Foreign Mnister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Monday that India was monitoring “very closely” the case of 22-year-old Rashmi Samant, the first-ever Indian woman to be elected as president of the Oxford University Student Union (OUSU). He also said New Delhi will take up the matter with higher authorities in the United Kingdom.
"We will monitor these developments very closely. We will raise it when required and we will always champion the fight against racism and other forms of intolerance", said S. Jaishankar, while making a statement on the matter in the Indian parliament’s upper house on Monday.
“As the land of Mahatma Gandhi, we can never ever turn our eyes away from racism. Particularly so, when it is in a country where we have such a large diaspora. We've strong ties with the UK. We'll take up such matters with great candour when required”, said the Indian minister after the matter was raised by Ashwini Vaishnaw, Jaishankar’s fellow parliamentarian from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Vaishnaw bemoaned the “continuation of attitudes” from the colonial era, especially in the United Kingdom, as a reason behind the bullying of Samant.
“She overcame all the challenges to become the first Indian woman president of Oxford University Student's Union. What treatment was meted out to her? Shouldn't this diversity be celebrated, instead she was cyber-bullied to the point that she had to resign”, Vaishnaw asked in parliament.
After being elected as OUSU president on 11 February, Samant was forced to step down from her post within a week over some of her past social media posts. Her detractors, which included some of her professors, peers, as well as the campus outfits the Oxford Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE) and the Oxford LGBTQ+ Campaign, among others, labelled her posts as “anti-Semitic”, “racist”, “trasnsphobic”, and “insensitive”.
Samant, who hails from India’s Karnataka state, says that she was bullied online over her past posts, with many netizens bringing up her Hindu faith as they targeted her.
The clamour for her resignation of her past social media posts refused to die down even after Samant penned an open apology in the university publication "The Oxford Student".
After stepping down as president-elect of the OUSU, Samant reasoned that “growing intolerance” toward Hinduism could have contributed towards her apology not being accepted and her not finding enough support at the UK varsity.
“There is a growing intolerance towards Hinduism and the culture that India symbolises in today’s day and age”, she said during a media interview this month, while discussing her experience at Oxford University.
In another interview given to the Indian publication The Print, Samant said that there should be strict rules in place to protect students of colour from being “cancelled”.
“Since we are not from the same culture and do not prescribe to the social developments of their society, it is possible that non-natives may be unaware of these ideologies. There is nothing that is being done to protect students. I believe foreign universities need regulations to protect students of colour from being cancelled”, she said.
Another university professor even labelled her and all the people hailing from her native region in India as “Islamophobic”.
While being subjected to criticism in the UK, Samant has found widespread support in her home country, with many Indian netizens expressing their frustration at the Oxford University administration for not backing her in the face of cyberbullying and alleged racial profiling.