Rashmi Samant has been making the headlines for the past few weeks. At first, she was in the news for being the first Indian woman to be elected to be the President of the Oxford Student Union (SU). Within days, she was in the news again for resigning from the post when allegations of racism, antisemitism and transphobia surfaced against her.
Rashmi Samant is from Udupi Karnataka and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Manipal University. She has worked on research projects on Atomic Science in Prague and Poland. She is a graduate student at Linacre College of Oxford University, where she is pursuing a Masters in Science in Energy Systems.
A History-Making Election
Samant is a Global Leadership Initiative Fellow at Oxford University, an opportunity for students from diverse backgrounds. She is also the Co-founder and General Secretary of the Oxford Aviation Society.
The 22-year old contested the election on a manifesto that aimed to decolonize and decarbonize the prestigious university syllabus. The manifesto read, “Together, we can reform long-standing shortcomings at the university, provide students with the resources and support they need to thrive in Oxford and become leading changemakers in our society”. She also promised to remove all imperialist statues from the university and conduct a comprehensive consultation on its decolonization syllabi.
Samant’s Vision Statement also talked about how being a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Woman from a former British Colony; she can empathize with the struggles faced by marginalized groups. In her manifesto, she also promised to lobby the Colleges’ Conference to divest the entire financial portfolio from fossil fuels and push all colleges to sign on to a university-wide sustainability strategy.
She won with a landslide victory and made history by becoming the first Indian woman to be elected President of the Oxford SU.
Ironic Allegations Surface
Allegations of racism, antisemitism and transphobia surfaced within days of Samant’s election as President of the SU. These allegations were quite ironic to her promises in the manifesto.
The allegations surfaced after some of her old social media posts emerged, branded racist and insensitive. One of her posts in Malaysia, captioned “Ching Chang”, upset Chinese students. Another post from her visit to the Berlin Holocaust Memorial was insensitive and anti-semitic due to a questionable caption. A campaign post was also criticized for being transphobic, as the caption separated women and transwomen.
Calls for her resignation soon grew, and students did not react favourably to her apologies. In an open letter published in the student newspaper Cherwell, she said, “Though the recent developments might make it hard for you to believe the sincerity of my apologies, it deeply pained me to note that I have lost the trust that the student community reposed in me with their votes and belief in my manifesto owing to my mistakes. Regrettably, I alienated people within our wonderful student community to the extent that they deem me unfit to be the leader they rightfully deserve”.
The allegations did not settle, and she resigned from her post on February 16. In a Facebook post, she said, “In light of the recent events surrounding my election to the Presidency of the Oxford SU, I believe I should step down from the role. It has been an honour to be your President-elect”.
Rashmi Samant Alleges Racism and Inherent Bias
In multiple interviews since her resignation, Samant has said that she would have been given the benefit of the doubt had she looked a certain way. She said that racism now exists covertly, and there was an inherent bias against her. She also called for universities to safeguard international students from ‘cancel culture. She said that the captions and posts in question were made in her teenage years when she had not formed convictions about these issues. She added that they were puns without any malicious intentions.
She also alleged that there was a full-blown attack from faculty professors against her. Soon after her resignation, Twitter users started defending her by trending hashtags like #AntiHinduOxfordUniversity. Samant said she did not endorse such hashtags.
Twitter had also temporarily suspended her account for 36 hours and removed her posts. After restoring her account, Twitter still restricted it for some time.
When I thought I could not be humiliated even more, my account was suspended. Restored after 36 hours with zero followers. Freedom of Speech? https://t.co/yXgblIDAcs
— Rashmi Samant (@RashmiDVS) March 9, 2021
Samant now says she is considering initiating legal action against a professor who made derogatory remarks against her and her family. She is back in her hometown now taking some “time off” from this row.