Indian woman elected Oxford Student Union President resigns after racism controversy

Although Rashmi Samant released an open letter apologising for her comments, there was a clamour for her resignation.
Rashmi Samant
Rashmi Samant
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Rashmi Samant, who recently became the first Indian woman to occupy the position of Oxford Student Union President, has resigned from her role after accusations of making racist social media posts including references to the Holocaust.

Although Rashmi, who graduated from Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) and is from Udupi district of Karnataka, released an open letter apologising for her comments after there was a clamour for her resignation.

The Oxford Student Union’s Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE), a community at the university, criticised Rashmi in a statement published on Facebook.

“Although we cannot assume the intentions of Ms Samant, we believe that it is ultimately the impact of her actions that are important here: she has hurt the East-Asian, Jewish, and trans communities. Not only did she post racially insensitive captions on social media, but she has also proceeded to deny the harm caused by her actions when questioned,” stated the post.

“The excuses she has provided are at the absolute best an indicator of complete ignorance, and therefore a demonstration of the candidate’s inadequacy to represent the Oxford student body, or are at worst a complete fabrication in an attempt to redirect responsibility,” it added.

The controversy erupted after social media posts by Rashmi surfaced following her election. Cherwell, a weekly student newspaper published by Oxford, reported that Rashmi had captioned an image on Instagram of herself in Malaysia with the words “Ching Chang”, made a pun involving the Holocaust in another caption and made a comparison between Cecil Rhodes and Hitler in a Student Union presidential debate.

She was also reported to have separated ‘women’ and ‘transwomen’ in a caption. “Furthermore, in a recent post on her now-deleted Instagram account, the President-Elect made a distinction between trans women and women, thereby implying that trans women are not women and perpetuating trans-exclusionary ideology,” read the post by Oxford SU CRAE.

She has since deleted some of her Instagram posts while her Facebook account is inactive.

Rashmi apologised for her comments in an open letter. “I begin this letter with a heartfelt apology to the entire student community at the University of Oxford. Though the recent developments might make it hard for you to believe the sincerity of my apologies, it deeply pained me to note that I have lost the trust that the student community reposed in me with their votes and belief in my manifesto owing to my mistakes,” she said.

Rashmi intended to take on the role of President of the Student Union in June.

“Regrettably, I alienated people within our wonderful student community to the extent that they deem me unfit to be the leader they rightfully deserve. I sincerely apologise to every student who has been hurt by my actions or words and seek a chance to gain your trust in me again,” the letter added.

However, after the clamour over her social media posts did not die down, she decided to resign.

As reported earlier, Rashmi had contested the election with four main goals that include decolonization and inclusivity, COVID-19 interventions for all, access to quality mental health resources and decarbonizing the university.

She won the election with 1966 votes in her favour out of the 3708 votes cast for the position of President, more than all the other candidates combined. At the time of campaigning, she had stated that she will also lobby for the removal of statues of those proven to be imperialist, including that of Christopher Codrington, a known slave owner who inherited one of the largest sugar plantations in Barbados in the 17th century, in the University and Conference of colleges.

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