The complaint accused Abhijit Sarkar, a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University, of inciting hatred, bullying and harassment.

Rashmi SamantRashmi Samant
news Controversy Tuesday, March 23, 2021 - 14:01

British Police and Oxford University have begun an investigation into complaints about bullying faced by Indian student Rashmi Samant, who resigned from the position of President-elect of the Oxford University Student Union in February. A complaint was filed with the Thames Valley Police by Satish Sharma, Managing Director of the global Hindu Federation, on behalf of Rashmi Samant. It accused Abhijit Sarkar, a postdoctoral history researcher at New College in Oxford University, of inciting religious hatred, bullying and harassment, Times of India reported.

The 22-year-old student made headlines in India when she became the first Indian female president-elect of the Oxford University Student Union. But soon after her election win, she was subjected to online bullying after she was accused of racism based on old social media posts. Rashmi apologised for her old social media posts in an open letter and asked for another chance to regain the student community's trust. But when the calls for her resignation did not subside, she stepped down from her position and returned to her hometown in Udupi district of Karnataka.

In a social media post after her resignation, Rashmi said she stepped down after facing cyber bullying for her alleged racist posts. She also said that a member of Oxford University staff – Abhijit Sarkar – had insulted her and her family in public, and condemned the staff member for bringing her family's religious background into the public domain. Abhijit Sarkar had put up an Instagram post about a month ago, where he posted a photo of Rashmi’s parents (after blurring out their faces) apparently “celebrating” the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and the foundation laying of the Ram Mandir on the site on August 5, 2020. He also went on to say that Rashmi comes from coastal Karnataka, which is “widely known in academic research on communalist politics as a bastion of Islamophobic forces.” 

Read: Rashmi Samant claims she resigned as Oxford Student Union head due to cyberbullying

On Monday, three societies in Oxford University – Oxford India Society, Oxford University Hindu Society and Oxford South Asian Society – had stated that the calls for Rashmi's resignation were due to her insensitive remarks about other minority groups and a refusal to accept responsibility for her actions. It also said that Rashmi's comments following her resignation – that she was discriminated against on the basis of her Hindu identity – were feeding into a 'Hindutva narrative'.

Read: Rashmi Samant was not asked to resign because of her religion: Oxford societies

Oxford University meanwhile, has issued a statement saying it was committed to creating an environment where Hindu students and staff can feel welcome. The University is also investigating complaints over the issue. "We have strong policies in place to protect our students and staff against all forms of harassment, including online harassment. The University investigates thoroughly complaints that our harassment or equality policies have been breached and provides support to affected students and staff throughout such investigations. An investigation into these online comments is ongoing and we must allow time for this formal process to be followed," the statement said.

Rashmi is a student of MSc in Energy Systems at Oxford University and is continuing the rest of her semester online from India. Her case was also discussed in the Indian Parliament earlier this month when BJP MP Ashwini Vaishnav termed it a racist incident. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that the matter was being monitored closely by the Indian government and that it will be taken up with the United Kingdom when it is required.  

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