Updated: March 12, 2021 7:31:51 am
On February 11, 2021, Rashmi Samant, a 22-year-old from Karnataka’s Udupi, was elected as the first Indian woman president of the Oxford University Students Union.
However, the MSc student of energy systems at the Oxford University was forced to resign within five days, following outrage over some of her past social media posts that were perceived as anti-Semitic and racist. Though Samant offered an apology for “unintentionally” hurting sentiments, she was forced to step down.
Samant now feels that she has been unfairly targeted and even her family has been unnecessarily dragged into the whole affair by Internet bullies, including a faculty member.
“I believe the cancel culture mob got me. There was a conscious attempt made to unearth posts made by me in the past (going back to 2017). These posts were always there. But no one raked up any issue during the election process. It was only after I won that they were brought up. I believe my posts were not malicious or racist. To take offense you have to perceive it in certain manner. Perhaps, people assume the worst in fellow human beings these days,” Samant told The Indian Express from Udupi, where she is visiting her parents after the fiasco.
The social media posts in question referred to a picture of Samant in front of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial with a caption “The memorial casts a hollow dream of the past atrocities and deeds” and another photo from Malaysia captioned as “Ching Chang”. Some of her comments associated with the LGBT community, where it was alleged that she had used terms such as trans women rather than just women, were also objected to.
“I wish to ask a question to all who termed me insensitive and racist citing my social media posts of the past. Are you being sensitive when you judge a person’s worth based on social media captions of a non-native English speaking teenager that were posted years before the person formed convictions on issues of race?… They were the posts of a teenager who just had access to the world of social media. I again reiterate my apology to those genuinely hurt for my ignorance but not to those with malicious intent,” Samant said.
Amid an uproar over the posts, Samant released an open letter of apology. However, the Oxford Students Union Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE) and Oxford LGBTQ Campaign demanded her resignation saying she had hurt the sentiments of various communities.
“Although we cannot assume the intentions of Ms Samant, we believe that it is ultimately the impact of her actions that are important here: she has hurt the East-Asian, Jewish, and trans communities. Not only did she post racially insensitive captions on social media, but she has also proceeded to deny the harm caused by her actions when questioned. The excuses she has provided are at the absolute best an indicator of complete ignorance, and therefore a demonstration of the candidate’s inadequacy to represent the Oxford student body, or are at worst a complete fabrication in an attempt to redirect responsibility,” a Facebook post by CRAE said.
Born to a middle class family in Udupi Karnataka, Samant was the first to receive university education in her family. Her father, a small businessman and mother, a homemaker, could not study beyond Class 12. Samant graduated from Manipal University and then went on to join Oxford.
Samant had run her campaign, among other issues, on decolonisation and even compared Cecil Rhodes to Hitler by recalling his statements on India. This too was brought up after her victory which Samant says was not an attempt to mitigate Hitler’s crimes, rather bring to light that both were inspired by bigotry.
Since the incident, Samant claims she has been targeted on social media, including by a faculty member, who put up a picture of her mother with Jai Shri Ram poster and suggested that she had an Islamophobic background. Samant now plans to take legal action against the faculty member.
“In the chain of unfortunate events since, what hurts me the most is that my parents were dragged in the most insensitive manner: their religious sentiments and regional background were insulted in the public domain. The fact that I am a Hindu no way makes me intolerant or unfit to be the President of the Oxford SU, ” Samant said.
Samant suggested that post her resignation, she herself has faced racism on social media. “The incessant bullying drove me to catch the first flight home to India,” Samant said. “It was unfair. Even my apology was not accepted… No one was even ready to listen to me.”
Samant has now decided to move on. “I am completing my degree. I have until August… I don’t know where I will go from here. Hopefully somewhere nice.”
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