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Professor faces petition after comments about Hindutva

<p>Audrey Truschke, an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University—Newark, recently protested with the Coalition Against Fascism, an anti-fascist pressure group in India.</p>

Audrey Truschke, an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University—Newark, recently protested with the Coalition Against Fascism, an anti-fascist pressure group in India.

A Rutgers—Newark professor is facing scrutiny from supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after remarks she made about Hindutva, a popular form of Hindu nationalism in India that seeks to enforce traditional Hinduism and make India exclusively Hindu.

Audrey Truschke, an assistant professor of history at Rutgers—Newark, protested with the Coalition Against Fascism, an anti-fascist pressure group, in New York City on Sept. 27 outside the United Nations building where she equated Hindutva with fascism. 

Modi was giving a speech inside the building at the time.

“Early Hindutva espousers openly admired Hitler,” Truschke told a crowd through a megaphone. “They praised Hitler's treatment of the Jewish people in Germany as a good model for dealing with India’s Muslim minority. That is a chilling thought. I bring up this history because it’s a good reminder when we talk about rising fascism in India, we are not exaggerating.”

Truschke’s comments, which she said are historically accurate, have since faced backlash from some, accusing her of being anti-Hindu. Barraged with hundreds of disparaging messages on social media for the past few days, the professor has also been the subject of a Change.org petition with more than 7,000 signees, accusing her of “lies and propaganda.”

“What Prof. Audrey Truschke is expressing here is simply a clear case of 'hate speech' against over one billion Hindus around the globe,” Kailash Chandra, a physician in Portland, Oregon wrote on the petition. “My question to Rutgers University's bosses is: do you allow your professors deliver 'hate speech' under the garb of Freedom of Speech? What a shame in the name of academic freedom!”

Yet Truschke views the comments as misinformed, she said. Hinduism and Hindutva are distinctly separate things, Truschke said. She also noted that Hindutva was a political ideology created approximately a century ago, while Hinduism is a religion.

"I explicitly said that at the protest, this was not meant to be a commentary in any way, shape or form on Hinduism," she said.

Still, some disagree. Renee Lynn, a political activist and founder of Voice for India Project, said the two were effectively the same. She called Truschke’s comments belittling to Hindus across the world and demanded that she should be banned from India.

“I think that’s utterly crazy to classify Hindutva as fascism,” Lynn said. “If you consider yourself a nationalist, a lot of people automatically want to automatically target you as fascist, as militant. Again it’s this pointing at Hindutva and nationalists as militant people and fascist. That's not the truth at all.”

Rutgers—Newark has voiced support for Truschke and her comments.

“As a globally recognized scholar of the cultural, imperial and intellectual history of early modern and modern India, Professor Truschke is a sought-after commentator on these and related subjects — including historical perspectives on Hindutva (distinguished from Hinduism as a whole) — and has a long track record of welcoming reasoned debate about them,” according to a statement from Rutgers—Newark. “The University supports her in her public-facing scholarship.”

In regard to the thousands of people protesting her on Change.org and on social media, Truschke was quick to dismiss it.

“I think it’s a smear attempt,” she said. “What I’m sharing is not propaganda. It’s historical fact. It’s not lies, it's truth. No amount of screaming and calling me names and mischaracterizing what I said is going to change that.”

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