Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Insecurity grips Indian students in US

By Ashish Kumar Sen

Photograph of Kiran Kumar Allam, third from top, with friends
Mr Allam (third from top) was a post graduate student

Four Indian students have been killed at US universities in a span of less than a year.

The violent deaths, a small part of the growing number of campus casualties, have shocked students across the country and raised questions about their safety.

The string of deaths started with the 16 April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Minal Panchal, a master's student from Mumbai, was among 32 people killed by Seung-Hui Cho; so was GV Loganathan, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who was originally from India.

On 13 December, two Louisiana State University (LSU) graduate students - Chandrasekhar Reddy Komma and Kiran Kumar Allam - were found murdered in an apartment on campus in Baton Rouge.


Ravi Tej Kavalipati, president of the Indian Students' Association at LSU, says the Indian student body was gripped by a sense of insecurity after the double homicide.

"The worrying thing is that the incident happened in a part of the campus where families live," says Mr Kavalipati, who advised Indian students to travel in groups for their safety.

Mr Allam's grieving family in Hyderabad, India
The students' deaths have shocked their families in India

A little more than a month later, the bullet-riddled body of Abhijit Mahato, 29, a student at Duke University in North Carolina, was found inside his apartment on 18 January.

Mahato's friends told the BBC that they are still struggling to come to terms with their loss.

The 1 March death of Akkaldelvi Srinivas, a medical student in Pennsylvania, was later ruled a suicide.

Vinay Hariharan, a master's student at Georgia Institute of Technology, says Indian students are "definitely worried by these incidents, specially after the LSU shootings".

He says more students are opting to live on campus since off-campus accommodation is considered unsafe in Atlanta.

Shootings that left six students, including the gunman, dead at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb on 14 February shocked NIU master's student Ravi Kiran.

"Things like this don't happen in India," says Mr Kiran.


But Dr Promod Vohra, associate dean of NIU's college of engineering, which has many Indian students, says he did not sense any insecurity among his students after the shootings.

But Dr Vohra is concerned about the safety of his students. "No one can predict when someone will do something drastic," he says.

Indian embassy spokesman Rahul Chhabra says the community is not being targeted and describes the deaths as "unfortunate coincidences".

Indian students in US at a memorial service
The violent deaths have made Indian students feel insecure

"The fact that Indians have become targets is a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," says Mr Kiran of NIU.

Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is a group which supports the right of properly licensed individuals to carry concealed handguns on college campuses.

The group's media coordinator, W Scott Lewis, thinks this "will take the advantage away from dangerous individuals who have no regard for state law or school policy".

Mr Lewis says there is a general consensus that the spike in campus shootings is attributable to a wide variety of social factors.

He says campuses can be made safer by embracing a range of safety measures, "including teaching students and faculty to watch for the warning signs of mental illness, developing campus alert systems, training first responders to deal with active shooter scenarios, and allowing the same trained, licensed individuals who carry concealed handguns in most other unsecured locations, without incident, to carry concealed handguns on college campuses."

'Not aware'

At the University of New Mexico, Indian students were terrorised for more than six months by a man who physically attacked and verbally abused them.

Those incidents stopped recently with the arrest of a suspect.

Krishnaprasad Sarkar, a master's student at the university, worries that students are not aware of what steps to take to improve their personal security.

LSU campus
Questions are being raised about safety on the campus

"After every shooting people express their concerns. I also get a lot of e-mails from worried students," he says.

Indian students have stuck even closer together because of the shootings and their associations have seen their numbers swell.

"We are more like a family now," Mr Sarkar says.

Since the shootings at NIU, Mr Kiran has been inundated with phone calls from his friends in India who are having second thoughts about applying to the university.

But, he predicts, the shootings will not affect admissions.

Stray incident

Indeed, Indian students continue to flock to US universities.

A recent Open Doors report, published annually by the Institute of International Education with support from the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, found that India sent the maximum number of students to the US in 2006-07.

Indian students grew by 10% to 83,833. This was the sixth consecutive year that India sent the most students to the US.

Sreeja Nair, a graduate student at Virginia Tech, describes the April massacre as a stray incident.

Admitting students were stunned by the shootings, Ms Nair says she and her friends talk about campus safety every time they hear of a campus shooting.

"The general consensus is that we are lucky to be here in this safe and welcoming town," Ms Nair says, adding with a laugh, "the only complaint is our course load!"

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