Becoming A Dharmic Researcher: A Responsibility, Not A Right
Academic Ethics & Hinduism
I keep going back to that moment in the now-viral 2019 video, where Audrey Truschke, a history professor at Rutgers University, “responds” to Dr. Murali, an audience member while giving a talk in India. (I unpacked the moment here.) Murali questions Truschke about her right to do research on Aurangzeb. He situates this question very clearly in the context of the history of genocide of Native Americans in the United States.
[Can a] descendant of a genocidal people sit as a judge? Is that moral or fair? [crowd shouts more] Yes, that nation stands on the dead bodies of Native Americans! What right does she have to come here and poke her nose into our history? [crowd is roaring, speaker raises his voice to be heard No! Be Fair! Be Fair! Be Fair! Be fair! Is this justice?
What right do I have to come comment on Indian history? I am a trained historian. I read Sanskrit. I read Persian. Many people cannot handle a woman talking and feel the need to scream over her. [crowd claps and cheers]
As a new scholar, just emerging from an intense five years of learning how to practice ethical, rigorous research, my jaw drops every time I hear her response. How did she not understand what he was asking? How could she evade the real question and concern that were clearly embedded in his words? How could a researcher whose career is built upon telling the history of a genocidal tyrant (well, not according to her) who terrorized a civilization that is not hers stand on the sacred land of that civilization and not authentically honor a question about her right to do so? How could she stand on Indian soil (or any soil, for that matter) and talk about Aurangzeb as “that guy” and his “contributions to Indian development” and not respond to a legitimate question about the ethics of her work?
How did she, a trained researcher, not grasp (or, perhaps, admit) that while his question was framed as her right, what he was really asking was about her sense of responsibility?
Some may say, well, that’s what he asked her. Okay, sure. Others may chalk it up to the “cultural bias of Americans to be…