London, Apr 8 (PTI) Over 100 Indian diaspora organisations on Thursday issued a joint letter addressed to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, raising concerns over the lack of action against an Oxford University faculty member for his alleged "Hindu hatred and bigoted views” directed at Rashmi Samant.
Samant, the first Indian woman to be elected President of the Oxford Student Union (SU), was forced to resign amid controversy over some of her past social media posts.
The 119 signatories of the letter addressed to Prime Minister Johnson, which includes groups such as Friends of India Society International (FISI) UK, Akshay Patra Foundation UK, Hindu Council UK, Hindu Forum of Europe, Vishwa Hindu Parishad UK and National Council of Hindu Temples (NCHT), calls for the suspension of the faculty member while a "thorough investigation" is concluded.
It also calls on the local Thames Valley Police, which confirmed it is reviewing the information related to a report of an “alleged hate incident” last month, to charge the accused with a hate crime.
“Dr Abhijit Sarkar, a faculty member, instigated hate-filled trolls on social media against her [Samant] which led her to go into hiding and finally leave the country. Dr Sarkar continued stalking Rashmi on social media, attacking her and her family for their Hindu faith and beliefs which led her to severe depression and hospitalisation,” the letter reads.
"Thames Valley Police should seriously investigate and charge him for a hate crime. Dr Sarkar has come to the UK on an Exceptional Talent visa. Home Office should review his visa status in view of his racist and hateful actions on social media,” notes the letter, which has also been copied to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, the Oxford University Vice-Chancellor, Indian Ministry of External Affairs, among others.
The letter is the latest chapter in an ongoing campaign following the resignation of Samant, who has been working on her MSc course in Energy Systems at Oxford University remotely from her hometown in Udupi. She said the "cyber bullying" made it difficult for her to consider returning to the university.
"An independent investigation into these online comments, which have been made from a private, non-University account, is ongoing and we must allow time for this formal process to be followed,” an Oxford University spokesperson said.
“We never comment on individual cases because of the importance of not prejudicing an investigation as well as protecting the privacy of those involved, but the University thoroughly investigates all formal complaints that our harassment or equality policies have been breached.
"When doing so, the investigation process is launched without delay, and, when appropriate, independent investigators are appointed. Cases are resolved as swiftly as is possible to ensure equitable treatment of all parties,” the spokesperson said.
The latest university statement reiterated its earlier assertion that it remains committed to creating an environment where people of all backgrounds, including "our Hindu students and staff", feel welcome.
“Our policies make clear that the University does not condone statements that constitute harassment,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the Thames Valley Police confirmed it had received a report of an alleged hate incident, which was reported to the force on March 4.
“Our officers are reviewing all of the available information to establish the full circumstances of the complaint. No one has been arrested in connection with this complaint and we would not be in a position to comment further at this stage,” a spokesperson said.
Samant had expressed her relief that the university and the police were looking into the incident even as the issue found its way to the Indian Parliament last month, when BJP MP Ashwini Vaishnav raised it as a question of “racial discrimination” in the Rajya Sabha.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had responded, saying India would “never ever turn our eyes away from racism wherever it is” and that these developments will be monitored “very, very closely”.
This resulted in a joint statement from the Oxford India Society, Oxford University Hindu Society and Oxford South Asian Society against what they branded a “misleading narrative” being played out in India.
“We reiterate that these calls [Samant’s resignation] did not have anything to do with the fact that she is Indian or Hindu or a woman,” the statement reads.
However, the groups agreed that the faculty member at the centre of the controversial online comments must apologise for his social media posts.
“We further strongly disapprove of the actions of Dr Abhijit Sarkar, Postdoctoral History Researcher at New College. Dr Sarkar’s social media posts about Ms Samant’s parents and their religious beliefs had no place in a conversation about Ms Samant’s reprehensible actions… It is imperative that Dr Sarkar take responsibility for his words and apologise to Ms Samant,” the statement adds.
Meanwhile, a Change.Org online petition launched on March 23 calling for the suspension of the faculty member has gathered nearly 48,000 signatures. PTI AK MRJ AKJ MRJ