Manipal Origin Rashmi Samant-President-Elect of Oxford Students’ Union Quits after Racism Controversy
Mangaluru: 22-year-old Rashmi Samant, hailing from Manipal, who became the first Indian woman to be elected president of the Oxford University Students’ Union, has stepped down following accusations of making “racist” and “insensitive” remarks online and on other forums in the past, including a reference to the Holocaust. Rashmi, apologised in an open letter as soon as the posts emerged but as the clamour for her resignation refused to die down, she announced on Facebook on Tuesday that she has decided to quit as president-elect.
“Instagram was my campaign page so it got sent to everyone. You had to scroll down really far to see the posts. I don’t know who found them. I don’t want to judge others because I know how much it hurts to be judged,” she told the media from Heathrow airport on Wednesday night before boarding a flight back home to India. “I have received lots of anonymous emails. Who would not be upset? I kind of expected this because you hear stories that when something good happens it can get taken away,” the 22-year-old rued. “I do not hate any community. Everyone thinks I am a terrible person and I am not.”
She has since deactivated her social media accounts. In one of the posts that has been flagged by her critics, Rashmi is seen posing at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial in 2017. The caption reads: “The memorial *CASTS* a *HOLLOW* dream of the past atrocities and deeds…” Rashmi said that was her first trip to Europe. “I was young and I didn’t know better. I did not mean to be insensitive. I was trying to make a pun on words and I am a non-native English speaker,” Rashmi explained.
In another post of herself outside a Buddhist temple in Malaysia, she had written “Ching Chang”, upsetting Chinese students who perceived it as an offensive term mocking them. Rashmi said she had translated it as meaning “eating plants” and was not referring to Malaysians. “The picture was of me at a Buddhist temple doing ‘namaste’. I am a vegetarian so I found it funny as it was difficult to find vegetarian food there,” she said. In her open apology, published in ‘The Oxford Student’, Rashmi wrote, “I fully acknowledge my shortcomings over the years and the past few days in my capacity as president-elect. I come to you with an apology and a willingness to learn.”
That wasn’t enough, though. “Despite writing an open apology, students did not think I was sincere enough. I could not see the point of starting the presidency when people do not trust me,” she said. Rashmi, who went to school in Manipal and Udupi and graduated from Manipal Institute of Technology, is a student of MSc in energy systems at Linacre College, Oxford University. Her election to the student union post, barely a week ago, was toasted by her friends, classmates, teachers and politicians back home. Rashmi said her parents — Vathsala and Dinesh Samant of Udupi — are very proud of what she has achieved in five months at Oxford. The student union expressed regret and said it has a no-tolerance policy towards discrimination. There will now be a by-election. “I hope someone wonderful wins,” Rashmi said.