Amid row over Oxford University students’ union president Rashmi Samant’s resignation, several societies at the university in the United Kingdom (UK) have refuted the allegation that Samant was forced to step down because of her religious views.

The remark came after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar addressed Samant’s resignation in Rajya Sabha earlier this week.

Jaishankar said India is the land of Mahatma Gandhi and would never turn its “eyes away from racism,” adding that it would discuss specific concerns with the UK if possible.

After being accused of making insensitive social media posts in the past, Samant, who was elected as president of the Oxford Students’ Union (OUSU), was asked to resign in February.

Anvee Bhutani, the incoming chairperson of Oxford’s Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE), told ThePrint on Thursday that Samant’s ethnicity or religion were never brought into the discussion, aside from when she brought it herself.

Bhutani said this wasn’t a conspiracy to try and oust her from office. She further added that the past two OUSU presidents had been women of colour. All members of the current sabbatical team are women of colour, including other Indian and Hindu women.

Oxford University Hindu Society

The Oxford University Hindu Society issued a statement on Facebook earlier this month, condemning the accusation that the institute is intolerant towards the Hindu community.

According to the statement issued, it said, “Recent coverage of these events in Indian media has distorted the focus 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 project a false narrative.”

While speaking to the media, Samant had previously said that foreign universities should have policies to safeguard students of colour from being “cancelled”.

Who Is Rashmi Samant?

Rashmi Saman is a 22-year-old girl from Udupi, Karnataka, who is pursuing MSc degree at Oxford’s Linacre College.

She was elected as the first Indian woman president of OUSU on February 11. In the election, she won 1,966 votes out of a total of 3,708 votes. In her campaign, Samant focused on decolonising the university and syllabi, combating homophobia and transphobia, and increasing support for students’ mental health services.

On February 12, Samant’s social media posts from 2017 and 2019 surfaced. In the posts, she had made derogatory remarks, which were labelled anti-semitic, racist and transphobic.

For instance, in one of her social media posts, she captioned a photo from Malaysia, “Ching Chang”. The caption on another picture of her standing at a Berlin Holocaust Memorial was interpreted as a joke on the Holocaust. “The memorial *CASTS* a *HOLLOW* dream of past atrocities and deeds”.

Failure To Take Accountability

Rashmi Samant later sent an open letter of apology, but CRAE and other Oxford societies, on the other hand, thought the apology was insufficient and demanded her resignation.

In an interview with ThePrint, Samant had claimed that she would have been given the benefit of the doubt if she looked a certain way. “In my case, they immediately rushed to conclusions. Racism now does not exist overtly but in covert behaviour like this,” she said.

Bhutani, however, asserted that the student body takes racism charges “very seriously” and that Samant’s “failure to take accountability” paved the way for her resignation. She went on to defend the institute while pointing out that Pierce Jones, a candidate in Samant’s election who was initially a frontrunner, had to drop out after racism allegations were raised against him.

Oxford Faculty Member’s ‘Sanatan Dharma’ Post

Abhijit Sarkar, a postdoctoral history researcher at New College, Oxford, had also come under fire for statements he made regarding Samant’s parents’ on social media.

He had previously claimed that followers of Hinduism’s ‘Sanatan Dharma’ should not be allowed to lead OUSU. In his Instagram post, the professor wrote that Samant’s parents were “celebrating the demolition of a mosque and establishing a Hindu temple in its place”.

However, the Oxford University Hindu Society strongly condemned Sarkar’s statement and ordered him to apologise to Samant and withdraw from his position as university’s faculty.

Samant also called for Sarkar’s resignation in an interview with Republic TV on Monday. She said, “He felt it was appropriate to stalk, threaten, and publicly defame me because I’m a Hindu. To make it worse, my parents were brought up in the discussion.”