Indian students attacked in US
Indian students attacked in US
* Hate crime charges filed against three students
WASHINGTON: Three Indian students at the University of Massachusetts were assaulted in what police said was a hate crime apparently sparked by anti-West Asia feelings.
The incident took place a few days ago in Lowell, where the university is located. The three students were walking to campus when a van pulled up and two men and a woman began shouting slurs about Osama bin Laden.
At one point, the assailants got out of the van, forced the students to kneel and kicked and beat them. The three, all of whom have been in the US only a few weeks, were not seriously injured, but the attack left them shaken.
To show support for the victims, who were not identified, around 300 students and community leaders met at the university’s Cumnock Hall in Lowell. Many of those gathered spoke against hate crimes and stereotyping of people from diverse nations. They felt that the university should hold lessons in diversity to familiarise others about students coming from different parts of the world.
“The incident that brings us together is appalling and unfortunate, but not surprising,” said Ravi Sakhuja, of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, which sponsored the event. “I have lived here for 35 years and not until September 11 did I ever feel my personal safety was at stake.” Sakhuja quoted FBI statistics to show how hate crimes have risen 1,600 per cent since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to a news report. “Policy-makers in this country need to find a way to keep minorities safe,” he added.
The three students’ complaint led police to arrest John P Cullinan, 17, and he has been charged with felony assault charges, and felony hate crime charges are being pursued, according to Lowell Police Superintendent Edward Davis III. Because it is a hate crime, Davis said, Attorney General Thomas Reilly’s office is involved in the investigation and the case will be going to a grand jury.
He also said that a female suspect has been identified and is facing similar charges, and police have tentatively identified a second male suspect.
“The suspects all have criminal records and are well-known by the Lowell police to be violent people,” Davis told the gathering. “They will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I assure you, this will be pursued aggressively.” The speakers at the meeting agreed that education and understanding are the only means to fight the kind of ignorance that led to the assault.
“No one is born prejudiced, it is learned and it can be unlearned,” said attorney Neil Sherring, an Indian American Forum member and former assistant Massachusetts attorney general. Krishna Vedula, the university’s dean of engineering, suggested that a taskforce be formed to educate the community about hate crimes. He said such a multicultural taskforce could serve as a model for the rest of the country.
One of the barriers to unity at the university is the lack of communication between different ethnic and racial groups, said Bobby Tugbiyele, president of the Association of Students of African Origin at University of Massachusetts.
State Senator Steve Panagiotakos reminded the audience that all US citizens are in effect immigrants and applauded the Indian community’s contributions to this country.
“Three hundred years ago this was a wilderness. Two hundred years ago it was just a band of rebels, but today this country sets the agenda for the world,” said the Lowell Democrat.
“We all are immigrants who came here for a better life and we must stand up and not let ignorance and hatred ruin the community.”
US Representative Marty Meehan said he is pushing for a vote in Congress on a hate-crime bill that would give local law enforcement technical, forensic and prosecutorial assistance from the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. —HT