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Indian students stranded in China

world Updated: May 21, 2008 01:15 IST
Reshma Patil
Reshma Patil
Hindustan Times
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Dozens of scared Indian medical students spending sleepless nights on the football ground of a university in Chengdu are desperate to return home. They fled their classrooms a week ago after China’s worst earthquake in 32 years struck the southwest Sichuan province.

“We are afraid, we are not safe here,” said a third-year Indian student native to Bihar, over the phone to Hindustan Times, from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. “There are 38 Indians in my batch, and more in the university. We want to go home,” he said, requesting anonymity fearing disciplinary action for speaking to the media.

On Tuesday, the death toll from the 8.0-magnitude earthquake that struck on May 12 was expected to top 50,000. Tens of thousands more are missing and at least five million people have been made homeless.

The students from Sichuan University said they were frightened of the aftershocks, of which nearly 160 of more than 4.0-magnitude had struck the region until Tuesday. Thousands have been sleeping in their cars or in open places.

Panic peaked on Monday night when authorities forecast a strong aftershock, leading to Chengdu citizens trying to flee the city.

The students said they want the Indian embassy in Beijing to speak with university officials to grant them leave to go home. They want their examinations rescheduled from June to late August. “We are not mentally prepared for the exams,” said a student. “Every time we return to the rooms, there is an aftershock and we run out.”

In Beijng, an Indian embassy official said Indians in Chengdu — including students — had told visiting officials that they were safe.

The official added that the embassy and the Indian consulate in southern Guangzhou would again contact the students to seek more details. He said the students would lose an academic year if they returned home. It wasn’t immediately clear how many Indians lived in Sichuan.

The students, who came to China attracted by its cheap medical education, said they had bought tents that were recently taken away when they were not around. “Tonight, we are applying Odomos to sleep on the open football ground,” said a third-year student who hails from West Bengal.