At Rutgers, and Beyond, Scholars Are Under Attack For Their Critique of India’s Far-Right Government


Audrey Truschke is the Director of the Asian Research program at Rutgers College, Newark. Her scholarship focuses on South Asia and she or he’s been a vocal critic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist authorities. Her writings and teachings, in addition to her politics have received her tens of 1000’s of followers on-line, but in addition a gradual stream of violent threats.

“Thoughts your personal enterprise u bitch I m Hindu I m kindly request you cease spreading rumours about my Hinduism#my faith in any other case u can be killed by somebody don’t underestimate us we don’t forgive our enemy we imagine in peace don’t harm our feelings,” learn one tweet geared toward Truschke, from Might.

A tweet to Audrey Truschke

Truschke and different American students say they’re more and more coping with threats, doxxing, and harassment primarily based on their critique of Modi, their protection of minority rights in India, or just the character of their analysis. 

In response, they’re organizing. They’ve fashioned the South Asia Scholar Activist Collective or SASAC. And this month they printed the “Hindutva Harassment Subject Guide.”

“Hindutva” is the time period broadly used to explain Hindu nationalism and militancy, which have more and more threatened minority rights in India. In its newest rankings, the democracy monitor Freedom Home downgraded India from a “Free” nation  to “Partly Free,” and stated the  democracy, which threw off the yoke of British colonialism in 1947, had skilled the best decline in scores among the many 25 largest democracies. The Modi authorities and its allies have focused scholar protesters and students inside India, however now American lecturers are of their sights. 

“The Hindu proper won’t go away me alone,” stated Truschke, “and their assaults on me and plenty of of my colleagues have turn out to be so persistent and so virulent and so violent and so harmful that it’s imperiling all the pieces that we maintain pricey, from our private security, the security of our households, together with our kids to our tutorial freedom.”

SASAC contains students of various non secular backgrounds from quite a few outstanding universities, together with Yale, Georgetown, and Columbia. Inside the Hindutva Harassment Subject Guide, there are ideas for coping with threats (“There isn’t a actual method of when you need to report Hindutva harassment to the police.”) in addition to a bit on “Unhealthy Religion Bias Claims.” 

“Hindutva harassment typically invokes the language of social justice and antiracism,” it notes.

Vinayak Chaturvedi teaches on the College of California, Irvine. He stated he has been the goal of harassment for years, largely owing to his scholarship on Vinayak Savarkar. Savarkar is extensively credited with creating Hindutva ideology and was impressed by the Nazi get together, and in flip evokes Prime Minister Modi. 

In an incident Chaturvedi recounted within the Indian press, he was talking on the cellphone along with his father when he heard his mom exclaim, “There are such a lot of police outdoors!”

It was a S.W.A.T. crew. 

His father, he wrote, “opened the entrance door to search out a number of policemen on the porch, pointing assault weapons at him.”

They had been summoned to the house after an nameless name to the police, claiming that Chaturvedi’s mom was seen capturing somebody with a shotgun throughout a Zoom name. That is what’s generally known as being “swatted” and is a tactic of the alt-right and different networks.

Whereas the harassment is commonly severe, some Hindu neighborhood leaders say they’ve respectable grievances with sure students, and shouldn’t be conflated with on-line trolls.

“Now we have categorically stated that threats—or situations of threats—towards anyone is condemnable as a result of we do not subscribe to any of that stuff,” stated Nikunj Trivedi, the president of the Coalition of Hindus of America, or COHNA.  

Trivedi organized a letter criticizing Truschke. The letter, addressed to Jonathan Holloway, the president of Rutgers and different college officers, was signed by 75 Hindu temples and spiritual establishments throughout the U.S. In it, they addressed a number of situations through which they allege Truschke’s scholarship and statements “triggered intense trauma” to Hindu college students and the broader Hindu neighborhood.

One of many episodes issues her interpretation of the Ramayana, one of many central epics of Indian literature and core to the Hindu religion. Truschke argued on Twitter that the principle character Sita angrily referred to her husband, the Hindu god Rama, as a “misogynist pig.” 

As a result of she used this phrase within the context of one of the vital sacred Hindu texts, Truschke drew instantaneous condemnation on Twitter, and within the Indian press.

An article within the Deccan Chronicle argued that “many intellectuals and individuals who have learn the assorted variations of the nice epic declare that Audrey’s translations are baseless and unethical.”

Truschke replied that she was merely drawing from an current translation of the Ramayana by Robert Goldman, a professor of Sanskrit at Berkeley. In his personal textual content, nonetheless, Goldman writes that Sita accused Rama of “harboring emotions of misogyny,” an arguably milder phrase. Truschke famous that she was “loosely translating” Goldman and has, since then, defended her proper to make use of colloquial language with a view to attain fashionable readers.  (For his half, Goldman publicly distanced himself from Truschke, describing her language as “inappropriate” and arguing that “Sita would by no means have used such language about her husband, even within the midst of emotional misery.”)

