Dr Audrey Truschke, associate professor of history at Rutgers University who has been the target of a campaign by a section of Hindu students, has told indica News that she fears for the safety of her students and herself.
Truschke is an expert on South Asian history, the Mughal empire, modern India and Pakistan. She has written several books, including Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King (published in India and Pakistan as Aurangzeb: The Man and The Myth).
She is active on social media and fearlessly keeps sharing her views and thoughts on Twitter. A few of her tweets have offended Hindu advocates, students, and leaders.
“I began to notice an uptick in hate mail about 10 days ago, which quickly turned into an avalanche. My initial reactions included sorrow and fear,” Truschke told indica News.
Asked how she handled it and if she felt scared, she said: “Yes, I am scared. I am scared for my safety and for the safety of my family.
“I am also concerned for the well-being of the diverse group of students that I teach at Rutgers-Newark,” Truschke said. “The outpouring of misogyny and anti-Muslim sentiments, in particular, during this affair is alarming.”
She believes it is an attempt to impose ideological restrictions on academic discourse. “That is inappropriate, and, I believe, it will not succeed,” she added.
Last week, some Rutgers students wrote a letter to university president Holloway and chancellor Nancy Kantor.
“We bring to your attention the continued actions of Professor Audrey Truschke, who teaches South Asian History at Rutgers Newark,” the letter said.
“While we still hold dear the core values of Rutgers — students and community, inclusion, learning, and integrity we are aghast at the bigotry being peddled against Hindus via continued derision of our religion, our deities, and our sacred texts.”
The letter asked that Truschke be “disallowed to teach a course that involves materials related to Hinduism and India due to her inherent prejudiced views” and for “causing trauma to Hindu students, alumni, and the Hindu community.”
Truschke said it was an unprecedented experience in the her 15-year teaching career.
“I have taught many aspects of South Asian history and culture for 15 years at five institutions. So far as I know, there has not been a single student complaint arising from my classes,” she said.
“That remains true now. So far as I am aware, none of my students number among the objectors,” Truschke told indica News.
Viswajith, a student of Rutgers Hindu YUVA (Youth for Unity, Virtues and Action) who gave only one name, told indica News: “I think the biggest concern is her [Truschke’s] Hinduphobic remarks on social media and reflections of those in her classroom.”
He said they were working with the university administration to “come up with some positive outcomes to safeguard the Hindu student community.”
On March 12, the Hindu American Foundation too wrote a letter of solidarity with “Rutgers’ Hindu Students Council (HSC), Hindu Youth for Unity, Virtues and Action (YUVA), and Hindus on campus.”
Asked if HAF had written to the university, Mat Mcdermott, senior director of communication at HAF, told indica News: “We have not yet written any sort of letter to Rutgers. At this point we are investigating options and supporting student groups on campus.”
The HAF’s letter expressed its support for “a grassroots, student-led movement to protest a series of actions by Prof. Truschke, that is contributing to an unsafe academic environment for Hindu students on the university campus.”
“Both Rutgers University’s own Hindu student organizations, Hindu Students Council (HSC), Hindu Youth for Unity, Virtues and Action (YUVA), and an online movement Hindus on Campus, are raising their collective voice against Truschke,” the letter said.
“Both organizations have documented a series of actions by Truschke, especially on social media, that have mocked Hindu deities (called Lord Rama a misogynistic pig), misrepresented Hindu scripture as warmongering, or falsely claimed Hindu organizations were involved in the Capitol Hill attack.”
“False claims like these on social media have, the students said, led to bullying and harassment and a campus that feels unsafe to claim a Hindu identity.”
In its first statement on March 9, the university stood by Truschke. On March 12, the university’s Twitter handle posted another letter that said: “We are sorry for the hurt that members of the Hindu community have been experiencing in relation to recent events. Our commitment to inclusion includes religion, not just the right but the freedom to celebrate as an individual or community without fear.”