7 deaths of Indian students in USA this year raises concerns for student safety

Police Safety in USA Campuses
Police Safety in USA Campuses

While USA remains the most popular destination for Indian students to study abroad, at least seven deaths of Indian or Indian-origin students in USA this year has raised concerns for student safety among the Indian Diaspora.

Sameer Kamath (Indiana)

Sameer Kamath 
Image: Sameer Kamath, Courtesy: X ((Twitter)

Sameer Kamath who was completing his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Purdue University, was found dead in a nature preserve on Monday evening (Feb 5), reported the Warren County Coroner’s office. Sameer was a US citizen and had completed his master’s degree in mechanical engineering in August 2023 from Purdue University, confirmed the coroner’s office. He is the second Indian-American student from Purdue University who died under mysterious circumstances in the last few weeks, after Neel Acharya (details below). Kamath's body was found at the Crow’s Grove Nature Preserve around 5 pm (local time) on Monday (Feb 5). Crow’s Grove Nature Preserve is part of the Niches Land Trust which is located at 3300 North Warren County Road 50 West, in Williamsport.

Shreyas Reddy Beninger (Ohio)

Shreyas Reddy    
Image: Shreyas Reddy Beninger, Courtesy: LinkedIn

Shreyas Reddy Benigeri, an Indian-origin graduate student at the Lindner School of Business, University of Cincinnati, was found dead in Ohio on Feb 1, 2024, as announced by the Consulate General of India in New York on Thursday. Shreyas was enrolled in a graduate programme in Business Statistics at Cincinnati's Lindner School of Business.

The Indian Consulate in NY posted a message on X (formerly Twitter) expressing its grief and offering assistance to the family of the deceased. The message read, “Deeply saddened by the unfortunate demise of Mr. Shreyas Reddy Benigeri, a student of Indian origin in Ohio. Police investigation is underway. At this stage, foul play is not suspected. Police investigation is underway. At this stage, foul play is not suspected.    

The Indian Consulate NY continues to remain in touch with the family and is extending all possible.

Neel Acharya (Indiana)

Neel Acharya   
Image: Neel Acharya, Courtesy: LinkedIn

Earlier that week, a 19-year-old Purdue student, Neel Acharya, who was reported missing, was found dead near the Purdue University Airport. Neel was a double major in computer science and data science in the John Martinson Honors College. Preliminary cause of death, toxicology and preliminary manner of death are pending. The coroner's office noted that there is no foul play suspected at this time as there were no trauma or significant injuries found during the autopsy. 

Goury Acharya, the mother of Neel Acharya, in a post on X on Monday, said: "Our son Neel Acharya has been missing since yesterday January 28 (12:30 AM EST) He is studying at Purdue University in the US. He was last seen by the Uber driver who dropped him off at Purdue University. We are looking for any info on him. Please help us if you know anything."

India's Consulate General in Chicago, said: "(The) Consulate is in touch with Purdue University authorities and also with Neel’s family. The consulate will extend all possible support and help." The exact reason for death is not known yet.

Vivek Saini (Georgia)

Vivek Saini   
Image: Vivek Saini, Courtesy: LinkedIn

While in Atlanta, Georgia, an Indian student, Vivek Saini, a 25-year-old Indian student who recently earned an MBA degree in the US was killed in Lithonia, Georgia by a homeless person whom he had been helping for a couple of days. The drug addict, namely Julian Faulkner, attacked him and eventually killed him. 

The attack was recorded, showing the attacker hitting Vivek Saini around 50 times with a hammer. Saini worked part-time at a store and had been kind to the attacker, giving him food, drink and a jacket. 

Vivek came to the US two years back. His family in Haryana is devastated at this loss.

The Indian Consulate in Atlanta is deeply upset about the violent attack that led to the death of Indian student Vivek Saini in the US. It strongly condemned the “heinous" act.

