The Indian community in the U.S., particularly the university students, has been rocked by a series of tragedies. From shocking murders to unexplained deaths, the circumstances surrounding these events have left many unanswered questions, plunging the community into a state of uncertainty and grief.
Among the devastating losses this year are the brutal murder of Vivek Saini, the suicide of Sameer Kamath, the mysterious demise of Neel Acharya, and the tragic death of Akul Dhawan due to hypothermia.
Indian students in the U.S. agonised
Preeti Sinha, a student at the University of San Diego, has become very cautious of her surroundings after learning about these incidents. She feels that the level of caution depends on one’s location and the time of the day. “You always have to be situationally aware and surround yourself with people who feel safe to you,” she said. “I’m living in a very safe state compared to others. However, as an Indian student you cannot escape the racial slurs, no matter where you go. Just be aware of your surroundings,” Sinha added.
Adarsh Sharma, a student at the American University in Washington, DC, reflected on the dangers of living in urban areas and stressed the importance of making informed decisions to avoid risks.
"I used to know one of the students who died last month, and as a student at an American university in a dangerous area myself, I'm inclined to believe that most of these deaths are due to cold weather and hypothermia. The temperatures in the East are incredibly low right now. Not sure if this is the same, but I wouldn't be surprised,” he said.
Even though there is homelessness and violence in every major city, Sharma stated, "Universities themselves are generally very safe, and as long as you avoid making reckless decisions, nothing untoward is likely to happen." Sharma suggested that these news stories might aim to instil fear, but clarified, "Students don't live in a society where they are always in danger of being shot or called names based on their race."
Sense of threat among Indian students in the U.S.
"Does it happen? Yes. Is it unique to the U.S.? Also yes. But is it the norm? No, rather an unfortunate rarity," Sharma concluded. Atiya Qazi, a 26-year-old student at Chapman University, expressed deep shock at the increasing crimes, including hate crimes, affecting various communities, with students sometimes bearing the brunt of these incidents.
When asked about the sense of threat among Indian students in the U.S., Qazi said, "There is also increased crime in general around universities.”
Qazi believes that future incoming students must prioritise working on campus rather than off campus.
“Campus life is safer and within the confines of the university. If you work off campus, you are breaking your visa regulations, and second, you are exposed to nontrivial danger (especially in non-metropolitan places),” she added.
Students talk about their fears
Qazi acknowledged experiencing occasional fear when travelling alone, a sentiment shaped by their local environment.
"Given the country's poor gun control laws, the recent theft and robbery incidents during the winter break raise further security concerns," Qazi added.
The recent deaths at Purdue University, including those of Acharya and Kamath, have amplified concerns about campus safety.
Speaking anonymously, a student of Purdue University expressed shock and anxiety, raising concerns about the effectiveness of campus security. “Neel's passing has made me more concerned about campus safety. It scares me and makes me doubt the overall security procedures.”
These tragedies are not isolated incidents. In 2022, Varun Manish Chheda, a 20-year-old Indian-origin student at Purdue University, was murdered by a fellow student. Additionally, in January of this year, Gattu Dinesh and R Nikesh, both 22-year-old Telugu students, tragically died from carbon monoxide poisoning in their Connecticut residence
As investigations into these tragedies continue, Indian students in the U.S. are grappling with safety concerns and the need for greater support and vigilance to prevent further loss. The tragedies serve as a sobering reminder of the risks faced by international students and the importance of community solidarity in times of crisis.