sent to Hindu students. This contrast clearly demonstrates that the University does not hold the safety of its Hindu students in the same light as that of Professor Truschke or others on its campus.

It is vital that Rutgers de-center Professor Truschke and her colleagues, and instead center Hindu students in the current discussion on instruction of Hinduism and Hinduphobia on campus. We are happy to see so many allies from many different communities stand in support of Hindu students at Rutgers. Together, with the Hindu students of Rutgers, we can help change Rutgers from within – from an institution that has long harbored Hinduphobia into one where Hindu students can be equally respected members of a diverse and vibrant community.