Akul Dhawan (Illinois)

Akul Dhawan   
Image: Akul Dhawan, Courtesy: LinkedIn

On Jan 20, 2024, an Indian-American student named Akul Dhawan was found dead outside the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).The initial findings of the autopsy suggested he died from hypothermia, according to the Champaign County Coroner. An autopsy was performed today, January 23, 2024, and the preliminary findings showed no evidence of significant trauma. There was evidence of hypothermic skin changes. Akul’s father criticized the police for inaction.

Dhawan was reported missing by friends to campus police around 1:30 am on January 20. He was a freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Later UIUC Police reported that there was no foul play believed to be involved in Akul Dhawan's death and that the death appears to be accidental at this stage of the investigation.

Nikesh and G. Dinesh (Connecticut)

G Dinesh   
Image: G. Dinesh (left)

On January 15, 2024, two Indian students were found dead under suspicious conditions at their Connecticut accommodation. G Dinesh (22) was from Wanaparthy in Telangana and Nikesh (21) was from Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh. The cause of the death later was found to be due to carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a room heater. On a cold Saturday night, the two students, along with another roommate, used the heaters to keep warm. Tragically, Nikesh and Dinesh did not emerge from their room on Sunday.

Indian Student Deaths in 2023

In 2023, we witnessed two shocking cases of deaths of two Indian students – 24-year-old Varun Raj Pucha and a 23-year-old Indian woman, Jaahnavi Kandula. 

Varun Raj Pucha was stabbed with a knife by 24-year-old Jordan Andrade at a public gym in Indiana’s Valparaiso city on 29 October, 2023. The assailant, Jordan Andrade, said he considered the man a ‘threat’ and ‘just reacted’ by putting the knife into his head.  Varun Raj Pucha, who was a Computer Science student at Valparaiso University.

Varun Raj Pucha   
Image: Varun Raj Pucha, Courtesy: X (Twitter)

Varun was attacked at a fitness center in Indiana with a knife by a fellow gym-goer who found “him weird”. 

Earlier last year on Jan 23, 2023, Jaahnavi Kandula, an Indian student, was killed in Seattle after she was hit by a speeding police vehicle in January. Later, a video has emerged of an officer mocking her death, triggering massive outrage. India later demanded a probe into the incident. In September last year, India called for a probe into this matter.

Jaahnavi Kandula   
Image: Mourning for Jaahnavi Kandula

Northeastern's chancellor and senior vice president of learning, Kenneth Henderson, said Thursday that the "callous and insensitive remarks" by the police officer has reopened wounds and deepened the collective heartbreak since becoming public.


A post shared by @northeastern

The deaths of Indian students in USA continue to create concern among the Indian student and parents community back home in India and among the Indian Diaspora. 

While murders were down 12.8% across more than 175 cities in USA in 2023, safety continues to remain a concern in the Indian student community.

Statistics reveal that as many as 403 Indian students studying abroad have died since 2018. Of these 36 were reported in USA, the Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs V Muraleedharan told the Rajya Sabha in December 2023. The reasons include natural causes, accidents and medical conditions.

A study from 2017 showed that Indian students in the US have a “high level of concern” and a large number of them worry about their physical safety and about the feeling of being unwelcome.

The survey conducted by The Institute of International Education (IIE), a US-based non-profit, suggested that Indian students “have a high level of concern about potential study in the United States, 80 per cent of institutions responded that physical safety was the most pronounced concern for Indian students, while 31 per cent of institutions indicated that feeling welcome was also a concern”.

For those, who have been brought up in the US, the discrimination begins from school. Young Indian Americans regularly face racial and ethnic discrimination as early as preschool, which influences the development of their identities, said another new study from 2022.

Second-generation Indian-American adolescents are “especially vulnerable to discrimination as they explore and form their identities”, according to the study by Texas A&M University School of Public Health.

While some cases of student death have been case of violence as with Vivek Saini, some cases of police negligence as with the case of Jaahnavi Kandula, in other cases, reasons of have been unknown or have been unfortunate circumstances such as carbon monoxide poisoning as with the case of Nikesh and G. Dinesh.

The Indian Diaspora is saddened by a rise in deaths of Indian students this year and urges authorities to continue to protect students in the community, for many of whom, USA may be a new environment far away from home.

Courtesy: NDTV YouTube



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