New Jersey, July 1, 2021. A coalition of 75 American Hindu temples and spiritual organizations (including 17 from New Jersey) from across 20 states sent a letter to Rutgers University today expressing anguish and concerns regarding Professor Audrey Truschke’s actions and statements. The letter, coordinated by the Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), included some of the largest temples and spiritual organizations, whose memberships include tens of thousands of attendees from diverse sectarian, social, ethnic, and national backgrounds – including from the United States, Canada, India, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Malaysia, and Singapore, among others.
The letter comes against the backdrop of an ongoing controversy at Rutgers University, where Professor Truschke has continued to make disparaging comments about Hindu texts, deities, and festivals while denouncing concerns from Hindu and non-Hindu students and the broader Hindu community as the work of the “Hindu Right.”
“We cannot help but feel intensely hurt and abused when a professor uses her authority and deliberately misinterprets Hindu sacred texts or slanders Hindu deities while rationalizing such behavior as ‘academic freedom,’” remarked the letter.
The letter outlined Professor Truschke’s selective and out-of-context usage of verses from Hindu texts to create false narratives about Hinduism and India, peddle bigotry and Hinduphobia and advance the idea that Hinduism rationalizes murder, rape, and other social evils. “In doing so, Professor Truschke demonizes Hinduism as inherently misogynistic, oppressive and savage,” added the letter.
“We are thankful to all the temples and spiritual organizations who signed this letter after hearing about Professor Truschke’s statements and actions,” said Nikunj Trivedi, President of CoHNA. “This letter demonstrates that there is a broad and deep concern within the Hindu community and a sense of sadness due to the continued maligning of our religious texts and deities.”
The signatories shared how thousands of Americans attend temple services and programs daily, offer puja to Shri Rama and Shri Krishna and embrace a path of devotion, self-realization, and inner strength. Similarly, many kids of all ages also participate in temple programs to learn about their heritage and develop a sense of cultural identity – this includes lessons from the Bhagavad Gita, stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, chanting mantras, performing classical dances, yoga, learning how to offer puja and much more.
Thousands of yoga and spiritual centers around the country derive inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita to live a life of well-being and peace. The letter also added how the sacred text has inspired famous personalities such as Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hermann Hesse, and T.S. Elliot.
While expressing support for academic freedom, the letter also condemned any violence and threats of violence against Professor Truschke, as such acts go against Hindu ethos. However, the letter also stated that bigotry and Hinduphobia on social media and in scholarship must not be excused under the guise of academic freedom, especially when such remarks can have an adverse impact on how Hindu students are viewed on campus by their peers. Surely, Rutgers would not tolerate a professor using selective passages from sacred texts to advance Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, or xenophobia. Hindus should be accorded the same treatment.
In addition, the signatories denounced the vehement dismissal of genuine student concerns by certain Rutgers faculty members and organizations, who called their concerns a handiwork of “right wing extremists” or a foreign government. Such actions gag student voices and subject them to further ridicule and abuse.
The letter concluded with the translation of a quote from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 3, Verse 21) to remind the Rutgers leadership and administration of its duty: “Whatever action is performed by a great person, others will follow, and whatever standards he/she sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.”
Read a copy of the letter here.
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