I have generally avoided commenting on the writings and other interventions of, the now globally discredited, Audrey Truschke, Assistant Professor of South Asian history in Rutgers University, Newark. In response to the near universal ridicule she has faced over her racist and bigoted remarks about Shri Ram, she has recently published her defense in an extremist-left, obscure Indian website. This post is intended to respond to some of the gloss she has tried to put on the documented history of distortions and mistranslations.
1. Translation vs. Interpretation: The entire issue arose because she chose to ascribe to Valmiki, what was in fact a creation of her own bigoted mind. Had she mentioned it upfront, that this is “how I interpret Shri Ram” there would be no debate at all. Thousands of bigots through millennia have tried to impeach the character Maryada Purushottam. They have perished in the sands of time, while Shri Ram and the civilization he embodies have not only survived but flourished. One can find countless jihadis, evangelists and loony leftists on the net who every day spew venom on the Hindu way of life. Truschke would have been one more addition to this list of lunatics had she been upfront about it – that this is her view of Shri Ram. She is entitled to her view and no one would have bothered. She however, clearly and repeatedly ascribed to Valmiki, what is now obvious were her own way of looking at Shri Ram. Translation has a very specific meaning, understood by even those acquainted only minimally with English language, and therefore Truschke chose this word with specific intent. Not only this, despite being challenged, the original Sanskrit verses have still not been produced by her, neither on Twitter and nor in the defence apologia. The best she could do was to incorrectly refer to the English translation done by Professor Goldman who has also trashed her scholarship.
Some, albeit very few, have sprung to her defense by terming it as loose translation or a colloquial rendering (although Truschke herself claimed it was an accurate translation) . One could argue that the “N****R” word is a loose translation and indeed accurately describes in colloquial English, the black people in America. One would encourage Truschke to use the “N****R” word in public discourse in Rutgers university and tell us about the reaction !
2. On being trolled on the net: One defense, frequently deployed by propagandists, has not surprisingly been deployed by Truschke as well – that she was trolled in the vilest form on the net. There can be no question about this – no one should have to face abuse or any kinds of threats whatsoever for their views. Whenever possible, such people should be reported to law enforcing authorities. But here is the thing. The net is not a monolith controlled by one person or a group of people who can direct niceties or etiquette of conversation. Indeed in that respect, the net is like real life itself – each person to his own, millions and billions of them.
The response to Truschke’s tweet were of all kinds – just as it would be in real life. There were handles that put out the complete original text in Sanskrit (which Truschke has not done till date). Others gave verse by verse English translation of the original Sanskrit. A renowned Sanskrit scholar in India intervened and gave his version. Truschke chose not to respond to or engage with any of these. Instead, she chose the standard left tactics of highlighting abuses from anonymous handles to claim victim-hood. Think of it this way – a politician makes a controversial claim about a particular matter. Scan his timeline and there would be all kinds of responses – serious rebuttals, well framed questions as well as ridicule and abuses thrown at him. Do these abuses absolve the politician from offering explanation for his remarks?
Truschke uses the name of a University and the veil of a scholar to make her claims. She would know what the word translation means. Having used it, and never retracted it, should she be absolved of her responsibility to explain her actions just because an unregulated internet did not respond to her in a nice way?
3. The charge of white-supremacist and racism : What has compelled Truschke to write her apologia? Not the referencing of original Sanskrit text by many people on social media. Not the authoritaive words of a renowned Sanskrit Scholar in India. Not the explanation and questions that were raised by highly respected and published Indian authors on Hinduism. What compelled Truschke to respond was the disapproval and the way she was disavowed by another white skinned Sanskrit scholar. Think about it. That the opinion and the scholarship of brown-skinned Indians on their own text did not matter at all as long a white-skinned person also did not lend his voice to them. For referencing abuses and threats, brown-skinned Indians mass muster but for scholarship, the white skin is a must. What is this if not classical white supremacist person baring her true self?
4. On whether non reverential persons can interpret religious texts: Sure they can. But it is THEIR interpretation and NOT them ascribing their own views to someone else by terming it as translation. That is pure and simple fraud.
On a side note, it is not surprising that the extremist left obscure publication was the platform that Truschke chose to pen her apologia. It was and has been the instinct of the Congress party to promote and defend all such attacks on the Hindu religion. Driven by this ingrained instinct, The National Herald, owned and run by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, was the first to jump to Truschke’s defense by first tweeting and then even writing a detailed article justifying the words of this ’eminent scholar’. However, there is a small matter of getting votes as well for the reinvented ‘janeu-dhari’ Hindu, Shri Rahul Gandhi. Finding no support whatsoever from any quarters for the abuse heaped on Shri Ram and fearing a political backlash, The National Herald quickly deleted its article as well its tweets and even tried cleaning up the web archives of the same. This was for public consumption. Privately the agenda remains the same – and if National Herald cannot come out openly in support then what is the next best in-house mouthpiece of the Congress party? You guessed it right.