Audrey Truschke is an associate professor of South Asian history at the Rutgers University in New Jersey, in the United States. Truschke’s research focuses on the history of early and modern India. She has written three books on the subject—Culture of Encounters, on Sanskrit in the Mughal courts; Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth which argues for a reassessment of the Mughal king; and the recently published Language of History: Sanskrit Narratives of Indo-Muslim rule.
Truschke has regularly come under severe criticism from Hindu right-wing nationalists, who see her academic research into India’s complex multicultural past and religious history as an affront to their beliefs. Beginning with the release of her first book, Truschke has faced a constant barrage of online harassment, hate mail, co-ordinated attacks on social media, and in some cases, even censure—in August 2018, a lecture she was due to give in Hyderabad was cancelled due to security threats, after the police received letters of opposition. The same year, she faced an outpouring of threats and abuse after she tweeted that according to one loosely translated verse in Valmiki’s mythological epic Ramayana, Sita called Ram a “misogynistic pig.” Truschke discussed this interpretation and the misogynistic response from the Hindu right-wing, in an article in this publication.
In early March this year, Truschke began facing a spike in vicious threats and abuse on her various social-media profiles, including threats of rape and murder, as well as anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic slurs. The abuse referred primarily to her scholarship on India. On 9 March, Truschke tweeted that in recent days, she had faced an “avalanche of hate speech” and threats endangering her family. She said she had blocked 5,750 accounts “and counting.” A few days earlier, an anonymous Twitter account “@hinduoncampus,” which claimed to be run by Hindu students in US universities, circulated an open letter to the Rutgers administration, describing Truschke’s work as “bigotry against Hindus.” In a statement issued on 9 March, Rutgers University called for an end to the trolling, and backed Truschke’s academic freedom to pursue “controversial” scholarship. It also promised to begin a dialogue with the Hindu students on campus.
Surabhi Kanga, the web editor at The Caravan, spoke to Truschke over email about the harassment she is facing. They discussed the recent spike in attacks, accusations of “bias” against her, and the perils of being a historian of the Mughal empire at a time when Hindu nationalists rule India.
Surabhi Kanga: How did this latest wave of attacks and online abuse against you begin? Why do you think that happened?
Audrey Truschke: So far as I can tell, the trigger was the banal reality that I teach South Asian history without ideological restraints or political interference. Some of the bad-faith allegations and smears have been aired in the past, so much of the attack was not novel. I think the lack of a specific catalyst has rightly alarmed many academics. It appears that I am the case study for whether a prejudiced ideology can shut down reasoned academic discourse, education, and even the sharing of basic facts.