I’m a Hindu-American high school senior, and an admitted student to Rutgers University. And I am scared.
I’m a Hindu-American high school senior (Class of 2021), and an admitted student to Rutgers University. I’ve been watching the past few days play out, and I feel scared.
Since the day I was born, I’ve called New Jersey my home. And as a New Jerseyan, I know that Rutgers University is as much of a New Jersey icon as Bruce Springsteen or thin-crust pizza. For years, I’ve known people that have attended and graduated from Rutgers — teachers, family friends, members of the community. In short, it’s been an institution that I’ve been familiar with since I can remember.
I came across Professor Audrey Trushke’s scholarship a few years ago, and there was certainly reason for me to question her impartiality when it came to issues dealing with Hinduism. I remember, in particular, her inaccurate and deeply hurtful statement about the Ramayana including a description of Sri Rama, one of my ishta-daivas (favorite deities), as a “misogynistic pig.” I noted her attempts to minimize the role of Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor, in destroying temples and committing sacrilegious acts against Hindus — but how could I believe her after I myself journeyed to Varanasi, the city where Aurangzeb demolished the holy temple of Vishwanatha (Shiva) and constructed a mosque in its place? If generations of Hindus of yore suffered the brutality of Aurangzeb in having their temples destroyed and their ability to practice their faith impeded, Hindus of today must suffer the ignominy of having these painful wounds of history minimized and suppressed.
When Hindus on Campus released their petition regarding Professor Truschke, it opened my eyes to the full extent of her bias against Hinduism in her scholarship. Reading the documentation that Hindus on Campus put together made me sick to my stomach. Professor Truschke’s manner of response to the petition also concerned me significantly. Though professing to be open to a civil, bona fide discourse about her work, Professor Truschke blocked Hindus on Campus on Twitter, even though they engaged with her with the utmost respect.
After learning that other prospective Rutgers students also had been reconsidering their intent to attend, I began to question whether or not Rutgers was a place where I would be welcome, where I could proudly practice my beliefs, and where my faith would be respected. If I attempted civil discourse about Hinduism-related issues, like Hindus on Campus did, would I too be silenced and labeled a hate-monger simply for respectfully stating my beliefs?
(To be clear — I unequivocally condemn any threats that Professor Truschke received, no matter the source. Similarly, I condemn the vile threats that have been directed towards us Hindu students on social media simply because we’re speaking up for ourselves. Hate and abuse, in all its forms, is unacceptable.)
The statement that Rutgers-Newark released certainly gave me no reassurance. My feelings about it can best be summed up by a quote that the geneticist Razib Khan tweeted in response — “For my friends everything, for my enemies the law.” It does not seem that Rutgers has our back as Hindu students, or that they want to truly understand and support us. Is Rutgers a place where I can thrive; where I can embrace my identity as a Hindu? I never thought I would ask this question, but I now have to. If I do choose to attend Rutgers, one of the reasons will be because I want to effectuate change from within for the good of my fellow Hindu students and my Hindu community.
I’ll conclude with the statement of Hindus on Campus — “You don’t have to be Hindu to care about Hindu rights. You just have to be human.” I hope the administration at Rutgers can take this important step for the Hindu community. Rutgers’ actions have the potential to be a beacon of healing and hope — to send a message to Hindus not just in New Jersey, but across the United States and the globe that their beliefs, histories, and experiences are valid. Rutgers can and should reinforce, through its decisions, that Hindus are not invisible — that they are seen, that they are heard, and that they matter. At the moment, that doesn’t feel like it’s the case.
Sri Gurubhyo NamaH.