Campus violence worries Indian students in US

Updated on Feb 18, 2008 11:31 AM IST

Random acts of violence at US campuses and murder of 3 Indian students in past few months trigger deep sense of insecurity among the Indian student community here.

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IANS | ByParveen Chopra, New York

Frequent gun rampages on the US campuses and murder of three Indian students in the past couple of months has worried the 80,000-strong Indian student community in this country even as they believe it to be a social phenomenon that you have to take in your stride.

The students, IANS spoke to following the shootout in Northern Illinois University (NIU) near Chicago Thursday that left seven dead, want improved security on campuses. But they do not think that will stop these random acts of violence. Nor do they believe that the Indian students are being specially targeted or are subject of hate crimes.

Two Indian doctoral students, Kiran Kumar Allam and Chandrasekhar Reddy Komma, were murdered in Louisiana State University (LSU), Baton Rouge, in December while Abhijit Mahato was killed in Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, last month.

Police have made one arrest in Mahato's case, thought to be a victim of robbery, while there has been no clue to the killer or his motive in the LSU case.

Ravi Tej Kavalipati, president of the Indian Student Association at LSU, said there was no evidence so far to suggest Allam and Reddy were killed because they were Indian. "They just happened to fall victim, it could have been anyone else," he believed.

Kavalipati, who is pursuing a Masters in systems science, said Indian students are feeling a little insecure after the NIU and other campus shootings, but not overly so because all such incidents seem to lack apparent motive. "Nothing can stop a psycho from random acts of violence," he said.

Yet, university authorities have to improve security, which is their responsibility, to at least prevent muggings and robberies, he said. The Indian students he represents have submitted a petition to the LSU authorities asking for surveillance cameras, security gates and fencing in certain areas.

He said keeping guns may be a constitutional right in the US, but you cannot carry guns on campus.

Rinkie Kapoor, doing her PhD in chemistry from the Northwestern University in Chicago, said violence in educational institutions is unacceptable, but security arrangements are not an issue.

"Increasing security is not going to affect the mental state of the perpetrator, who may have work pressures or family or girlfriend issue," she argued.

She does not think campus shootings will affect the Indian students' flow to the US. She pointed to the trend spreading lately to India, with a couple of reported cases of shooting deaths, that too in schools.

Pervasiveness of violence in the US, though, worries Rachna Chopra, who is studying for her Masters in anthropology at the California State University in Los Angeles. She once witnessed a shootout in the city. "It shook me," she recalled. Earlier, studying in Hawaii University she noticed gangs operating and felt "not so safe".

Pranjal Mahna, who earned his MBA from University of Southern California in 2006 and now works for a mobile company in Los Angeles, said rising incidence of campus shootings is not healthy, but it seems to be part of a cultural or social phenomenon here. "Once I got mugged a few blocks from the campus," he said. He is, however, all praise for the university police, which were very helpful.

The wider student community and authorities echo the sentiments expressed by the Indian students.

Since the Virginia Tech massacre early last year that killed over 30 students and faculty, patrolling has been beefed up at some campuses, and most universities have emergency notification procedures in place.

But unless colleges, which are often spread over many acres with scores of buildings, are willing to turn themselves into armed camps, they're helpless against these kinds of attacks.

As NIU police chief Donald Grady said, there is no foolproof way to prevent such attacks.

"I wish I could tell you that there was a panacea for this kind of a thing, but you've noticed that there's been multiple shootings all over this country within the past six months," Grady said. "It's a horrible circumstance, and as much as we do it's unlikely that anyone would ever have the ability to stop an incident like this from beginning."

The NIU shooting is the fourth such incident to rock US educational institutions within a week. On February 8, a woman shot dead two fellow students before committing suicide at the Louisiana Technical College. In Memphis, a 17-year-old allegedly shot and critically wounded a fellow student February 11 while the 15-year-old victim of a shooting at a California junior high school has been declared brain dead.

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