Concerns around racism at the “highest level” in UK society have found their way to the Indian Parliament, prompting Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar to declare that India as the land of Mahatma Gandhi could never shy away from the issue “wherever it is” and champion the fight against racism and all forms of intolerance.
The matter was raised by an Indian member of Parliament this week in the context of the recent resignation of Rashmi Samant, the first Indian woman President-elect of the Students Union at the University of Oxford, who was forced to resign just days later amid a racism row.
“She was cyber bullied to the point that she had to resign. Even the Hindu religious belief of her parents was publicly attacked by a faculty member, which went unpunished. If this happens at an institute like Oxford what is the message that goes out to the world,” questioned BJP MP Ashwini Vaishnav in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of the Indian Parliament.
He also cited the recent explosive interview of Meghan Markle with chat show host Oprah Winfrey, in which the Duchess of Sussex had claimed that her mixed-race son’s skin colour had been the subject of discussion in British royalty ranks.
“If such practices of racial discrimination are followed at the highest level in society what would be the following at the lower levels,” questioned the Indian MP.
Indian foreign minister Jaishankar responded: “I note the sentiments of the House. I do want to say that as a land of Mahatma Gandhi, we can never ever turn our eyes away from racism wherever it is. Particularly so when it is in a country where we have such a large diaspora.
“As a friend of the UK, we also have concerns about its reputational impact. What I do want to say is that we have strong ties with the UK; we will take up such matters with great candour when required.
“We will monitor these developments very, very closely. We will raise it when required and we will always champion the fight against racism and other forms of intolerance.”
Rashmi Samant, who flew back to India from the UK after her resignation, has since spoken out about how she had felt bullied and hounded out of her post despite her apologies over historic social media posts which had been flagged as “racist” and “insensitive”.
“I sincerely apologise to every student who has been hurt by my actions or words and seek a chance to gain your trust in me again,” the 22-year-old, from the southern Indian state of Karnataka, had said in an open letter at the time, But the furore refused to die down and she had to step down in the interests of her mental health.
Later, on social media she also pointed out how a university faculty member decided to “bully, defame, harass my family and I in the public domain”.
That issue has been raised directly with the Vice-Chancellor’s office by Oxford University alumni and UK-based entrepreneur Alpesh Patel, who has issued a formal letter of complaint about controversial social media posts by a senior member of staff at the Faculty of History in the university – Dr Abhijit Sarkar.
"I am pleased to see the government of India will be raising the maltreatment on the grounds of racism and Hinduism against the student. This matter deserves a police investigation into the bullies on incitement to racial hatred," said Patel, Chair of the City Hindus Network (CHN).
The University of Oxford has been approached for a statement regarding the formal complaint, which revolves around a series of social media posts targeted at Samant, attacking Hindu deities and also the Indian government.