Highlights hidden trauma faced by Hindu students

July 21, 2021 – The Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA) has published Crying Hindutva: The Hindutva Harassment Manual and Gagging of Hindu Voices as a rebuttal to the “Hindutva Harassment Field Manual” published by the recently formed South Asia Scholars Activist Collective (SASAC). The campaign from SASAC seems to be an attempt to silence Hindu voices and deflect attention from the very real concerns of Hinduphobia and bigotry that have been brought up by numerous Hindus (including scholars, students, and parents) as well as their non-Hindu allies from all walks of life, over the past several years. Essentially, anyone who questions the methods, asks for clarifications, or even calls out false quotes and outright mistranslations by the SASAC, is deemed as “Hindutva.” It is an epithet used to muzzle Hindus in the U.S. by continually deflecting to Indian politics.

The “Hindutva” allegations fall apart when one considers the fact that 75 American Hindu temples and spiritual organizations from 20 different states recently sent a letter raising concerns about Professor Audrey Truschke’s attempts to twist facts to promote bigoted views on Hinduism. While the letter clearly states its support for academic freedom and condemns any attacks on anyone, it points out the problem with those who falsely attribute words to some of Hinduism’s most cherished deities; especially when done by misattributing the words of another scholar who swiftly contradicted the attempted attribution. 

The SASAC manual goes a step further, and seeks to even deny the existence of Hinduphobia, thus negating  the lived experiences of the hundreds of Hindus on campuses and beyond. It does so, even though the term and phenomenon has now been recognized by the Rutgers University Student Assembly s remarking that it”… expresses solidarity with Hindu students and condemns those who seek to perpetuate anti-Hindu acts, including denial of the existence of Hinduphobia…”, since a growing number of students belonging to the minority Hindu faith have spoken up about the issue.

In essence, SASAC denies Hindus (including scholars) the right to define or even opine on Hinduphobia and its impact, by dismissing the term as something  coined recently by the “Hindu Right.” Anyone who challenges such a premise is ignored as engaging in “bad faith argument.” The Hindu community has tried to engage with and raise reasonable concerns to the academics in question several times for the past few years, but all attempts have been shut down. The students on campuses have tried to engage university administrations to express their concerns and trauma using rational approaches but have largely been ignored. While there will always be individuals and outliers (just like in every community), the Hindu community as a whole has not done anything that would be considered harassment. Flagging factual errors and misinformation or asking for a correction of a fake narrative are all perfectly reasonable and legitimate actions.

In addition, the SASAC manual extensively quotes from and directs readers to sources and groups who openly denigrate Hinduism, abuse its deities and have even called for the complete dismantling of this indigenous faith – as illustrated in the CoHNA report. This open association with bigotry should ring alarm bells for anyone who is serious about scholarly pursuits, diversity, and inclusion.

Sadly, the voices and pain of the students have also been suppressed. These students are of a minority indigenous faith and comprised largely of people of color and varying immigration status – all factors that make it harder for them to speak up against those in a position of power over them.  

In the words of Aishwarya, a graduate student (full name withheld for safety reasons), “I joined Rutgers with the impression that it’s a very reputed university and will give me the perfect environment to grow. However, when I heard the comments of Professor Truschke about my faith, my scriptures and my Gods, it broke my confidence. I felt scared about mentioning my faith, that students will judge me and might hate me because that is what they are learning in the class or on social media. The kind of statements Professor Truschke gives on social media makes me feel scared. I hope professors like her and incidents like this are outliers.”

The problem is echoed by a rising Rutgers sophomore,who also did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals: “Being a part of a community that values diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s painful to hear my religion being slandered in the name of ‘scholarship.’ In the past few years, society has come far in terms of fighting for social justice. But I feel Hindus are excluded from this trend. The wise words of Gita and the enlightening lessons from the Mahabharata have guided several of my young Hindu peers and I during tough times. To have professors parse through our sacred texts and draw vile conclusions is not only an attack on our religion, but an attack on us. I feel unsafe, hurt, and unheard. As a student at Rutgers, I deserve better, as does my Hindu community.”

Dr. Sheenie Ambardar, an Adult Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist and the Founder of The Hindu Community Forum concurred: “It takes a tremendous amount of courage for minority college students, especially Hindu-American students, to speak out against a tenured professor who has belittled and maligned their faith. The students, some of whom have reached out to me for help, have chosen not to reveal their identities because this professor has stalked them online and they are afraid of retaliation. As a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, I am deeply concerned about the impact this ordeal is having on their mental health, self-esteem, and confidence.”

When professors who sit in privileged positions and have a large social media megaphone, decide to peddle falsehoods, Hindus are fully within their rights to raise concerns in a just and uncompromising manner. Not doing so goes against the very teachings which pervade our sacred texts such as the Bhagavad Gita.

CoHNA is a grassroots level advocacy organization dedicated to improving the understanding of Hinduism in North America by working on matters related to the Hindu community and by educating the public about Hindu heritage and tradition. For more information, please visit https://cohna.org or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cohnaofficial, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cohnaofficial and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/cohnaofficial.

Find the complete rebuttal to the SASAC manual here

Read the letter signed by 75 temples and spiritual organizations here.