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Oxford Hindu Society Rejects Charge that University is 'Intolerant' Towards Hindus

The society also said Rashmi Samant, who quit as head of the Oxford students' union, should take responsibility for her statements but also demanded action against Abhijit Sarkar for targeting the beliefs of her parents.

New Delhi: With the controversy over Rashmi Samant – who was elected president of the Oxford Students’ Union and then resigned after facing allegations of having made insensitive social media posts in the past – still brewing, the Oxford Hindu Society issued a statement criticising the science student from Karnataka for failing to take responsibility for her actions but also demanding action against a university scholar who commented on her parents’ belief.

They also rejected attempts by some in India to paint the university as a ‘brutally intolerant’ place for Hindus or Indians.

Some of Samant’s old social media posts – which were deemed as racist and insensitive by students of the university – had come into focus soon after her election. She was the first Indian woman to be elected as the Oxford Students’ Union president. Amid protests demanding her resignation, she stepped down in mid-February, admitting that she had “alienated people within our wonderful student community”.

However, she later claimed ‘cyberbullying‘ had played a role in her decision to quit.

In this context, the Oxford Hindu Society issued a statement unequivocally condemning all forms of discrimination. It criticised the actions of Abhijit Sarkar, a postdoctoral history researcher at New College, who posted on Facebook that Samant’s parents were followers of “Sanatan Dharma” and such people “should not be allowed” to head the Student Union.

“It is imperative that Dr Sarkar both apologise to Ms Samant and resign from his position as a member of this University’s faculty,” the society said.

However, the society emphasised that it stands with the Oxford University Student Union Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality and LGBTQ+ Campaigns, which had previously released statements calling for Samant’s resignation. The Oxford Hindu Society said some of Samant’s posts on social media were “racially insensitive towards the East-Asian, Jewish and trans communities”.

The statement said that Samant subsequently failed to take responsibility for her actions, and instead, conjured “elaborate falsehoods” in an attempt to cover her actions.

“Recent coverage of these events in the Indian media have distorted the focus of recent events from Samant’s evasion of accountability to the subsequent Hinduphobia that has been prompted. We believe that diverting the focus away from the harm of Samant’s actions and instead portraying the Oxford student community as a brutally intolerant place projects a false narrative,” the statement says.

The student body had voted for Samant because of the pledges on her manifesto, but it was her “hateful posturing” towards other minority groups that prompted calls for her resignation, “not the fact that she is Indian or Hindu”, the statement says. It noted that other Indian and Hindu women were also elected as part of the union’s team.

The society urged Samant to refrain from further commenting on this situation, but rather, educate herself on the harm she has caused. Sarkar should face “appropriate consequences” as per official University disciplinary channels should he not resign, they said.

“Oxford University Hindu Society will continue to work to make Oxford a safe and tolerant space for all minority groups and reprimands all forms of discrimination,” it concludes.

The complete letter is reproduced below.

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HUMSoc – Oxford Hindu Society statement on the actions of Ms Rashmi Samant and Dr Abhijit Sarkar:

Oxford University Hindu Society unequivocally condemns all forms of discrimination against all minority groups, including but not limited to, race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Oxford University Hindu Society strongly disapproves of the action of Dr Abhijit Sarkar, Postdoctoral History Researcher at New College. Dr Sarkar’s social media posts about Ms Samant’s parents and following Hinduphobic caption made the claim that a follower of “Sanatan Dharma”, or Hinduism, should not be allowed to become the leader of the Student Union. Ms Samant cannot be viewed as her parents and any criticism of her actions should refer to that only, not her family background or alleged political beliefs. It is imperative that Dr Sarkar both apologise to Ms Samant and resign from his position as a member of this University’s faculty.

Equally, the Oxford University Hindu Society stands in solidarity with both the Oxford University Student Union Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality and LGBTQ+ Campaigns who previously released statements calling for Ms Samant’s resignation from her position of President-Elect. Ms Samant’s posts on social media are racially insensitive towards the East-Asian, Jewish and trans communities and her subsequent failure to take responsibility of her actions, and instead, conjure elaborate falsehoods in an attempt to cover her actions are strongly reprehensible in the eyes of the Oxford University Hindu Society.

Recent coverage of these events in Indian media have distorted the focus of recent events from Ms Samant’s evasion of accountability to the subsequent hinduphobia that has been prompted. We believe that diverting the focus away from the harm of Ms Samant’s actions and instead portraying the Oxford student community as a brutally intolerant place projects a false narrative. The entirety of the Student Union Sabbatical Officer team elected this year is BAME women and this includes other Indian and Hindu women as well. The student body voted Ms Samant in because of the pledges on her manifesto, but ultimately, her hateful posturing towards other minority groups and failure to accept responsibility after the fact is what prompted calls for her resignation, not the fact that she is Indian or Hindu.

We urge Ms Samant to refrain from further commenting on this situation, but rather, educate herself on the harm she has caused. We expect Dr Sarkar to be given appropriate consequences as per official University disciplinary channels should he not resign himself. Oxford University Hindu Society will continue to work to make Oxford a safe and tolerant space for all minority groups and reprimands all forms of discrimination.