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Indian students in US universities ‘scared to travel alone’ as 2 die in a week

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Vivek Saini‘s murder, Sameer Kamath‘s suicide, Akul Dhawan’s death due to hypothermia and Neel Acharya‘s mysterious demise in the States are a few names on the list of deaths of Indian students in the US.

According to a report by Hindustan Times, in the aftermath of the recent deaths, Indian students studying in the US said they always have to be situationally aware and have felt scared to travel alone.

Kajari Saha, 28, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, told HT that she felt a “sense of alienation” after learning about the incidents. “You always have to be situationally aware and surround yourself with people who feel safe to you. I live in California, a very liberal state compared to others. However, there is a bit of racial profiling, no matter where you go.”

“Although I am mostly surrounded by friends, I can imagine how threatening it must feel for someone who lives by themselves and in the vicinity of where these incidents happened,” she told HT.

Referring to the murder of Vivek Saini, an MBA student in Georgia’s Lithonia, Anukta Datta, 28, also from the University of California, Santa Barbara, told HT that over the past year, criminal incidents, including hate crime, have grown.

“I first came across the news on X and it shook me to the core. I think over the past year, there has been a growing number of crimes, including some hate crimes, among different communities and unfortunately, sometimes students are on the receiving end of it,” she said.

Saini was brutally attacked and killed by a homeless man named Julian Faulkner. The gut-wrenching incident was caught on camera. Faulkner reportedly hit Saini about 50 times on the head with a hammer. The incident took place at the Chevron Food Mart at Snapfinger and Cleveland Road.

Datta, on being asked by HT whether Indian students in the US have reasons to feel threatened, said that these incidents can be very worrying for Indian students, mostly based on where they live and their surrounding community.

“Having lived in Michigan and California over the last six years, I think this is very subjective. Although Ann Arbor is a very buzzing and rather safe college town in the Midwest, there were still occasions when I felt scared to travel alone. These incidents can be very worrying for Indian students, mostly based on where they live and their surrounding community.”

Datta told HT that Southern California appeared to be a relatively safer place for her. “However, over the course of the last winter break, we did get some news about sporadic thefts and robberies here, which did take me aback,” she said, adding that “there is an added concern about security given the not-so-stringent gun control laws in the country.”

In another incident, Indian student Akul Dhawan was found dead outside the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in January. His father later criticised the police for inaction. The initial findings of the autopsy suggested he died from hypothermia, according to the Champaign County Coroner.

Aritra Basu, 29, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst said these recent deaths are terrible and somewhat scary. “However, these incidents are not necessarily connected by a common thread, apart from a gradually worsening social climate.”

He told HT that he doesn’t really think Indian students in particular are being targeted or are victims of hate crimes on a wide scale. “But I do feel threatened when I read reports of increasing gun violence and white supremacist political movements. Increasing socio-economic inequality has spillover effects too.”

Basu added that many international students face difficulties of different kinds in the US. “I personally know students in multiple campuses, including UMass, who have been targeted within campus and beyond for participating in non-violent and democratic protests against Israel recently,” he said.

In just a month of 2024, two Indian students at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, lost their lives too. Neel Acharya, a student who went missing for days, was later found dead on the Purdue campus. An autopsy revealed that there were no signs of trauma on his body. The cause and manner of death are still under investigation.

Indian-origin doctoral student Sameer Kamath, who studied at Purdue University too, was found dead at a nature preserve this week. The 23-year-old reportedly died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

A student at Purdue University expressed his fear, telling HT on condition of anonymity that Neel’s death has heightened his sense of concern about safety on campus. “It sent a wave of disbelief and concern among the Indian student community. Neel’s death, especially, makes me question the overall security measures and prompts us to consider what more can be done to ensure the well-being of students.”

The demises of Acharya and Kamath are not the only ones that have shaken Purdue University. In 2022, a 20-year-old Indian-origin student, Varun Manish Chheda, was murdered by his 22-year-old Korean roommate Ji Min ‘Jimmy’ Sha, who was later arrested.

In January this year, two 22-year-old Telugu students were found dead in their room in Hartford town of Connecticut.

Gattu Dinesh from Telangana’s Wanaparthy district, and R Nikesh from Palakonda of Parvathipuram Manyam district, were found dead on January 14 after inhaling carbon monoxide emitted by a room heater.

Jaahnavi Kandula, who lost her life last year after being hit by a police cruiser is also among other recent deaths of Indian students in the US. A Seattle PD union leader was later heard on body camera footage saying her life had “limited value” and the city should “write a check.”

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Published: 08 Feb 2024, 04:18 PM IST

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