Sunday, April 22, 2012


A 24 year old Indian student was shot dead near the Boston University in USA early on the 19th April. He was a grad student from Odisha, nearing completion of his degree at the University’s School of Management. As the news went live on transcontinental wires, my thoughts flew to his parents and the excruciating process they would have been through to send their son to Boston, in the first place.

With news of the tragedy all over the TV screens, it would have been tempting to view it as an isolated case, but for the fact that in the recent past, there have been similar reports involving violence with students of Indian origin on American campuses. Is there a pattern, a trending of any nature, one is compelled to wonder? Nothing in the cyber space or on the electronic and print media seems to suggest any specific thrust to these unfortunate incidents thus far. One waits and watches, more so if your child also happens to be living and studying in that part of the globe where these knells issue from.

During the international parents’ orientation at Princeton University on 31Aug 2011, security came up informally but strongly over interaction and tea. My Romanian student volunteer described the campus in terms of being an orange bubble that most students rarely stepped out of in the typical term. She also assured me that the open driveways and walking paths were covered with cameras. The most they had received email alerts about were raccoons in the extensive foliage!  She furrowed her brow and surmised that indeed there had been a warning over a strange man of eighty five years, having been sighted on the leafy campus but she was quick to add that she could easily have outrun this dinosaur, in the unlikely event of any encounter happening.

I summoned my impressions of the campus as I sat watching news of the Boston University tragedy on NDTV. There were trees, plenty of ivy growing on ancient walls around Princeton’s historic grounds; the six residential colleges were spread out on a 500 acre campus. Two things had struck me over those three days of being on campus. There were bubbles within bubbles, students moved in tightish clumps, seemingly oblivious to others around them although, I remember seeing cheerful, chatty gatherings as well. The front doors of the residential spaces made an impression on me for appearing to be sound, air and water proof, they did shut with quite a clanky, heavy and final sounding click.

In the evening, we were with her on Skype. The connection was poor and I struggled to keep the rising panic down as her flickering image and shaky voice ebbed in and out. There was an urge to bring up security concerns but a decision was taken to touch upon it via email. It is anyway a standard question and she has consistently maintained that she has not felt threatened in any manner whatsoever. In fact, in her nine months living in Serbia and moving around Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia, she said she had felt safer than she did back home in India!

There has been a dramatic increase in the percentage of Indian students on American campuses from 1 to 3 % to nearly 13% now. There are bound to be concerns. 

Is there a gun culture on American campuses, for one? Does the recent global economic shift lend itself to a social pathology? Do the Indian students go well prepared to take care of themselves in spaces that are obviously challenging them in risky ways? 

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