BJP's Rajya Sabha MP Ashwini Vaishnav on Monday raised the issue of Karnataka-based Rashmi Samant's resignation from the position of Oxford Student Union President in the United Kingdom and described it as a serious case of racism. The MP raised the issue of the prevalence of racism in the UK through a zero hour mention and said there appears to be an extension of attitudes and prejudices from the colonial era in the United Kingdom.
"The recent case of Rashmi Samant is a classic case in point. She is a bright student from Karnataka's Udupi area. She persevered and overcame challenges to become the first Indian woman president of the Oxford Student Union. What was the treatment meted out to her? Shouldn't this diversity have been celebrated?" he said in the Rajya Sabha on Monday.
"She was cyber bullied to the point that she had to resign. Even the Hindu religious beliefs of her parents were publicly attacked by a professor. What is the message that is sent to the world?" he further asked.
In response to the BJP MP's questions about the treatment of migrants in the United Kingdom, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said, "We have a large diaspora in the United Kingdom and we have strong ties with the UK. We will monitor the developments very closely and take up the matter when required. We always take up the issue of racism and other forms of intolerance," he said.
Rashmi Samant graduated from Manipal University and then went on to join Oxford University for her Master’s programme in energy systems. She hails from Udupi in Karnataka and her father is a businessman while her mother is a homemaker.
She stood for the Student Union elections on a campaign based on decolonisation and inclusivity, COVID-19 interventions for all, access to quality mental health resources and decarbonising the university. She won by a landslide. However, soon, some of her old social media posts surfaced, and individuals and organisations such as the Oxford Student Union’s Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE) and the Oxford SU LGBTQ Campaign started criticising her.
She was also criticised for drawing a comparison between former Prime Minister of the Cape Colony (present-day South Africa) Cecil Rhodes and Adolf Hitler during a Student Union presidential debate. Rashmi defended the comparison, stating 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.'
Rashmi subsequently resigned from her elected position and returned to her home in the Udupi district of Karnataka. In a social media post, she said that her return to India was due to the incessant bullying she had to face.
Ashwini Vaishnav also brought up the recent interview by Meghan Markle, the former actor and a British royal family member, who accused the royal family of raising concerns about the colour of her baby. Ashwini asked that if racist practices are followed in the highest levels of society, what about the lower level.
"There is a natural concern for all of us. The era of colonialism is over but the mindset seems to be still persistent. This is where the UK has to change. If it wants our respect, it has to change," he said, asking the External Affairs Minister to take up the matter with the UK government.
(With PTI inputs)