The Coalition of Hindus of North American (CoHNA) advocacy organisation has written a letter to New Jersey’s Rutgers University, stating that Associate Professor Audrey Truschke made remarks that “demonised” Hinduism and expressed concerns over the same. 75 Hindu temples and organisations have signed the letter, and 17 of them are based in New Jersey.
The CoHNA calls itself a “grassroots level advocacy organisation dedicated to improving understanding of Hinduism in North America and matters impacting the Hindu community.” In the letter, they claimed that Prof Truschke is spreading misinformation after misinterpreting the Hindu texts. Denying claims by Truschke that Hindu epics like Mahabharata tend to rationalise rape and that Lord Ram was a “misogynist”, the letter by CoHNA to Rutgers University said: “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 “invited” the professor to read the texts and understand their true meaning, claiming that many Americans develop their beliefs from these Hindu texts. It added that the texts Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana and Mahabharata “provide a path to devotion, self-realisation, 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 said.
Audrey Truschke, an associate professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University, has been credited with two books on the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Truschke is known for making solid observations on Hinduism. Her website says that she “advocates knowledge, equality, and human rights. This has earned her hate from right-wing groups and individuals.”
CoHNA, which believes that Truschke’s comments have caused “intense trauma” to the Hindu community, said in the letter, “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.”
Reacting to the incident, Truschke told The Quint in an email, “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.”
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.