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Diaspora body analyzes Indian student deaths, recommends preventive action

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE

As many as 11 students have lost their lives in the US under different circumstances since November last year. Now, a prominent diaspora body, the Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS) which has studied the deaths, is seeking preventive action from US authorities, universities, organizations, and the community.

FIIDS analyzed the causes of these incidents and found that they range from suspicious shootings/kidnapping, environmental deaths due to lack of safety knowledge (monoxide poisoning, hypothermia), mental issues triggering suicides, and even suspicious accidents to violent crimes. (list of student deaths below).

Education in the US is a dream come true for many of these students and families have much at stake when they send their child abroad, both emotionally and economically.  The spike in deaths of Indian and Indian-origin students in the US has sparked safety fears.

Currently an approximately 275,000 Indian-origin students in the US make for 25% of total foreign students bringing in $9 billion per year in terms of fees and expenses, according to the Open Doors Report. Khanderao Kand, Chief of Policies and Strategy, FIIDS analyzing the data, noted that these numbers could change owing to the alarming rise in deaths. “The recent increase in their (Indian Students in US) deaths is concerning and, if not addressed, would impact their confidence in the safety in of US universities, potentially impacting the inflow of students further.”

The FIIDS report suggested various recommendations to the Department of State, Department of Justice, Education Department, Universities, Student organizations as well as Indo-American community.

The report added that due to the sudden rise in deaths that are suspicious in nature, rumors are circulating around Indian American community about potential hate crimes especially as many deaths are clustered around east and mid-west Universities, e.g. Cleveland Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. Some of them fear that the hate crimes are fueled by negative propaganda against the community. Even though FIIDS did not find any conclusive facts to support the rumors, they may need to be investigated.

FIIDS is also launching a survey of Indian American students regarding their concerns and safety. Interested students of Indian origin are requested to complete the survey on the FIIDS website.

FIIDS Recommendations:

To address various safety and well-being concerns faced by international students, the following are some of the steps that should be taken proactively:

Enhancing Safety Education: Many foreign students might not be fully aware of the potential risks they may encounter in a new environment, such as extreme weather conditions or the prevalent crime rates in certain areas. Providing comprehensive safety education programs tailored to their needs can empower them to navigate their surroundings safely and make informed decisions about their well-being.

Improving Search and Rescue Procedures: Prompt response and effective search and rescue procedures are vital for ensuring the safety and well-being of students during emergencies or accidents. Enhancing these procedures can minimize response times and maximize the chances of positive outcomes in emergency situations, thereby safeguarding the lives of students.

Implementing Stricter Rules Against Fraternity Ragging: Hazing and fraternity ragging pose serious risks to students’ physical and mental health, leading to accidents, injuries, and trauma. Implementing stricter rules and regulations against such practices can help prevent these incidents and create a safer, more inclusive campus environment for all students.

Increasing Awareness of Risks and Safety: Many foreign students may be unfamiliar with the risks associated with living and studying in a new country, both on and off-campus. Increasing awareness of these risks and safety measures can empower students to take proactive steps to protect themselves and their peers from potential dangers, enhancing overall safety and well-being.

Providing Mental Health Support: Foreign students, particularly those facing isolation or cultural adjustment challenges, may be at higher risk of mental health issues. Providing accessible and culturally sensitive mental health support services can help address these challenges, ensuring students receive the support needed to thrive academically and personally.

Additionally, investigating any hate crimes or conspiracies against Indian-origin foreign students, based on their ethnicity or religion, is essential to ensure justice, protect the rights of affected students, and prevent further discrimination or violence against minority communities. By addressing these issues proactively, universities and relevant authorities can create a safer and more inclusive environment for all students, fostering a conducive learning environment where everyone can thrive.

To further strengthen the recommendations and ensure the safety and well-being of Indian-origin students in the United States, additional steps should be taken to address hate crimes and rumors of conspiracies targeting this community:

Universities:

Introduce orientation programs and resources on safety for international students newly admitted to their universities

Develop and implement comprehensive diversity and inclusion programs to promote tolerance and understanding among students from diverse backgrounds.

Establish support networks and resources for victims of hate crimes, providing counseling, legal assistance, and advocacy services.

