External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar in the Rajya Sabha on Monday. (ANI)
External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar in the Rajya Sabha on Monday. (ANI)

India will take up incidents of racism with UK, says S Jaishankar

  • External affairs minister S Jaishankar was responding to the BJP's Rajya Sabha MP Ashwini Vaishnaw, who contended that racism and cyber-bullying forced Rashmi Samant, the first Indian woman elected president of the Oxford University Student Union, to quit her post.
By Rezaul H Laskar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 15, 2021 06:42 PM IST

India will take up incidents of racism in the UK with the British government, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Monday against the backdrop of strains caused by a debate on the farmers’ protest in the British Parliament.

Jaishankar made the remarks while responding to concerns raised in Rajya Sabha by BJP lawmaker Ashwini Vaishnaw, who contended that racism and cyber-bullying forced Rashmi Samant, the first Indian woman elected president of the Oxford University Student Union, to quit her post.

“What I do want to say is that we have strong ties with the UK, we will take up such matters with great candour when required. We will monitor these developments very, very closely,” he said in his response after Vaishnaw brought up the matter through a zero hour mention.

“We will raise it when required and we will always champion the fight against racism and other forms of intolerance,” Jaishankar said.

He further said: “I do want to say that as the land of Mahatma Gandhi, we can never ever turn our eyes away from racism, wherever it is, particularly when it is in a country where we have such a large diaspora. As a friend of the UK, we also have concerns about its reputational impact.”

Vaishnaw also referred to the issue of alleged racism within the UK royal family that was brought up in a recent interview by Meghan Markle, the wife of Prince Harry. Noting that the behaviour of a society is a reflection of its beliefs and value systems, Vaishnaw said: “If such practices of racial discrimination are followed at the highest level in a society, what would be the following at the lower levels?”

He also contended migrants were poorly treated and segregated in the UK and this was a matter of concern in India because of the large diaspora in Britain. Vaishnaw also claimed a recent report had said the death rate among people of Asian origin because of Covid-19 was higher than the death rate of other communities in the UK.

Samant quit as president of the Oxford University Student Union after the emergence of old social media posts that were deemed to be “racist” and “insensitive” by groups representing Asian and Jewish students. She also upset others by comparing imperialist Cecil Rhodes to Adolf Hitler in a Student Union debate and separating “women” and “transwomen” in an Instagram caption.

She initially offered an apology for the social media posts, some dating back to 2017, but later stepped down as president-elect after facing continued criticism. Since returning to India, Samant has claimed she was unfairly targeted.

The remarks in Rajya Sabha came about a week after the foreign secretary summoned British envoy Alex Ellis to protest against what it said was an “unwarranted and tendentious” debate in the UK Parliament that saw lawmakers criticise the Indian government’s handling of the farmers’ protest.

The debate was held in response to a public petition that garnered more than 115,000 signatures, and saw Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democratic and Scottish National Party lawmakers calling on the Boris Johnson government to raise their concerns about the handling of the protest and media freedoms with the Indian government.

Most of the British MPs who joined the debate acknowledged India’s agricultural reforms were a domestic matter but noted their constituents had strong links with India’s farm sector and were upset by what they described as the use of force against protesting farmers.

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