Rashmi Samant case: British Hindus angry at long-drawn Oxford University anti-hate probe

Rashmi Samant case: British Hindus angry at long-drawn Oxford University anti-hate probe
Courtesy: joe daniel price | Moment via Getty Images

Hindu groups and student organisations in the UK have expressed their anger, disappointment and dismay over a “tediously long-drawn” investigation by the University of Oxford into allegations of cyber bullying and Hinduphobia against a staff member arising out of his controversial social media posts targeting Indian student Rashmi Samant.

The investigation by the university relates to a History Faculty member, Dr Abhijit Sarkar, who took to social media in the wake of the controversy surrounding her stepping down as President-elect of the Oxford Student Union to post images of Samant’s family and make hurtful references to their Hindu faith.

The university responded by confirming an investigation and reiterating that it is “thoroughly committed to creating an environment where people of all backgrounds, including our Hindu students and staff, can feel welcome, valued and respected”.

Stonewalling?

However, now months down the line, British Indian organisations who have been campaigning against what they feel reflects Hinduphobia have questioned the pace of the probe.

Alpesh Patel, the Chair of City Hindus Network who brought the issue to the attention of the university authorities, told iGlobal: “An employee of Oxford University revels in desecrating Hindu religious statues and states, in terms, Hindus are not welcome at Oxford, and Oxford University's blanket ‘we welcome Hindus’ statement is hugely disappointing.

“Their tediously long-drawn 'investigation' in the face of matters being raised by UK MPs, and in the Indian Parliament, suggest stonewalling. As a Former Visiting Fellow, I find the university's lack of desire to defend its reputation and make any comment other than defending the employee by stating it's a 'private' account as a clear sign that they support the employee.

“The Head of the Department has not replied to my request asking when there will be any action taken. It doesn't take a Don to read between the lines.”

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Equality and diversity

The Indian National Students Association (INSA) UK, which has supported Samant through the course of the episode – both on and off campus – also expressed dismay at the delay.

It said: “INSA UK notes with dismay Oxford University’s discountenance in the Rashmi Samant case, which is directly at odds with UK universities’ stated policy of equality, diversity and inclusion.

“We request New College, University of Oxford, to provide justice and safety to students of all faiths and background and hope Hinduphobia is tackled head-on; similar to Islamophobia and Antisemitism.”

Oxford University has confirmed that the investigation remains ongoing.

Its statement notes: “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.”

Community action

The issue has united the Indian community in recent weeks, as 119 British Hindu organisations issued a joint letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson back in April to urge action against an Oxford University faculty member for his alleged “Hindu hatred and bigoted views”.

This was followed up with a another letter, signed by INSA UK, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha UK, Hindu Council UK, Hindu Forum of Britain Hindu, Swayamsevak Sangh (UK), National Council of Hindu Temples (NCHTUK), National Hindu Students' Forum (UK), and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (UK), addressed to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to urgently investigate the serious concerns of religious hate speech and take action over any breach of visa guidelines as a result.

In her response last month, the British Indian minister said: “While I am unable to comment on individual allegations of criminal offences, as it is for the police to investigate, I am fully committed to stamping out racial hatred, intolerance and prejudice.

“I would also like to emphasise that higher education providers have clear responsibilities to ensure that there is no place for hatred or any form of harassment, discrimination, or racism on campus.”

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