The Rutgers University of New Jersey on Monday extended solidarity to historian Audrey Truschke, saying that the institute emphatically supported her academic freedom in pursuing her scholarship, abhorred the vile messages and threats that were being directed at her, and called for an immediate end to them.
The statement came after some students of the Hindu community expressed concern about the views expressed by Truschke, who is an associate professor of history at Rutgers University, alleging that the historian taught students that “Hinduism is inherently oppressive, racist, misogynistic and violent”.
A group called “Hindus on Campus” on Twitter, which describes itself as a student-led initiative to create “a safe space for diaspora Hindus to share their experiences with Anti-Hindu bigotry”, has launched a petition on social media against the historian.
It alleged that Truschke, in her tweets, falsely linked Hindus with extremists and white supremacists rioting at the US Capitol Hill, and claimed that the Bhagavad Gita “rationalises mass slaughter” and violence. The Hindutva community further accused the historian of tweeting that Hindu deity Ram was a “misogynistic pig”, while she “whitewashed Hindu genocide by Mughal king Aurangzeb”.
The group demanded that Truschke be disallowed to teach a course that involves materials related to Hinduism and India “due to her inherent prejudiced views”.
Further, the Hindus on Campus demanded that the Rutgers University publicly condemn her “for causing trauma to Hindu students, alumni, and the Hindu community”. It sought the university to give a platform where Hindu students can bring in faculty and researchers “who can provide realistic representations of Hinduism and India”.
The Rutgers University rejected the submissions made by the group. “Scholarship is sometimes controversial, perhaps especially when it is at the interface of history and religion, but the freedom to pursue such scholarship, as Professor Truschke does rigorously, is at the heart of the academic enterprise,” the institute said.
At the same time, Rutgers “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”, it said.
The institute said it was initiating dialogues to understand the sentiments of the Hindu community on campus, and “create a context that honors our complexity, while allowing us to do the difficult work of constructive and healthy engagement among our diverse community”.
After all, our academic excellence is inseparable from our diversity of perspectives and voices, Rutgers said.
Truschke, who teaches South Asian history at Rutgers University, 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, which explores ancient Sanskrit texts and their perspectives on Indo-Muslim rule and the Deccan sultanates.
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.
Aurangzeb, a Muslim ruler, is widely thought to have destroyed thousands of Hindu temples, forced millions of Indians to convert to Islam, and enacted a genocide of Hindus. In the book, Truschke uses extensive research to argue that his life and history do not match his current reputation.
The book generated fierce backlash in India, particularly from Hindutva groups, making Truschke the target of intense hate speech and slander on social media, which has only worsened over the years. The author also faced calls to ban Aurangzeb and even to ban her from India.
After the renewed backlash on Monday, the author said she had to block over 5,750 Twitter accounts after enduring an “avalanche of hate speech, anti-Muslim sentiments, misogyny, violent threats,” and even “things endangering” her family.