Indian students’ deaths in US raise alarms and questions

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Indian community stunned by a spate of student deaths in US colleges.

NEW YORK, Feb 15: A series of tragic deaths among Indian students studying in colleges across the United States has left the South Asian community deeply unsettled, prompting concerns among peers and parents alike.

In the year 2024 alone, seven students of Indian or Indian American origin have lost their lives under various circumstances, including suicides, overdoses, and violent incidents, as reported by police records spanning from Connecticut to Indiana.

“It felt like a pattern, like, why was it another Indian kid?” expressed Virag Shah, the president of Purdue University’s Indian Students Association. “It just felt traumatic.”

The string of fatalities began on January 28th when the body of 19-year-old Neel Acharya was discovered on Purdue’s campus. Just over a week later, Purdue graduate student Sameer Kamath, 23, was found deceased in nearby woods, having died by suicide.

These incidents follow a high-profile case in October 2022 when Varun Manish Chheda, 20, was fatally stabbed by his roommate at Purdue. In December 2023, the alleged assailant, Ji Min Sha, was deemed incompetent to stand trial.

The tragic occurrences have alarmed experts, especially given the concentration of fatal incidents involving young Indian men within the first few weeks of the year. The deaths include those of Dinesh Gattu, 22, and Sai Rakoti, 21, who died from accidental overdoses involving fentanyl at Sacred Hearts University in Connecticut.

“A kid can die in this day and age right on the university campus,” lamented Ish Dhawan, the father of Akul Dhawan, an 18-year-old freshman whose body was found on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus after he went missing.

The recent death of 19-year-old Shreyas Reddy Beniger at the University of Cincinnati further compounds concerns about student safety.

“It’s just tragic,” remarked Pawan Dhingra, a professor of American studies at Amherst College. “You start to wonder, is this still the right pathway?”

Experts note the significant pressure faced by international students, particularly young Indian men, in navigating academic expectations, career aspirations, and mental health challenges while studying abroad.

“Everything is always driven by competition,” explained Shah, emphasizing the toll it can take on mental well-being.

While universities strive to provide safe environments for their students, limitations exist, especially in surrounding areas where safety may be less assured.

For families in India, an American education has long been viewed as a pathway to success. However, rising concerns about student safety and well-being have led some to question whether the sacrifices are worth it.

Headlines in Indian media reflect these anxieties, with questions raised about the safety of Indian students in the US. Despite this, the allure of an American education remains strong, but individual families may reconsider their options in pursuit of safer alternatives.

“Indians can go elsewhere for education,” noted Dhingra. “There are other places that are safer … and people know that, that’s not a secret.”

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