The CoHNA or the Coalition of Hindus of North American advocacy organisation has written a letter to New Jersey’s Rutgers University, expressing concerns over remarks made by Associate Professor Audrey Truschke, stating she “demonized” Hinduism. The letter has been signed by 75 Hindu temples and organisations, 17 of which are based in New Jersey.
The CoHNA calls itself a “grassroots level advocacy organization dedicated to improving understanding of Hinduism in North America and matters impacting the Hindu community.” In the letter, they claim Prof Truschke has misinterpreted the Hindu texts and is spreading misinformation. They denied claims by Truschke that Hindu epics like Mahabharata rationalises rape and that Lord Ram was a “misogynist”.
There is no evidence that the rapists in question had any clue about the Mahabharata nor that they were specifically inspired by the text to commit such a heinous crime. Professor Truschke also invents an implication out of thin air: Draupadi was “punished” for speaking out and carried a reputation for being a “shrew” and a “troublemaker.” This is pure fantasy at best – where in the Mahabharata does she carry such a reputation?The letter by CoHNA to Rutgers University
The letter went on further to “invite” the professor to read the religious texts to understand their true meaning. It added that a lot of Americans derive their beliefs from the Hindu texts and claimed that the texts Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana and Mahabharata “provide a path to devotion, self-realization, and inner strength and a way to bring about peace, harmony, and mutual understanding in a world that is ripe with many conflicts and challenges.”
“Many American Hindu temples house the murthi (image) of Shri Rama and devotees lovingly offer puja services. Tens of thousands of kids of all ages attend Hindu temple programs to learn about their heritage and culture where they develop a sense of cultural identity," the letter added.
Who is Prof Audrey Truschke?
Audrey Truschke is an associate professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University, who has been credited with two books on the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Her teaching and research interests focus on the cultural, imperial, and intellectual history of early modern and modern India.
She is known to have made strong observations on Hinduism and the current political situation in India and has often been subjected to hate by the right-wing outfits for it.
According to her website, she "advocates knowledge, equality, and human rights. This has earned her hate from right-wing groups and individuals."
Truschke has repeatedly opposed claims of spreading wrong information and hatred against Hindus.
In an event where students had asked for a review of Truschke’s remarks, both Rutgers University and prof Truschke claimed her right to speak as her “academic freedom”. The letter derives its claims from this very event.
'University Should Not Fall Prey to Propaganda'
CoHNA, which claims to support academic freedom and intellectual right, believes that Prof Truschke’s comments have caused “intense trauma” to both Hindus on campus and also the Hindu community in general.
We can all agree on the need to support academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge. We also condemn violence and threats of violence as they are antithetical to Hindu ethos. Yet, bigotry and Hinduphobia on social media and in scholarship cannot be excused as academic freedom, especially when these remarks have grave consequences for how Hindu students at Rutgers will be perceived by their own peers.Letter from CoHNA to Rutgers University
In the letter, CoHNA also refers to sidelining of real issues of minority students by academics on the Rutgers campus (including Truschke). The dismissal of genuine students' concerns "by attributing to right wing handiwork," the letter read, "deny Hindu students the right to bring about legitimate grievances to reach a solution and subject them to further abuse and ridicule."
It requested the university to not "fall prey" to such propaganda and ensure safety of Hindu students and the diversity of the campus.
What Prof Truschke Has to Say
In an e-mail correspondence with The Quint, Professor Audrey Truschke said "an individual with a multi-year history of harassing" her is behind the letter. She suggested that one should read her "extended discussions" on the topics to understand what she wants to express.
She stands by her statements, stating that these allegations are taking her words "out of context", maintaining that such an intent will not affect her commitment to the subject.
A reading of my full articles shows that the accusations in this letter are based on taking isolated words from my writing out of context and then unfairly distorting them to attack me. The letter was spearheaded by an individual with a multi-year history of harassing me. I find it unfortunate that he has dragged a series of religious organisations into his vendetta. My respect for and commitment to studying and learning from the wide range of Hindu texts and traditions remains unaffected.Prof Truschke to The Quint
The signatories of this letter include Arya Samaj of New Jersey, Ridgewood, New Jersey; Arya Samaj Mandir, Jersey City, New Jersey; Chinmaya Mission Tri-State Center, Cranbury, New Jersey; Dharma Palana Sabha, Princeton, New Jersey; Durga Mandir, Princeton, New Jersey; Govinda Sanskar Center, Jersey City, New Jersey; Hindu Community Center, Kearny, New Jersey; and Hindu Jewish Coalition, Princeton, New Jersey among others.
The story has been updated to include Prof Audrey Truschke's comments. The Quint has reached out Rutgers University for a comment. This story will be updated if and when we receive a response.