The United Kingdom Police and Oxford University have commenced investigations after receiving complaints about the bullying of Indian student Rashmi Samant, whose case was raised in the Indian Parliament.
BJP MP Ashwini Vaishnav said last week in the Rajya Sabha that the treatment meted out to the 22-year-old, who was forced to quit as the first Indian female president-elect of the Oxford University Student Union (OUSU), reflected colonial-era attitudes.
Samant had been at Oxford University — from where she is pursuing MSc in energy systems — for only about five months when she was elected as president and then subjected to online bullying, which followed a gang of trolls unearthing old Instagram posts of hers. This led to accusations that she was racist.
Heckled, she caught the next flight to Udupi, in Karnataka, where she ended up hospitalised for three days with stress.
When she was in India, an Indian-origin postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University, Abhijit Sarkar, posted on Instagram a photo of her parents showing they are Hindus and said, “She has come to Oxford from Karnataka, which is a bastion of Islamaphobic far-right forces… Far-right desi forces… want to reinstate Sanatan Hindutva culture… Oxford students are still not ready for ‘Sanatani’ president.”
Meanwhile, Satish K Sharma, director of the Global Hindu Federation, filed a police complaint on Samant’s behalf, accusing Sarkar of inciting religious hatred and bullying and harassment.
Thames Valley Police confirmed it was investigating an alleged hate incident. Samant has initiated her own complaint with Oxford University about Sarkar.
An Oxford University spokesperson said the institution was fully committed to creating an environment where Hindu students and staff can feel welcome. “We have strong policies in place to protect our students and staff against all forms of harassment. An investigation is ongoing,” the university said.
The Oxford India Society, Oxford South Asia Society and the Oxford University Hindu Society issued a statement saying that Samant’s “insensitive remarks about other minority groups” are what prompted calls for her resignation. “These calls did not have anything to do with the fact that she is Indian, Hindu or a woman.”
But other students have sprung to her defence, with one saying the episode “smacks of liberals virtue signalling”.
Samant is continuing her one-year masters online from India despite having paid £24,000 in fees. “I don’t feel safe going back to Oxford. I don’t see any concrete actions by the university and the fact a faculty member has made a statement has emboldened other students who continue to make defamatory statements about me,” she said. She is the first child in her family to go to university.