Rashmi Samant, the Indian woman who was briefly elected as the Oxford Student Union President, opened up about the racism controversy that led to her resignation earlier this month. Taking to social media, Rashmi said that becoming the President of the Oxford Student Union was one of the greatest honours of her life and said that she stepped down because she was sensitive to the feelings of the people who reposed faith in her and also due to the cyber bullying targeted at her.
"I stepped down because my values taught me to be 'sensitive'; sensitive to the feelings of the people who reposed faith in me, sensitive to my convictions that above all we need to respect fellow human beings, and sensitive to the welfare of the student community that deserves a working SU, and at the personal level, sensitive to the effects of cyber bullying that is targeted against me in the name of 'sensitivity'," she said in a social media post.
Rashmi Samant made headlines in India when she became the first Indian woman to occupy the position of Oxford Student Union President this month. However, things changed quickly after accusations against her of making racist social media posts were circulated on social media.
The controversy flared up 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 Former Prime Minister of the Cape Colony (present-day South Africa) Cecil Rhodes and Adolf Hitler in a Student Union presidential debate. She was also reported to have separated ‘women’ and ‘transwomen’ in a caption.
The Oxford Student Union’s Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE) and the Oxford SU LGBTQ Campaign were among the organisations to criticise the President-elect on social media for racially insensitive social media posts and for refusing to take accountability for the same.
Rashmi subsequently resigned from her elected position and returned to her home in Udupi district of Karnataka. In her social media post, she said that her return to India was due to the incessant bullying she had to face.
"Unfortunately, the vile reaction to my apology closed off any space for any kind of learning or growth. It was painful to note that in the guise of being 'sensitive', certain groups have propagated intolerance; intolerance against freshness of thought and initiatives for reflection. I was discredited and bullied (often through anonymous messages with comments on my race, colour of skin and upbringing) in various ways on social media. The incessant bullying drove me to catch the first flight home to India," she said.
She added that her social media posts from years ago were the posts of a non-native English speaking teenager, years before she formed convictions on issues of race and said that it was not a reflection of her hatred towards communities. "They were the posts of a teenager who just had access to the world of social media. I again reiterate my apology to those genuinely hurt for my repeated ignorance but not to those with malicious intent who targeted me on 'insensitivity' through anonymous accounts," she added.
Discussing the comparison she made between Cecil Rhodes and Hitler, Rashmi said, "In a university where Cecil Rhodes still stands tall looking over all of us, I took a stand that Rhodes was no better than Hitler himself. As someone from the erstwhile colonised India, I can only begin to fathom what Rhodes meant when he said, 'the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism, such as works in India, in our relations with the barbarism of South Africa'." She added that she did not mean to hurt the Jewish community by mitigating Hitler's crimes but that she wanted to bring to notice that Rhodes and Hitler's intentions were borne of the same 'virus of bigotry and hatred that bred targeted violence'.
She also claimed that a member of Oxford university insulted her family in public. "In the chain of unfortunate events since, what hurts me the most is that my parents were dragged into it in the most insensitive manner by a member of the university. Their religious sentiments and regional background were insulted in the public domain. The fact that I am a Hindu no way makes me intolerant or unfit to be the President of the Oxford SU. Contrary to this, I understand the value of diversity in its true sense though my exposure to the intricacies of the developed world is limited," she added.