British Hindu groups take Oxford University hate crime concerns to Boris Johnson

British Hindu groups take Oxford University hate crime concerns to Boris Johnson

As many 119 British Hindu organisations issued a joint letter to 10 Downing Street in London this week to urge action against an Oxford University faculty member for his alleged “Hindu hatred and bigoted views”.

The Friends of India Society International (FISI) UK, Akshay Patra Foundation UK, Hindu Council UK, Hindu Forum of Europe, Vishwa Hindu Parishad UK, National Council of Hindu Temples (NCHT), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (UK) and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (UK) are among the signatories of the letter addressed to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It calls for the suspension of the faculty member while a "thorough investigation" is concluded into his social media posts directed at Rashmi Samant – the first Indian woman to be elected President of the Oxford Student Union (SU) who was forced to resign amid controversy over some of her past social media posts.

Hate crime

The organisations also call on Thames Valley Police, which confirmed it is reviewing information related to a report of an alleged hate incident last month, to charge the accused with a hate crime.

The letter reads: “Dr Abhijit Sarkar, a faculty member, instigated hate-filled trolls on social media against her [Samant] which led her to go into hiding and finally leave the country. Dr Sarkar continued stalking Rashmi on social media, attacking her and her family for their Hindu faith and beliefs which led her to severe depression and hospitalisation.

“Thames Valley Police should seriously investigate and charge him for a hate crime. Dr Sarkar has come to the UK on an Exceptional Talent visa. Home Office should review his visa status in view of his racist and hateful actions on social media.”

The letter, which has been copied to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, the Oxford University Vice-Chancellor, the Indian High Commission in London and Indian Ministry of External Affairs, among others, also flags the “global impact” of the issue.

It notes: “Oxford University is a world-renowned education centre with a very large population of international students. Indian students rank second in the number of overseas students (non-EU) in the UK and this number is going to increase in the coming years.

“Sadly, this incident will have a detrimental impact on Indian students if the Oxford University and Thames Valley Police do not seem to take any decisive actions.”

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Independent investigation

The University of Oxford confirmed that its investigation into the matter remains ongoing as it reiterated that the institution remains committed to creating an environment where people of all backgrounds, “including our Hindu students and staff”, can feel welcome, valued and respected.

An Oxford University spokesperson said: “An independent investigation into these online comments, which have been made from a private, non-University account, is ongoing and we must allow time for this formal process to be followed.

“We never comment on individual cases because of the importance of not prejudicing an investigation as well as protecting the privacy of those involved, but the University thoroughly investigates all formal complaints that our harassment or equality policies have been breached.

“When doing so, the investigation process is launched without delay, and, when appropriate, independent investigators are appointed. Cases are resolved as swiftly as is possible to ensure equitable treatment of all parties.”

It reiterated that the university has strong policies in place to protect students and staff against all forms of harassment, including online harassment.

“Our policies make clear that the University does not condone statements that constitute harassment,” the spokesperson added.

Cyber bullying

Meanwhile, a Change.Org online petition launched on March 23 calling for the suspension of the faculty member is edging towards the 50,000 signature mark.

The row follows the resignation of Rashmi Samant, who is now working on her MSc course in Energy Systems at Oxford University remotely from her hometown in Udupi, Karnataka. She has said the "cyber bullying" made it difficult for her to consider returning to the university.

“The Indian community in the UK has truly been super supportive,” Samant told ‘iGlobal’ recently.

UK-based entrepreneur and former Oxford University alumnus, Alpesh Patel OBE, had kicked off the ongoing campaign against faculty member Dr Abhijit Sarkar’s controversial social media posts and sent a formal letter of complaint to the Vice-Chancellor’s office. Patel, Chair of the City Hindus Network (CHN), had called for a police investigation into the issue and since then several complaints have been made to the university and the local police.

Thames Valley Police confirmed its officers are reviewing “all of the available information to establish the full circumstances of the complaint”.

“No one has been arrested in connection with this complaint and we would not be in a position to comment further at this stage,” a spokesperson said.

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