Who is Dr Abhijit Sarkar?
Dr Abhijit Sarkar is a British Academy Postdoctoral Researcher. Before joining the University of Oxford, he held full-time positions at the University of Exeter, and the University of St Andrews. Earlier, he was also awarded a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship at King’s College London (which he declined).
Why Abhijit Sarkar is in News?
The complaint has been accused against Abhijit Sarkar, a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University, of inciting hatred, bullying and harassment. British Police and Oxford University have begun an investigation into complaints about bullying faced by Indian student Rashmi Samant, who resigned from the position of President-elect of the Oxford University Student Union in February.
A complaint was filed with the Thames Valley Police by Satish Sharma, Managing Director of the global Hindu Federation, on behalf of Rashmi Samant. It accused Abhijit Sarkar, a postdoctoral history researcher at New College in Oxford University, of inciting religious hatred, bullying, and harassment.
The 22-year-old student made headlines in India when she became the first Indian female president-elect of the Oxford University Student Union. But soon after her election win, she was subjected to online bullying after she was accused of racism based on old social media posts. Rashmi apologised for her old social media posts in an open letter and asked for another chance to regain the student community’s trust. But when the calls for her resignation did not subside, she stepped down from her position and returned to her hometown in Udupi district of Karnataka.
In a social media post after her resignation, Rashmi said she stepped down after facing cyber bullying for her alleged racist posts. She also said that a member of Oxford University staff – Abhijit Sarkar – had insulted her and her family in public, and condemned the staff member for bringing her family’s religious background into the public domain. Abhijit Sarkar had put up an Instagram post about a month ago, where he posted a photo of Rashmi’s parents (after blurring out their faces) apparently “celebrating” the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and the foundation laying of the Ram Mandir on the site on August 5, 2020. He also went on to say that Rashmi comes from coastal Karnataka, which is “widely known in academic research on communalist politics as a bastion of Islamophobic forces.”
On Monday, three societies in Oxford University – Oxford India Society, Oxford University Hindu Society and Oxford South Asian Society – had stated that the calls for Rashmi’s resignation were due to her insensitive remarks about other minority groups and a refusal to accept responsibility for her actions. It also said that Rashmi’s comments following her resignation – that she was discriminated against on the basis of her Hindu identity – were feeding into a ‘Hindutva narrative’.
Rashmi is a student of MSc in Energy Systems at Oxford University and is continuing the rest of her semester online from India. Her case was also discussed in the Indian Parliament earlier this month when BJP MP Ashwini Vaishnav termed it a racist incident. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that the matter was being monitored closely by the Indian government and that it will be taken up with the United Kingdom when it is required.
Indian government on the incident
India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar on March 15 weighed in on the Oxford University racism row and noted that as a land of Mahatma Gandhi, “we can never turn our eyes away from racism”. Jaishankar’s remarks on Monday in Rajya Sabha came after a BJP leader raised the issue concerning Indian-origin Rashmi Samant, the first Indian woman to be elected as the President of Oxford University Students Union, who stepped down from the post following accusations and cyberbullying regarding her having made racist remarks when she wasn’t even a teenager.
Replying to the BJP leader, Jaishankar noted the “strong ties” with the UK and said that such matters are taken with “great candour when required”. He also said that the government will be monitoring the developments “very very closely.” EAM Jaishankar responded to Ashwini Vaishnav, a BJP Rajya Sabha MP from Odisha saying, “As the land of Mahatma Gandhi, we can never ever turn our eyes away from racism. Particularly so when it is in a country where we have such a large diaspora. We’ve strong ties with the UK. We’ll take up such matters with great candour when required.”
Social Media Reaction on this
Education and Obsevations
Abhijit Sarkar has obtained his doctorate from the University of Oxford where he was a Clarendon Scholar, and Vice-President for Academic Affairs of St Antony’s College GCR. he was also awarded full funding for PhD at the University of Cambridge, by the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust and Trinity College (which he declined to do my doctoral research at Oxford University). His thesis on the politics of food distribution and famine-relief won the Best Doctoral Thesis Award from the British International History Group, among the theses in international history submitted at all the UK universities.
Abhijit Sarkar was elected a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and also elected to the Postgraduate Membership of the Royal Historical Society. The UK government has granted him ‘Exceptional Talent’ residence.
So far, he has won research-funding of approximately a million pounds from prestigious funding bodies. He have acted as a peer-reviewer for the journal South Asian History and Culture (Routledge), and as a book reviewer for the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Cambridge University Press). He has presented my research at numerous prestigious universities, such as Stanford University, Columbia University, and the universities of Chicago, Vienna, Warsaw, St Andrews, Oxford, and Cambridge.
- Environmental histories of South Asia.
- Histories of medicine, science, and technology in South Asia.
- Histories of family planning and birth control in South Asia.
- Histories of humanitarianism and humanitarian relief works in South Asia.
- Histories of famines, famine-relief, and food in South Asia.
- Histories of Hindutva (Extreme Hindu Conservatism)
Abhijit Sarkar’s recent publications deal with a very wide range of themes in the history and anthropology of modern South Asia. His book on the politics of humanitarianism in the particular form of famine-relief, and the politics of food-austerity laws and rationing in India, is under book-contract signed with Routledge, forthcoming in 2021 (now available for pre-ordering).
Abhijit Sarkar’s article on how the Great Bengal Famine of 1943–1944 and relief activism during it fed the politics of the Hindu Mahasabha (a right-wing Hindu conservative party), is in press with the journal Modern Asian Studies, published by Cambridge University Press.
Abhijit Sarkar Specialism
- Cultural History
- Digital Humanities
- Economic & Social History
- Environmental History
- Gender History
- Global & Imperial History
- History of Science, Medicine & Technology
- Intellectual History
- Political History
- Race History
- War & Military History