Explained: Why Delhi High Court ordered Twitter to take down posts by historian Audrey Truschke

Historian Vikram Sampath had a win in the Delhi High Court on 4 May when the court asked Twitter to delete five purportedly defamatory tweet...

Historian Vikram Sampath had a win in the Delhi High Court on 4 May when the court asked Twitter to delete five purportedly defamatory tweets posted by historian Audrey Truschke.

The latest direction by Justice Amit Bansal is part of the defamation case that Sampath initiated after academicians Audrey Truschke, Ananya Chakrabarti, and Rohit Chopra wrote a letter to the Royal Historical Society in London making serious allegations of plagiarism against him concerning his work on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

Earlier in February too, the court had ordered the micro-blogging website to take down five tweets by Truschke against Sampath.

Who is Audrey Truschke and why has Vikram Sampath filed a defamation case against her? We take a closer look at the matter and answer all questions.

Who is Professor Audrey Truschke?

Audrey Truschke may be one of most unpopular academicians in India today.

An associate professor of South Asian History at New Jersey’s Rutgers University, she has been credited with three books — Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court (2016), Aurangzeb (2016), and The Language of History: Sanskrit Narratives of Indo-Muslim Rule (2021).

Her teaching and research interests focus on the cultural, imperial, and intellectual history of early modern and modern India.

According to her website, she also describes herself as an author and activist. Truschke describes herself as anti-fascist and is an active commentator online on communalism in India.

It appears that Truschke relishes taking on people of faith from what we can gather on her Twitter timeline.

In a tweet back in 2018, she had suggested that the original Ramayana by Valmiki, in Sanskrit, has Sita, the Lord’s wife, berating him for being, among other things, a “misogynist pig”.

When questioned about her claim, she cited a translation of the Ramayana by Robert Goldman.

When Professor Goldman was contacted, he was quoted by The Hindu as saying, “I find it extremely disturbing but perhaps not unexpected to learn that AT (Audrey Trushcke) has used such inappropriate language and passed it off as coming from Valmiki. Neither the great poet nor we used such a vulgar diction and certainly Sita would never have used such language to her husband even in the midst of emotional distress. Nowhere in our translation of the passage do we use words you mention AT as using… she is in no way quoting our translation but giving her own reading of the passage in her own highly inappropriate language.”

In her books on Aurangzeb, she has whitewashed the crimes of the tyrannical Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.

She also has faced flak from her students at Rutgers for teaching students that “Hinduism is inherently oppressive, racist, misogynistic and violent”.

A group called “Hindus on Campus” alleged that Truschke, in her tweets, falsely linked Hindus with extremists and white supremacists rioting at the US Capitol Hill, and claimed that the Bhagavad Gita “rationalises mass slaughter” and violence.

The group demanded that Truschke be disallowed to teach a course that involves materials related to Hinduism and India “due to her inherent prejudiced views”.

Historian Vikram Sampath with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he had released his two-volume biography on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Image Courtesy: @narendramodi/Twitter

Truschke vs Vikram Sampath

In February this year, historian Vikram Sampath filed a defamation case against the American historian, along with Ananya Chakrabarti, and Rohit Chopra.

Sampath’s action came after the three had written a letter to the Royal Historical Society where Sampath is a fellow and asked the society to subject Sampath’s body of work to scrutiny.

The three alleged that his two-volume biography of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was a work of plagiarism and that he had the words of the famous historian RC Majumdar, Dr Vinayak Chaturvedi and even the award-winning thesis of Paul Schaffel in his work without due citations, as reported by Frontline.

Seeking damages of Rs 2 crore and a permanent injunction against the defendants, Sampath in his suit said that the letter was part of an “international smear campaign” to discredit him because “he has shown the academic courage and gumption to challenge the prevailing narrative around a historical figure”.

Lawyer Raghav Awasthi, appearing for Sampath, had said the allegations of plagiarism were baseless considering that the piece contained due citations, attributions, and footnotes.

“I have cited all authors. As a scholar, all I have is my reputation amongst my peers. My academic reputation will go for a toss,” the lawyer had said, according to news agency PTI.

Sampath had stated in his plea that if the letter was allowed to go free pass, then it would permanently destroy his career and the reputation he had “built painstakingly over 15 years”.

Sampath had received a breather on 18 February when the court had restrained Truschke, Dr Ananya Chakrabarti and Dr Rohit Chopra from further publication of their letter. On 24 February too, the court had directed Twitter to take down five of Truschke’s tweets.

The Delhi High Court continuing its hearing in the case then ordered Twitter to take down her posts. In his order, Justice Amit Bansal wrote, “In my view, the tweets with regard to the subject matter of the present application are defamatory in nature and there is a link posted in the said tweets to the very same letters, the publication of which was injuncted by this Court vide orders dated 18th February, 2022 and 24th February, 2022.”

The matter will now be heard on 28 July.

With inputs from agencies

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