London: In February 2021 Rashmi Samant, an Indian post-graduate student was victorious in her bid for the Presidency of the Students Union at Oxford University. Samant, a MSC student in sustainable energy systems at Linacre College, set out to reform Oxford and campaigned on a platform of de-colonization and inclusivity for marginalised groups- Covid interventions for all- Decarbonizing the university and access to quality mental health resources. Previously Samant had enjoyed being part of a mental health task force for 12,000 undergraduates as a sab officer in India, where she said mental health remains a taboo.
The election was highly contested, with a record number of 36,405 votes recorded; Samant won 53% of the vote share. Samant was the first Indian to be elected as President of the Oxford SU.
Almost immediately after Samant’s landslide victory a collection of social media posts that Samant made during 2017-2018 were unearthed and she was branded anti-semitic, racist and transphobic.
These post were attributed to be a young lady’s innocent attempt at puns, from a girl who had led a sheltered life in Udupi and had no idea about the etiquette of political correctness; during her campaign she was unaware what she considered harmless old posts would bounce back to bite her. Samant sincerely apologised for her mistakes and errors of judgement in an open letter, but the aggressive social media abuse and hate mail continued to shatter her confidence, and in a fragile state of mind she resigned a couple of days after her apology.
One of the protagonists of the toxic social media retaliation against Samant and Hinduism, was an Oxford faculty member named Dr Abhijit Sarkar, who in a personal capacity appears to delight in defaming the BJP and Hinduism. Sargar had insulted Devi Sarawasti, the Samant parents, the state of Karnataka and Kangana Ranaut.
Dr Sarkar, a British Academy Postdoctoral Researcher at New College Oxford, whose publications deal with themes in the history and anthropology of modern South Asia, including a long article on how the Hindu Mahasabha exploited the Bengal Famine of 1943–44 to instigate tensions between Hindus and Muslims.
Sarkar’s biography proclaims “So far, I have won research-funding of approximately a million pounds from various prestigious funding bodies.”
Among the groups that coalesced for Samant’s resignation were The Oxford Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality, Oxford India Society, Oxford Hindu Society, Oxford South Asian Society, Junior Common Room Groups, the Oxford LGBTQ+, the Oxford Jewish Society, and the Oxford University Chinese Society who said ““Regrettably, we have not yet heard anything directly from Rashimi Samant. Her long-overdue public apology does not seem sincere to the OUCS. In her apology letter, Rashimi seems to be avoiding addressing her mistakes directly, and it does not show her taking responsibility for her insensitivity to race or ignorance towards the trans community. We cannot see Rashmi as the SU president we “rightfully deserve” or trust.”
Hindu On Campus, a student group that creates a safe space for diaspora Hindus to share their anti-Hindu and experiences of racism, raised a support group for Samant. Two British Hindu students made a video claiming Sarkar’s bigoted comments had compromised Hindu student’s “safe pace”.
It is understood that Samant filed a complaint against Oxford University and Satish K.Sharma, known as The British Hindu and also Senior Managing Director of the Global Hindu Federation, filed a complaint against Sarkar with the Thames Valley Police.
This reporter reached out to the Oxford Vice Chancellor on three occasions, on 24 March a reply came from the Head of Communications “The University is fully committed to creating an environment where people of all backgrounds, including our Hindu 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…” and promised support for staff and students and an investigation.
No reply to the second outreach of 25 March which requested information about the serious allegations from India that this smear campaign was a collaborative effort between lobby groups from Pakistan, China and left-wing organisations.
On 16 July Adhitya Srinivasan, Samant’s attorney, announced Oxford has concluded the investigation into Samant’s harassment complaint and he was pleased with the outcome. Srinivasan said no more details were available and that he was sorry Samant had been subjected to such a public humiliation. Social media and Indian media was awash with felicitations that Samant was vindicated.
It is unclear if there have been any consequences for Sarkar.
On 20 July the Strategic Director of Communications at Oxford University sent this reporter a statement “The outcome of the independent investigation into online comments made by a staff member from a private, non-University account, has now concluded and made its recommendations. The process remains confidential and the University will not be making any further comment on the case, and has asked all parties concerned to respect the confidentiality of all involved.”
Thames Valley Police and Samant did not respond to reach-out. This case has been brought to the attention of not only the Oxford Governance Board but the Prime Ministers of both India and UK, in the interest of transparency and reconciliation what happened should be made public.