New Delhi: Students of colour need protection from the prevailing culture of cancelling people, said Rashmi Samant, former president-elect of Oxford University Student Union (OUSU).
The 22-year-old had stepped down as president-elect on 16 February after some of her old social media posts emerged, which were declared as anti-semitic and racist.
In an interview to ThePrint, the Oxford University student said that foreign universities should have regulations 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,” said Samant.
She added: “There is a mob out there, who very strongly believes that it is their responsibility to call out people. They do it viciously, with a certain conviction and aggression, but they don’t realise the damage that they create. It is based on an ideology. When they hold a position of power people start believing them.”
The Manipal Institute of Technology alumnus is currently back in her home state Karnataka for some “time off” after the controversy around her posts made headlines.
‘Racial profiling, inherent bias involved’
Samant was the first Indian female to be elected as the president of the OUSU and was due to begin in June this year. She had won the election on 11 February, winning 1,966 out of a possible 3,708 votes.
However, some of her old social media posts, from 2017, emerged and were characterised as ‘racist’, ‘anti-semitic’ and ‘transphobic’.
In one such post, she had captioned a photo from Malaysia, “Ching Chang”. In another photo, she could be seen posing outside a Berlin Holocaust Memorial and the accompanying caption read: “The memorial *CASTS* a *HOLLOW* dream of the past atrocities and deeds”.
As it happens, Samant’s campaign agenda was “tackling institutional homophobia and transphobia” and “empathy towards marginalised groups”.
After these posts emerged, the Oxford Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE) and Oxford LGBTQ+ Campaign had called for her resignation. In a statement, CRAE said that not only had she posted racially insensitive captions on social media but “proceeded to deny the harm caused by her actions when questioned”.
According to Samant, who is pursuing an MSc in energy systems with a focus on sustainability at the university, an element of racial profiling and inherent bias was involved in this circumstance.
“Had I looked a certain way, then I am sure I would have been given the benefit of doubt … in my case they immediately rushed to conclusions. Racism now does not exist overtly but in covert behaviour like this,” she told ThePrint.
Furthermore, Samant noted, that certain professors even found photos of her mother carrying a plaque that said ‘Jai Shree Ram’.
“The professors in Oxford called found my mother’s pictures and labelled her Islamophobic and a bigot. It is unfair and borders on stalking and harassment. Had they done it to any other national with a government or diaspora strong enough to retaliate?” said Samant.
“My mother has the freedom of expression, she has the right to practice her religion,” she added.
After Samant was asked to step down as president of the OUSU, Indians on Twitter began accusing Oxford University of being ‘anti-Hindu’. Several people tweeted with the hashtag #AntiHinduOxfordUniversity.
Hindu phobia is no less among the liberal crowd. Oxford would be heavily liberal. https://t.co/7ft0Yi65v9
— 🚩 ब्रिजेश पटेल (@PATELBRIJESH1) March 4, 2021
We, hindus are the one who possess the true meaning of tolerance and lead the world to the path of peace and love.
And will continue it till the world exist , no certification needed .
— PULKIT TYAGI (@MrTyagipulkit) March 4, 2021
However, Samant said, “I don’t know who started it (the hashtag) but I don’t endorse it.”
Several Twitter users were especially angered by the university faculty targeting Samant’s mother for holding a ‘Jai Shree Ram’ photo.
— Anchal Singh Chib🇮🇳 (@BharatiyaAnchal) March 4, 2021
Samant, meanwhile, noted that she was considering pursuing legal action against the university professor who allegedly made derogatory statements against her and her family.
“We Indians try to hide our religious identity in foreign countries, we suffer in silence and avoid being in the spotlight. I do not prescribe to those norms. I am considering filing a defamation suit against the professor who made the accusations,” she said.
(Edited by Rachel John)
This report has been updated after Rashmi Samant clarified that she intends to file a defamation suit against the professor who made accusations against her mother.
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