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The Case of ‘Rashmi-In-Oxford’

Deconstructing Anti-Asian Hate, Cancel Culture, and Hinduphobia

Xenophobia, or prejudice towards individuals from other nations (migrants, asylum seekers, etc.), has been on the rise throughout the Global North. When paired with the internalized racism of White-Supremacist countries, Xenophobia can make life challenging for immigrants from third-world countries who come seeking better opportunities and resources in the West. Several such anti-Asian sentiments recently arose in response to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Closer to home, even after 74 years of 'decolonization,' Indians continue to endure atrocities as a racial minority in the West. In this article, we take a critical look at how imperialist and exclusionary practices manufacture other fictitious-problematic discourses of hate.


Ex Oxford President cancelled over old social media posts

Earlier in March this year, Rashmi Samant, an Indian expat, made history by being the first Indian woman to be elected President of the Oxford Student Union. However, she withdrew from the position in a matter of days following a backlash over some of her old social media posts, which were found problematic. These resurfaced posts were labelled as ‘racist’, ‘transphobic’, and ‘insensitive.’ These included a Holocaust allusion in a post from a visit to the Berlin Holocaust Memorial in Germany in 2017 and an Instagram caption on a photo of herself in Malaysia that read "Ching Chang," which offended her Asian peers. Her parents’ Facebook posts, supporting the Indian Supreme Court’s judgement in favor of the contested Babri Masjid demolition case, were also dug out in an Islamophobic light. Samant admitted that she eventually got subjected to a barrage of cyberbullying and harassment online for her poorly constructed words, and that she got coerced into resigning from her position.


Cancel-Culture: A pretentious form of activism

Now, what emerges to be problematic in the cancel culture which defines western ‘wokeness' is that the foundation of such ‘call-outs’ is an emphasis on the individual rather than the structural. [1] Consequently, indignation is channeled into picking out and ostracizing people rather than deconstructing the structures that instill and reward such manifestations of racism, imperialism, and so on (Kuttaiah , 2021). Ben Burgis, a writer, illustrates how internet wokeness is hurting committed, grounded progressive activism. In response to the claim that 'cancelling' is about repercussions, Burgis emphasizes on the severe inefficiency of the fact that it virtually never creates any genuine tangible repercussions.


Instead of affirmative action and informed reparations towards such sensitive issues, the cancel-culture calls for outright removal of ‘problematic’ people from the mainstream, leading to their social exclusion. The woke-radical liberals, always on their toes of banishment, often do not keep in mind the differences in people’s lived experiences and social realities, and their resultant understanding of history, politics, and society. The feeling of alienation created within the cancelled individuals, in turn, makes them vulnerable to repressed vengeance and turns them into hateful ideologues. Of late, we witnessed a similar instance of JK Rowling getting cancelled on Twitter for her ‘transphobic’ views, which then led to the publishing of her new book ‘Troubled Blood’ - clearly reflecting her ideas of ‘not trusting a man in a dress.’


The concoction of Hinduphobia

In a turn of events, the Oxford incident evoked a series of Indian right-wing groups on social media accusing the western academia of its apparent ‘Hinduphobia’. Rashmi Samant has taken to her Instagram and Twitter profiles to advocate Hindu persecution and Hindu genocide, around the world. In her handles, one would find repeated mentions of the Kashmiri Pandits exodus and the mistreatment of Hindu minorities in Islamic-fundamentalist countries, often batting a blind eye to the same happening to Muslims within India itself. Unsurprisingly, under the Modi regime, it is not a rare sight; these dialogues of ‘othering’ and whataboutery are openly and widely channeled in the form of a Neo-Populist rhetoric.


To put the word in context, ‘Hinduphobia' is a contemporary rebranding of anti-Muslim biases that arose in the late colonial period and have taken shape in the current face of India's national politics. Conflict researcher and academic, Ashok Swain states that the common cultural politics of pain have reappeared with this term, surprisingly disguised in the liberal rhetoric of fear. The politically constructed myth of ‘'Hinduphobia' is not only being pushed to find a place in socio-political discourse, but it is also being leveraged as a red herring by politically vested organizations in India to protect the BJP administration from scrutiny of its increasing chauvinism (Swain, 2021).


Swain goes on to expound that many immigrants in the West experience discrimination in housing, education, and the job market. Hence, unfortunately, it is not unusual for a Hindu immigrant living in the West to feel discriminated against. However, the question is whether such perceived prejudice is due to being an immigrant in general or to being a Hindu in particular. The response is crucial in understanding the accuracy of this emerging claim about burgeoning Hinduphobia.

According to a significant study of Indian-Americans conducted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 2020 - while Indian-Americans have faced increasing hostility, it is also estimated that Latinos, LGBTQ+, Africans, women, and other Asians face greater discrimination than them. More significantly, Indian-Americans believe they are discriminated against largely because of their skin colour, rather than their faith.


Conclusion: spiral of contagious hate and propaganda

Three Oxford-based organisations released comments shortly following Rashmi's resignation, rejecting that Rashmi was forced to leave because of her nationality or religion, and termed this as a ‘misleading narrative.’ The Oxford India Society, HUMSoc - Oxford University Hindu Society, and the Oxford South Asian Society announced in a joint declaration that Samant's allegation about her withdrawal being a racist attack on her "undermines genuine experiences of racism among students at the University."

Nonetheless, there is little question that minorities are generally vulnerable to society's dominant population and voices. The voices of the margins must be safeguarded against discrimination, persecution, and hostility. In a world devoid of binaries, neither can we turn a blind eye to the problematic cancel culture that demonises third-world citizens via the anglo ‘woke' & progressive spectacle, nor can we succumb to other hate-peddling, majoritarian-ideologies and fabricated myths as forms of retribution. A nuanced understanding of our social realities cautions us to not fall prey to otherwise seductive stances which pose as modern-day moral puritanism. A timely and critical comprehension, thus, becomes extremely essential where we focus on reasoned analysis, and not a multiple narrative thread that connects all moral stances together without any paradox.

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