US student deaths upset Indians

The American Dream is inviting. Every year, thousands of Indians go to the United States to study.

But following back-to-back deaths of Indian students at colleges across the US, peers and parents have been asking: How safe is the country for Indians?

This year alone, seven students of both Indian and Indian-American origins have died, reported NBC News.

They were all male, 25 years and under. Two died by suicide, two died of overdoses, two were found dead after going missing, and one was beaten to death. These happened in states ranging from Connecticut to Indiana.

Indians in the US and abroad are anxious and looking for answers.

“It felt like a pattern, like, why was it another Indian kid?” said Virag Shah, 21, a junior at Purdue University in Indiana, where two of the seven deaths occurred. “It just felt traumatic.”

On Jan 28, the body of 19-year-old Neel Acharya was recovered on Purdue’s campus. Acharya had gone missing after a night out and was found dead the next morning. Coroners say a cause of death still hasn’t been determined.

Just over a week later, Purdue graduate student Sameer Kamath, 23, was found dead in the woods with a gunshot wound to the head. Medical examiners say he died of suicide on Feb 5.

On Feb 1, Shreyas Reddy Benigeri, a student at the Linder School of Business in Ohio, died. Authorities have ruled out foul play or a possibility of a hate crime in the case.

On Jan 15, the bodies of two Indian-origin students at Sacred Hearts University were discovered in their Hartford, Connecticut, residence, authorities said.

Dinesh Gattu, 22, and Sai Rakoti, 21, both suffered accidental overdoses involving fentanyl, according to the Connecticut chief medical examiner.

The most horrific death was that of Vivek Saini. A resident of Haryana, he died after he was brutally beaten in Georgia’s Lithonia on Jan 16.

The 25-year-old was pursuing an MBA and worked part-time at a convenience store that sheltered a homeless man, Julian Faulkner. Saini had reportedly given the man chips, water and even a jacket. On Jan 16, the student refused to give Faulkner free food, which led to the attack.

The 53-year-old assailant has been arrested.

“It doesn’t take a lot for these gruesome things to happen,” said Mr Pawan Dhingra, a professor of American studies at Amherst College in Massachusetts. “People will be like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this could have happened to my child, this could have happened to me. Is this really the place I want to go to for my higher education?’”

Four days after Saini’s death, the body of Indian-American freshman Akul Dhawan, 18, was found in sub-zero temperatures on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus.

He was reported missing by a friend after leaving their dorm at around 1.30am, and though campus police said they did an extensive search, his body was found 10 hours later by a passer-by, just 200 metres away from where he was last seen.

The autopsy suggested that he died from hypothermia, reported The Mint. However, his parents have filed a police report, accusing the university’s police department of negligence and inaction after Akul was reported missing.

“This is bizarre, that a kid was not found though he was less than a block away, sitting there, frozen to death,” his father Ish Dhawan reportedly said.

Statistics reveal that as many as 403 Indian students studying abroad have died since 2018. Of these 36, were reported in the US, The reasons include natural causes, accidents and medical conditions.

While studying in the US opens a window of new opportunities, safety is a growing concern. Prof Dhingra said that, while the campus might be a safe and happy place for minority students, a surrounding small town might not be.

“If you’re in rural Connecticut, or rural Indiana, that creates its own kind of concern,” he said. “‘Where do I feel safe?’”

Indo-Asian News Service

“It felt like a pattern, like, why was it another Indian kid? It just felt traumatic.”
Virag Shah, 21, a junior at Purdue University in Indiana, where two of the seven deaths occurred
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