COMMENTARY: Hinduphobia fueled by misinformation, persists on college campuses
“Go back to your country, you devil worshipper!” said Brian, as he hurled a shopping cart that hit my right arm, pummeling me into the bushes — I was a junior in high school.
Brian would have done more damage had my Puerto Rican friend Julian not intervened. We both knew how it felt to be immigrants and minorities. Less than seven years prior, my father had been brutally attacked in New York City while picking up a newspaper delivery to open his store.
Hindus have been subject of brutal attacks and violence in New Jersey, most notably in the late 1980s at the hands of the "Dot Busters.” The gang had a chilling message: “We will go to any extreme to get Indians to move out of Jersey City. If I’m walking down the street and I see a Hindu and the setting is right, I will hit him or her.”
It was the whites against the Hindus, as one young man declared.
Decades later, we still see such hatred against Hindus in various parts of the U.S. — from the 2005 brutal murder of Akhil Chopra in Houston, Texas, to the 2017 brutal murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas City. Hindu temples have been repeatedly vandalized over the years, and racial epithets continue to be hurled at kids going to school on a daily basis.
Hatred and dislike of Hindus, or Hinduphobia, as some scholars and writers have called it, characterizes Hinduism as inherently primitive and irrational, and therefore in need of modernization only by monotheism or Western methods — ignoring the vast contributions of Hindus in mathematics, science, logic, arts, philosophy, history (including U.S. history) and etc.
What is worse, when classrooms in schools and colleges peddle inaccurate, colonizing theories about a culture and people, it naturally breeds fear, disgust and anger against them and provides the green light for bullying Hindu schoolchildren and college students. The privilege of academic authority is very powerful and allows one to shape discourses around history, religion and race.
One notable example is Professor Audrey Truschke, who has demonstrated a history of such Hinduphobia. For instance, she “paraphrased” a renowned and sacred Hindu epic (the Ramayana) by calling its central figure a “misogynistic pig” and “uncouth.” She even connected an innocuous Indian university building shaped in the form of the Swastika — a symbol of auspiciousness and peace in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities — to Nazism and hatred for millions.
Such irresponsible scholarship feeds the narrative that Hinduism is equal to violence and oppression, and legitimizes ongoing disgust and deep Hinduphobia already prevalent among people. It engenders the idea that Hinduism somehow inspired nazism, and echoes with bizarre claims that many Hindus backed Nazis and thus voted for President Donald J. Trump, despite ironclad evidence to the contrary.
Misleading characterizations like these have already created a hostile environment for Hindu and Buddhist students on other college campuses. They have led to recent hate crimes against Hindus and Hindu places of worship in the U.S. (see here and here), including in New Jersey.
Such scholarship is reminiscent of colonial times when British scholars and administrators held deep contempt and hatred for Hinduism and used race theories to classify Africans and African culture/religions as inherently inferior and barbaric — thus justifying colonization.
But, recently, Rutgers decided to unilaterally stand behind the professor in the spirit of presenting “facts” or “historical perspectives,” in spite of widespread public outrage and exposing the flaws in her argument. Such endorsement institutionalizes xenophobia and goes against Rutgers’ own mission and values of ethics, respect, inclusion and cultural understanding.
It is also an insult and outright disrespect of thousands of Hindu students, alumni and community members who have contributed tremendously to the University’s brand and educational prestige globally.
Had a similar situation developed against Black, Islamic or Jewish students, the Rutgers administration would have surely taken a different stand, balancing its responsibility to protect minority communities on campus from a professor who is insinuating fear and malice toward that community.
In fact, history shows that Rutgers had taken steps to ensure that the rights of minority students are respected and protected, when former University President Francis Lawrence had insulted Black people in 1995.
Rutgers was my home for two different degrees — a bachelor's and a master's of business administration (MBA) — and I have always been proud of my Scarlet Knights heritage.
But, when my alma mater decided to endorse Hinduphobia without addressing the concerns of my community and faith, I had no choice but to raise my voice. Not doing so would be against what my tradition teaches me — what Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for all their lives.
The 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi was Oct. 2, whose message of non-violent struggle and justice inspired King. In King’s famous words: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Yes, Hinduphobia is real and personal!
Nikunj Trivedi is a Rutgers Business School class of 2000 graduate with a bachelor of science in finance, and also holds a Rutgers Business School masters of business administration in management.
*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.
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