July 20, 2021
Hindu Students Council applauds Oxford University for upholding Rashmi Samant’s claims of harassment and bullying by Oxford faculty, Dr. Abhijit Sarkar. It is important for all academic institutions to acknowledge that Hindu students are a minority community on college campuses and are vulnerable to unwarranted, bigoted attacks by people in power within these same institutions. It is also important for all Hindu students to engage with the grievance processes within their institutions and make avail of the protections to which they have a right.
In February 2021, Sarkar began his hate-filled campaign against Samant, who, it should be noted, had been elected by a large margin as the president of Oxford’s student union. He felt emboldened and free to attack and defame her character based solely on his disdain for her Hindu identity. Sarkar’s hatred for Hinduism is well-established. On his Instagram page, Sarkar proudly boasted about breaking Saraswati murtis, referencing and extending the iconoclastic destruction of sacred Hindu spaces and attack on our deities. (It’s ironic that an academic who claims to be progressive would pride himself on this desecration, given that Saraswati Devi is the divine feminine manifestation of education and learning.) Sarkar used his platform and power to make vile social media posts about Samant, calling her “typical of far-right forces in India” in order to paint a convenient narrative of Samant as extremist and narrow-minded. (Samant’s entire platform was premised upon environmentalism and decolonization, but this was clearly not what Sarkar meant by “typical.”) Sarkar ramped up his targeted Hinduphobic vitriol, falsely accusing Samant’s parents of “celebrating destruction of a mosque” based on an old photograph he found of them framed with “Jai Shree Ram”, connecting the practice of Hinduism with inherent Islamophobia. He called her alma mater Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT) a “bastion of islamophobic [sic] forces” without any legitimate evidence. Sarkar continued his Hinduphobic attack by writing that “Oxford students are not ready for ‘Sanatani’ president” – implying that there is something inherently wrong with practicing Hindus and that everyone else should be wary of us.
Sarkar’s relentless hate speech worked. His attacks provided fuel and a twisted justification for a public social media lynching of Samant that grew far beyond the scope of his accusations. But we can never forget that at the core was Sarkar’s blatant and brazen Hinduphobia.
Oxford University’s recognition of this targeted bullying and harassment, which was premised upon Rashmi’s religious identity, is an important moment for their institution to reflect upon their responsibility to protect students from hate speech versus their faculty’s right to “free speech” within a system of power that clearly favors the latter.
Much work remains to be done. While we commend Oxford for taking this critical first step, we urge Oxford, Rutgers, and other institutions to recognize that there is a long road ahead in the fight against Hinduphobia. Institutions committed to diversity and inclusion must ensure that Hindu students and faculty feel safe and seen. As sites of knowledge production, it is also the ethical responsibility of all of these institutions to reflect upon the scholarship produced by people who are demonstrably and actively bigoted against the very communities they purport to study, including Hindus.
We commend Rashmi Samant and her family for their determination, dignity, and resilience. Rashmi graciously took part in HSC’s 2021 Understanding Hinduphobia Conference held at Rutgers University, discussing the many ways that Hinduphobia at Oxford and Rutgers are symptomatic of broader Hinduphobia in academic settings around the world. In the face of the unimaginable personal attacks she faced, Rashmi Samant has become a beacon for the fight against Hinduphobia at Western universities in the US, UK, and beyond. We will continue to stand by Samant and any Hindu student that faces Hinduphobia in any part of the world.
धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः
Dharmo rakshati rakshitaha
Those who protect Dharma, are protected by Dharma