The University of Oxford on Tuesday said it was conducting a “thorough investigation” into complaints related to harassment and equality on campus, in light of the cyber bullying allegations made by Indian student Rashmi Samant, PTI reported.
Samant had quit from the post of the Oxford University student union president last month after facing backlash for some of her old social media posts, which were called out for being racist and insensitive. She has been studying remotely from her hometown in Udupi, Karnataka, in the wake of her resignation. Samant said the “continued cyber bullying” made it difficult for her to consider returning to the university at this stage.
Some British Hindu groups on Twitter have raised concerns alleging that Samant was also trolled for her Hindu identity. They flagged some comments made by Abhijit Sarkar, a university staffer from the history faculty, who allegedly posted a photograph of Samant’s family on Instagram. It was alleged that Sarkar made references to the student’s religion, and also called her home state of Karnataka a “bastion of Islamophobic forces”.
The groups approached the local Thames Valley Police in the United Kingdom, urging an investigation into a possible hate crime. The police force confirmed that it has “received a report of an alleged hate incident”, according to PTI.
A university spokesperson said that Oxford was fully committed to creating an environment where people of all backgrounds, including the Hindu students and staff, “can feel welcome, valued and respected”.
“An investigation into these online comments is ongoing and we must allow time for this formal process to be followed,” the spokesperson added. “In cases such as these, student support is provided through their college and department.”
Samant said she was “very glad” that the university and the police have launched an investigation into her complaint. “I think it’s a long road for me to feel safe about the prospect of coming back and getting respite from the cyber bullying,” she said, adding that the Indian community in the UK had been “super supportive” through the course of the incident since last month.
A 22-year old graduate student, Samant had won the Oxford Student Union election for the president’s post in February. However, a week later, some of her old social media posts resurfaced online, and she was widely condemned for her controversial views.
Samant’s posts included a holocaust reference during a visit to the Berlin Holocaust Memorial in Germany in 2017, and an Instagram caption of her picture in Malaysia that read “Ching Chang”. She was also criticised for a post that separated women and trans women. Samant later announced her resignation as the president-elect as she continued to face criticism.
However, since her resignation, Samant has been vocal against what she has termed as “faculty harassing, stalking and bullying”. In a tweet on March 13, she posted a clip on a discussion on the topic, with the caption, “Cancel the cancel culture!!!” Earlier this month, her Twitter account was also suspended.
The controversy around Samant’s resignation has become the centre of debates in Indian media. On March 15, it even found its way to Parliament, when Bharatiya Janata Party MP Ashwini Vaishnav raised the matter of “racial discrimination” in the Rajya Sabha. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had responded, saying that India would “never ever turn our eyes away from racism wherever it is” and that these developments will be monitored “very, very closely”.