In a historic feat on Saturday (April 24), the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) passed a resolution (No. 1451-XX) to adopt a scholarly definition of Hinduphobia. This is the first time that a US university has institutionally recognised Hinduphobia through its student assembly.
The scholarly definition of Hinduphobia was developed through the ‘Understanding Hinduphobia’ Conference. Rutgers HSC emphasised that it was important to protect the interests of the Hindu students on the campus of Rutgers University. The accepted definition of Hinduphobia goes as, “a set of antagonistic, destructive, and derogatory attitudes and behaviours towards Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) and Hindus that may manifest as fear or hatred.”
Rutgers HSC informed that RUSA has not only recognised the working definition of Hinduphobia but also the changes made to the definition within 14 days of the conclusion of ‘Understanding Hinduphobia Conference.’ The development comes as a major victory for the Hindu students on the Rutgers University campus, who have been fighting the faculty and administration to recognise the perils of Hinduphobia.
Rutgers University’s Student Assembly (RUSA) becomes the first American University student government to recognize Hinduphobia, including a scholarly definition of #Hinduphobia institutionally. #UnderstandingHinduphobia2021 @rusa_nb #RutgersUniversity #BreakingNews pic.twitter.com/Iv3uANGx8a— Rutgers HSC (@RutgersHSC) April 23, 2021
Chain of events leading up to the official recognition of Hinduphobia
In March this year, a petition was initiated by a group of students asking Rutgers-Newark University to take strong action against controversial ‘historian’ and Professor Audrey Truschke for demonising Hinduism. The petition was shared on Twitter by the ‘Hindu on Campus’ group. The students were miffed with Truschke’s continuous vile and bigoted opinions against Hindus.
They said that they were “aghast at the bigotry being peddled against Hindus via continued derision of our religion, our deities, and our sacred texts” in the university, which might be a potential threat to their security, as it might lead to “potential attacks, bullying, and backlash, either on campus or via social media, due to our faith.” The petition specified how the atmosphere in the university was at odds with the Hindu students due to the hateful and vile anti-Hindu remarks made by professor Audrey Truschke on various occasions.
On March 7, ‘Hindu on Campus’ group exposed how Audrey Truschke had made problematic statements against Hinduism and indulged in casual racism against Hindus. At the time of US Capitol riots, Truschke tweeted about the presence of an Indian flag at the scene to imply it to be the handiwork of Hindu Right. In another instance, Truschke had misinterpreted the sacred Hindu religious text of Bhagavad Gita and accused it of rationalising mass slaughter. Truschke had also equated a gangrape case in India to an incident in the Hindu epic of Mahabharata, essentially alluding that Hindu culture endorses “rape culture” and misogyny.
In a statement on March 9, Rutgers -Newark University came out in defence of Audrey Truschke. “Rutgers emphatically supports Professor Truschke’s academic freedom in pursuing her scholarship, abhors the vile messages and threats being directed at her, and calls for an immediate end to them…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 enterprise,” it stated.
In a letter on March 17, the faculty members of Rutgers University came out in support of Truschke. We insist that a critical examination of Hindutva, a political ideology, is not the same thing as Hinduphobia,” the statement read. It then goes on to a familiar Hinduphobic narrative, accusing Hindus of atrocities against Muslims and other minorities. “Dr. Truschke’s critique of the former rests on its majoritarian expression in India, in ways that threaten the safety, security, and equality of Muslims and other minorities,” they claimed.
The faculty members said that they had confidence in “Truschke’s respect for Hindus and Hinduism and its compatibility with a critique of Hindu nationalism as a social and political enterprise.” The faculty members also applauded the Rutgers management for defending Audrey Truschke. The episode had traumatised both current and prospective Hindu students so much so that they have decided against applying to the University.
On pointing out the testimonials of verified current and prospective Hindu students, the Senior Vice President of ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ at Rutgers University blocked the Twitter handle of ‘Hindus on Campus’. As such, the adoption and the official recognition of Hinduphobia on campus by a US university through its student body marks the beginning of a paradigm shift in attitudes towards Hindus.