Three Oxford societies issued a joint statement calling the racism narrative propagated by sections of the Indian media false

Rashmi Samant
news Controversy Monday, March 22, 2021 - 15:18

A joint statement by the Oxford India Society, Oxford University Hindu Society and Oxford South Asian Society stated that the calls for the resignation of the former Oxford Student Union President-Elect Rashmi Samant was down 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 were feeding a 'Hindutva narrative'.

"We are acutely aware that Ms Samant’s post-resignation comments and interviews are feeding into the dangerous Hindutva narrative in India that is fundamentally exclusionary and discriminatory. That Ms Samant is unable or unwilling to see this, despite having run on a platform of ‘inclusion’ and ‘decolonization’ in Oxford, is unfortunate," the joint statement said.

It also added that the racism narrative propagated by sections of the Indian media is false. "We are deeply concerned that sections of the Indian media are trying to pretend that this issue is one of racism against Hindus or Indians. As societies representing the Hindu, Indian and South Asian populations on campus, we are displeased by this false narrative, and urge the media to stop pedaling disinformation in the garb of news," it said.

"Recent coverage of these events in Indian media has incorrectly portrayed that Ms Samant’s resignation was prompted by an irresponsible social media post from a staff member (not a professor) and by racist comments. This is far from the truth, not least because the said social media post came only after Ms. Rashmi's resignation. We are concerned that this diverts the focus away from Ms Samant’s evasion of accountability, and the harm that her actions have caused," read the joint statement.

"It dismisses the Oxford student community’s legitimate demand for accountability from an elected student representative. This demand was expressed through democratic means, including no-confidence motions at four constituent colleges. Any mischaracterisation of such democratic demands as ‘cancel culture’ is deplorable," it added.

Rashmi Samant made headlines in India in February 2021 when she became the first Indian woman to occupy the position of Oxford Student Union President. However, things changed quickly after accusations against her of making racist social media posts were circulated on social media. She resigned from her position of President-Elect of the Student Union and returned to her hometown in Udupi district of Karnataka.

Following her resignation, Rashmi Samant stated 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. 

She also claimed that a member of Oxford university insulted her family in public and said that the fact she is a Hindu does not make her unfit to be the student union president. The joint statement by societies in Oxford, however, reiterated that the calls for her resignation did not have anything to do with her Indian or Hindu identity.

'Rashmi Samant's resignation calls were due to racially insensitive posts'

"We recognize that a culture of institutional racism is prevalent in the University, and that racism is a lived reality for several members of the University, including brown students. It is with utmost caution, therefore, that we wish to clarify that this is not why Ms Samant had to resign, and by that, we mean that neither her nationality nor her religion are what prompted the calls for her resignation. Her narrative of this being a racist attack against her undermines real experiences of racism of students at the University," the statement said.

"There is no doubt whatsoever that Ms Samant’s now-deleted posts on social media are racially insensitive towards the East-Asian and Jewish communities, and are transphobic. Therefore, although the student body voted for Ms Samant because of the pledges on her manifesto, ultimately, her insensitive remarks about other minority groups and refusal to accept responsibility for her actions are what prompted calls for her resignation," it said.

"We reiterate that these calls did not have anything to do with the fact that she is Indian or Hindu or a woman. In fact, the entirety of the Student Union Sabbatical Officer team elected this year is constituted by BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) women, including another Indian woman born and raised as Hindu," added the statement.

Oxford staff member urged to apologise to Rashmi

The statement also called for a postdoctoral history researcher of New College in Oxford University Dr Abhijit Sarkar to apologise to Rashmi Samant for his social media comments attacking her parents. "We further strongly disapprove of the actions of Dr Abhijit Sarkar, Postdoctoral History Researcher at New College. Dr Sarkar’s social media posts about Ms Samant’s parents and their religious beliefs had no place in a conversation about Ms Samant’s reprehensible actions. She cannot be viewed as her parents - any criticism of her actions should refer to those actions alone, and certainly not her family background. It is imperative that Dr Sarkar take responsibility for his words and apologise to Ms Samant," said the joint statement.

TNM had earlier reported that the controversy flared up after social media posts by Rashmi surfaced following her election win. 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.

While Rashmi apologised for her old social media posts in an open letter, she did not immediately resign from her position and instead asked for another chance to regain the student community's trust. However, after the clamour for her resignation did not die down, she eventually resigned from her position on February 16. 

On March 15 2021, the controversy was discussed in the Rajya Sabha where BJP MP Ashwini Vaishnav termed Rashmi's resignation a serious case of racism. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar responded stating that the issue was being monitored closely and that the matter will be taken up when required.

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