Following the murders of three Indian students in US campuses in the last five weeks, Naresh Rammohan, a self-confessed “first generation ABCD” and a student of New York’s Syracuse University, is rather disturbed. “I feel very insecure at the moment with the recent tragedies, and I know my parents surely worry more than I do,” says the member of Syracuse’s South Asian Students’ Association. He adds, “The Louisiana slayings in December opened my eyes. I admit that even in this day and age, people of color, in general, may be the targets for heinous crimes.”
Abhijeet Mahato, a 29-year-old PhD student at Duke University, was found shot dead late last week. Duke university authorities have said there is no evidence of the murder being racially motivated. In December 2007, two Indian doctoral students were found gunned down in a Louisiana State University (LSU) campus apartment. The LSU case remains unsolved, though it’s widely believed to have been a race-based hate crime.
An estimated 80,000 Indian students study annually in the US -- the largest number from any country. Naresh’s sense of shock resonates with a large number of these students. “The Indian community at MIT is shocked to hear about the recent violent crimes against graduate students of Indian origin. We are closely following the events at Duke and LSU and are very concerned that they might be hate crimes against Indians,” Aditya Undurti, president, Sangam, an Indian students’ association at MIT, told the Hindustan Times. “We have great trust that the city of Cambridge and MIT are taking all precautions necessary to ensure the safety of all students, including those of Indian origin,” he says.
At Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, the recent killings have brought alive memories of the bloody carnage last year, that claimed 32 lives – two of Indians. “Abhijeet Mahato’s killing has shocked everyone in the US, especially the Indian community because we are a peace-loving community, rarely involved in hate crimes,” says Rohit Rangnekar, president, Indian Students Association, Virginia Tech. He adds, “As of now, the US universities are as safe for Indians as any other community, but we pray that such incidents do not occur in the future.”
LSU’s Indian Student Association -- still recovering from the December 2007 killings of two fellow Indians -- is planning to write petitions to the governor, consulate and chancellors to ensure justice and prevent such mishaps. “People are calling for some serious action against such incidents,” says Ravi Tej Kavalipati, the association’s president.
But not all Indian students see the recent murders as a case of the Indian community being targeted. Sujit Nair of Caltech’s Organization of the Associated Students of the Indian Subcontinent sees Abhijeet’s murder as “another unfortunate innocent death.” He says, “Every year, there are around 12,000 firearm homicide cases in the USA.” An Indian doctoral student at Columbia university, who doesn’t want to come on record, echoes him: “It’s not like Indians are getting shot at because we are brown and smart and jobs are being outsourced to us. One should be scared in as much as one is susceptible to gun violence.”