Increase the budget for campus safety and security measures.

Department of State:

Collaborate with relevant agencies and foreign embassies to establish reporting mechanisms for hate crimes targeting Indian students.

Provide guidance and support to consulates and diplomatic missions to assist victims of hate crimes and ensure their rights are protected.

Department of Justice and FBI:

Form a dedicated task force to investigate hate crimes against Indian-origin students and communities, ensuring thorough and impartial investigations.

Enhance coordination with local law enforcement agencies to address hate crimes effectively and hold perpetrators accountable under existing laws.

Investigate any connections or similarities in the incidents leading to any possible campaign of hate crimes or conspiracy.

Foreign/Indian Students Organizations:

Collaborate with local advocacy groups and civil rights organizations to raise awareness about hate crimes and provide support to affected students.

Advocate for the introduction of cultural sensitivity training for campus security personnel and law enforcement officers.

Community Engagement:

Foster dialogue and collaboration between Indian-origin students, local communities, and law enforcement agencies to address concerns and build trust.

Organize community events and forums to promote solidarity and mutual support among students and residents of Indian descent.

Jointly all of above to Combat Misinformation:

Launch educational campaigns to debunk misinformation and promote accurate understanding of Indian culture, traditions, and religions.

Partner with media organizations, community leaders, and academic institutions to counter false narratives and stereotypes perpetuated against followers of Indian origin religions.

Provide resources and training to empower students and community members to identify and challenge misinformation in their social circles and online platforms.

Overall, these recommendations aim to create a safer and more supportive environment for foreign students studying in the United States, promoting their well-being and academic success.

FIIDS also has a comprehensive case-by-case summary detailing the tragic incidents, their potential causes and recommendations for future aversion listed on their website.

FIIDS, in its report has listed the names of the 11 students who died and analyzed the cause of their deaths.

On November 9, 2023, 26 year old Aaditya Adlakha a doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio was found shot in a car.

On Jan 20, 2024, UIUC University of Urbana-Champaign, Illinois student Akul Dhawan (Male 18) died very close to the university campus. Authorities conducted an autopsy, revealing no signs of significant trauma but indicating changes in Dhawan’s skin consistent with hypothermia, a chilling detail given the harsh weather conditions at the time.

On Jan 22, 2024, Vivek Saini (Male 25) was killed by a homeless man at Chevron Food Mart Cleveland Road in Lithonia, Georgia, where Vivek was working part time.

On Jan 28, 2024, Purdue University, Indiana student, Neel Acharya (male 19) was first reported missing and then found dead not far from the place where he was seen. An Uber driver had dropped him at the campus but then the student died due to asphyxia, with cold exposure and ethanol intoxication.

On Feb 1, 2024 Shreyas Reddy Beniger (male, 19), was discovered deceased in Cincinnati, Ohio, with speculation suggesting possible involvement of psychiatric concerns.

On Feb 4, 2024, Indian Student Syed Mazahir, In Chicago IL was attacked by robbers.  Ali survived. CCTV footage showed him being pursued by three of his attackers near his Chicago house.

On Feb 5, 2024, 23 year old Sameer Kamath post grad student at Purdue University was found dead from gunshot wound.

On Feb 27, 2024 St Louis, Boston, PhD student, Amaranth Ghosh, was shot dead in St Louis when he had gone for a walk/jog in an unknown area where a local drug peddler killed him with a gun.

On April 5, 2024 Uma Satya Sai Gadde in Cleveland, Ohio was reported as dead.

On April 8, 2024 Mohammed Abdul Arafat (Male 25) who had been missing since March 7th was found dead on April 8th in Cleveland, Ohio. Mohammed’s parents had received a ransom call on March 21 demanding $12,000. (Compilation: Dr. Lakshmi Thalanki (Boston).

India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar expressed concerns over the rising deaths of Indian students in the United States in Bengaluru on April 15, 2024. “Obviously, in every case, wherever anything unfortunate has happened to the students, it is of great tragedy for the family, and a big concern for us but…our embassy or consulate has looked at every case and they’re actually unconnected,” he said, adding that the embassies have been directed to keep in touch with the students and chat with them, and also warn them about dangerous areas of cities to avoid.

Cover photo credit: IANS

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