Some Hindus argue that these aren’t particular person lapses or factors of mental disagreement a lot as proof of institutionalized hostility towards Hinduism, embedded inside academia. Many more and more use the time period ‘Hinduphobia.’

In April, college students at Rutgers organized a digital “Understanding Hinduphobia” convention.

“I strongly imagine that academia in the USA discourages Hindus from publicly stating their non secular views and values by means of accusations of misogyny and caste discrimination,” stated one scholar in the course of the convention. 

Notably, the scholar didn’t seem on-screen whereas talking, nor did she establish herself. That is a part of the problem. College students who say they’re victims of Hinduphobia, however aren’t prepared to connect their names and faces to their complaints. They and their allies say it’s as a result of they’re afraid, and that that is itself proof of the issue. Their ideological opponents say in any other case.

Shreeya Singh, a Hindu scholar at Yale who created the group College students Towards Hindutva Ideology, stated the time period ‘Hinduphobia’ was selectively deployed towards students.

“In the case of members of the academy, the time period appears to be used as a silencing tactic, relatively than a respectable effort to truly handle situations of hate,” stated Singh.

Simran Jeet Singh (no relation to Shreeya Singh), a visiting scholar of faith and South Asia at Union Theological Seminary and a part of the collective that printed the guide, agrees. He in contrast the present debate throughout the Indian-American neighborhood and people who research India to what’s occurring within the American racial discourse, the place conservatives are demonizing students who educate crucial race idea.

“What we see in each the American context and within the Indian context is a want from the appropriate to convey ahead a imaginative and prescient of historical past that matches into their cultural, supremacist worldview,” stated Singh.

He referred to as it a “victimization narrative,” a degree echoed by Chaturvedi, who stated that in their very own eyes, “Hindus had been the victims of Muslims. Hindus had been the victims of Christians, Hindus had been the victims of the British, of the Portuguese, of different powers.” 

Maybe probably the most outstanding particular person to quote “Hinduphobia” is Tulsi Gabbard, the previous member of Congress and Democratic presidential candidate.

“Sadly, Hinduphobia could be very actual. I’ve skilled it instantly in every of my campaigns for Congress & on this presidential race,” she tweeted final yr. “Sadly, our political leaders & media not solely tolerate it, however foment it.”

And but, Gabbard additionally got here underneath hearth for aligning with Modi and his supporters. An evaluation by the Intercept discovered that “dozens of Gabbard’s donors have both expressed robust sympathy with, or have ties to the Sangh Parivar — a community of non secular, political, paramilitary, and scholar teams that subscribe to the Hindu supremacist, exclusionary ideology generally known as Hindutva.”

Dheepa Sundaram, who teaches Hindu Research on the College of Denver and is a member of the SASAC, is Hindu and grew up in upstate New York within the Nineteen Seventies.

“I actually bought requested questions like, ‘Are you a woo-woo Indian, or a dot Indian?’ These are racist assaults that had been linked to my Hindu identification.”

In that period, Hindus discovered their traditions distorted and mocked in standard tradition. The movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom notoriously depicted a fictional Hindu cult ritual ending in human sacrifice. In New Jersey, a bunch referred to as the Dotbusters terrorized and even killed Indian immigrants between the Nineteen Seventies and Nineties. It took its title from the bindi worn on the foreheads of Hindu ladies. 

Nonetheless, Sundaram takes subject with up to date use of the time period ‘Hinduphobia,’ saying it co-opts the time period ‘Islamophobia,’ and the experiences of Muslims in America, who’ve been subjected to a latest journey ban underneath President Donald Trump that was solely reversed by President Joe Biden in January 2021.

“Hindus aren’t structurally susceptible in the USA,” she stated, even when they expertise particular person acts of racism.

A latest report from the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace surveyed 1,200 Indian People, together with Hindus, Muslims, and members of different religion traditions. Eighteen p.c of the Hindu respondents stated they’d skilled non secular discrimination previously yr. Nevertheless, greater than twice as many Muslims, 39 p.c, made the identical declare.

“Muslims who’re of Indian origin skilled a lot worse discrimination,” stated Milan Vaishnav, the Director of the South Asia Program on the Carnegie Endowment and co-author of the report.

Within the wake of the marketing campaign towards Truschke, Rutgers College issued a press release that it “emphatically helps” her.

“Scholarship is usually controversial,” learn the assertion, “however the freedom to pursue such scholarship, as Professor Truschke does rigorously, is on the coronary heart of the educational enterprise.” 

The college’s assertion went on to emphasise that it “emphatically affirms its help for all members of the Hindu neighborhood.”

Arun Venugopal studies for the Gothamist/WNYC Race and Justice Unit the place he covers bias and hate crime. You probably have a narrative for Arun, attain out to him at