It all began like a dream come true – being elected unanimously as the first Indian woman President of the Student Union (SU) last month. But within days the tide turned on Rashmi Samant, as she found herself engulfed by allegations of racism surrounding a couple of historic social media posts. As she flew back to India amid the storm, the issue brought cyber bullying and racism into sharp focus across the UK and India – and was even raised in the this month.
“The Indian community in the UK has truly been super supportive,” Samant told ‘iGlobal’ from her hometown of Udupi in Karnataka.
From there, she has been focussed on completing her MSc course in Energy Systems remotely as she does not feel safe to return to the UK at this stage.
“I think it's a long road for me to feel safe about the prospect of coming back and getting respite from the cyber bullying,” she said.
The reason behind these misgivings is an ongoing investigation by the University of Oxford related to a History Faculty member, Dr Abhijit Sarkar, who took to social media in the wake of the controversy to post images of her family and make controversial references to their Hindu faith.
“An investigation into these online comments is ongoing and we must allow time for this formal process to be followed. In cases such as these, student support is provided through their college and department,” an Oxford University spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added: “The University is thoroughly committed to creating an environment where people of all backgrounds, including our students and staff, can feel welcome, valued and respected. We have strong policies in place to protect our students and staff against all forms of harassment, including online harassment.
“The University investigates thoroughly complaints that our harassment or equality policies have been breached and provides support to affected students and staff throughout such investigations.”
Thames Valley Police has also confirmed that it has received a report of an alleged hate incident related to the posts.
“I'm just very glad that the university and the police have launched an investigation into my complaint, and I look forward to resolving it in the best manner possible,” said Samant.
UK-based entrepreneur and former Oxford University alumnus, , had issued a strong rebuke of 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), said: “This matter deserves a police investigation into the bullies on incitement to racial hatred.”
Satish K. Sharma, Senior Managing Director of the Global Hindu Federation, has been following up on the police complaint and also accused the faculty member of “unlawful conduct and inexcusable bigotry”.
“Rest assured that the British Hindu community will persist until a just conclusion has been reached,” he said.
A joint statement from the Oxford India Society, Oxford University Hindu Society and Oxford South Asian Society had raised objections about a “misleading narrative” being played out in India over this issue. However, the groups agreed that the faculty member at the centre of the controversial online comments must apologise.
“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… It is imperative that Dr Sarkar take responsibility for his words and apologise to Ms Samant,” their statement notes.
Meanwhile, a calling for action against Sarkar has attracted over 37,000 signatures towards its 50,000 target within days.