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Dreams, Promising Careers to Abrupt Death!

Harsh realities faced by Indian students seeking opportunities in US, Europe, UK & Australia need immediate recognition with comprehensive solutions

Rohan Giri

Shocking murder of Chirag Antil, 24-year-old student in Vancouver, Canada brings to fore pressing concerns that overseas students in particular from India faced while studying abroad.

Chirag’s murder is not a singular instance. It’s culmination of several other such cases.  It should be seen in light of the troubling trend of violence that impacts students who travel to several countries across geographies for education, leisure, work and business apart from leisure. A string of murders or deaths that were reported by media houses from different countries prompts immediate concerns about the adequacy of safety and protection measures for these expatriates.

Since beginning of 2024, more than eleven Indian students in United States alone have tragically died, either as victims of murder or under suspicious circumstances. Chirag’s case follows an unsettlingly recognizable pattern: like most such occurrences, police investigations continue without capturing any of the perpetrators.

US and Canadian authorities and media outlets till now have viewed many of these incidents as part of crime statistics and road rage. But, it’s important to recognize that each of these incidents signifies a profound and tragic loss for the families who have endured loss of their children.

Chirag, hailed from Sonipat, Haryana, aspired to continue his studies in Canada. But, abrupt end to his life casts a long shadow over safety and wellbeing of our youngsters in these self-proclaimed advanced societies and nations. The response—or lack thereof—from local authorities, as well as perceived indifference, can exacerbate the family’s trauma. According to Chirag’s brother, Romit, communication from Canadian police has been minimal leaving the family to grapple for answers and support.

Chirag’s murder has till date not been directly linked to targeted killing, but it is important to recognize the general threat perception for Indian diaspora in certain regions including threats from extremist groups.

 Khalistani extremist activity has been of significant concern in parts of Canada apart from US, European cities and UK. These extremist elements have had targeted persons of Indian origin over the years, creating a climate of fear and insecurity among the community.

Violence plagues Vancouver as multiple gangs often engage in clashes, frequently involving innocent bystanders in their violent fights. Harsh Khatri, a close friend of Chirag Antil has told Glacier Media, “Antil was in the wrong place at the wrong time and misidentified.” Although Khatri did not explicitly attribute the occurrence to any particular gang or plot, the hint was apparent: these gangs are still actively and dangerously operative in Vancouver.

A violent rampage from December 2020 to May 2021 highlights this dark reality resulting in loss of over fifteen lives due to gang-related violence. These violent clashes reflect picture of a city grappling with a persistent battle against gang violence where misidentification could lead to death.

The city’s cycle of violence is heavily influenced by drug traffickers operating at medium to high levels. On March 30, 2024 gunfire broke out during daytime hours causing mayhem on streets of downtown Vancouver. The incident occurred on a Saturday afternoon, causing frightened visitors to quickly seek shelter in surrounding establishments and cafés.

Eyewitness claimed that the assault was directed towards a specific individual who is believed to be a member of the infamous Brothers Keepers gang. The victim was inside a black SUV when bullets ruthlessly penetrated it. With a sense of urgency, the impaired vehicle rushed uncontrollably from an alley onto Robson Street, resulting in a collision with another SUV.

In the midst of this disorder, two dogs sustained bullet injuries, requiring immediate medical attention from a veterinarian. There were no other injuries recorded. Nevertheless, the individuals responsible for the shootings are still unidentified and not apprehended and this resulted in the community not being able to cope with the ongoing recurrence of violence associated with gangs.

Situation emphasizes the importance of strong and effective support mechanisms for students, both from the countries hosting them and from their home country’s diplomatic channels. The efforts made by Chirag’s family to bring his body back to their home country Bharat with the help of an internet fundraising platform (GoFundMe) and involvement of Indian authorities highlight larger problem of bureaucratic and logistical obstacles that can intensify the sorrow experienced by grieving families.

Indian government and its diplomatic missions overseas have consistently expressed concern about escalation in extremist activities and their potential consequences for security of Indian diaspora.

Indian students in Canada have an extra level of vulnerability which necessitates that they be more cautious and take stronger security measures. Extremist factions have a tendency to escalate isolated incidents into larger confrontations or deliberate assaults on individuals with Indian affiliation.

The lack of immediate and transparent communication from Canadian authorities, as described by the family, points to a need for improved international cooperation on such sensitive incidents. Diplomatic entities must proactively engage and support nationals in distress, ensuring they do not navigate foreign legal and procedural mazes alone.

Chirag’s death brings to light essential measures for safety of international students. Educational institutions and local governments must bolster their efforts to ensure these young individuals are not just seen as temporary residents or tuition payers but as integral, protected members of the community. Enhanced safety measures, clear communication channels and dedicated support for international students are imperative to prevent such tragedies and nurture a truly inclusive and secure environment.

Tragic end to Chirag Antil’s promising journey is a call for action by all stakeholders involved in international student mobility. It’s a reminder of the responsibilities that host nations like US, European members, UK and Australia should shoulder towards these young lives, far from home, in pursuit of their avocation.

(The author is Head of Content at Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies, a New Delhi based non-partisan think-tank)

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