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Racist Attacks Behind Deaths of Indian Students in US, Says Family

Vivek Saini's case sheds light on how the US laws and legal system often fail to protect the interests of Indian students and how families of victims, without support from the Indian government or US authorities, face deep challenges in seeking justice.

By Prema Sridevi
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Since the beginning of 2024, there have been nearly a dozen deaths involving Indian students or students of Indian origin in the US. This week, a 25-year-old Indian student who had been missing for a month was found dead in Ohio. The student, Mohammad Abdul Arfath, originally from Hyderabad, had gone to the US in 2023 to study at Cleveland University. Just a few days ago, another Indian student named Uma Satya Sai Gadde was also found dead in Ohio under mysterious circumstances. 

The most horrifying incident among these deaths was that of Vivek Saini, who was brutally attacked with a hammer over 50 times by an assailant, resulting in his death on the spot on January 16 this year. Vivek's family has been advocating for justice for him for over two and a half months now. His case sheds light on how the US laws and legal system often fail to protect the interests of students like Vivek, and how families of victims, without support from the Indian government or US authorities, face deep challenges in seeking justice. Below is an excerpt of my interview with Shivam Saini, the brother of the deceased Vivek Saini. To watch the full interview, click the YouTube link above.

Prema Sridevi: Shivam, thank you for joining me. Sorry for your loss. I know it has been a difficult 2024 for you and your family. Please tell me what exactly happened on January 16?

Shivam Saini: My brother Vivek was attacked from behind without any provocation. He was closing the store and was about to return to his room. He was going near the counter to pick up the keys from the washroom, and he was attacked from behind.

Prema Sridevi: The video related to this incident went viral on the internet. I saw the video, and it was very shocking. It’s hard to imagine how someone can do this. I even read that the person who did this was, in fact, being helped by Vivek. Tell me more about the accused in this case, Julian Faulkner.

Shivam Saini: You are right. Vivek was providing food and shelter to this man for the past two days. What we know of Julian Faulkner is that he is an American and has been a serial offender. He was in jail for many other crimes. He got released on January 14 and then he directly came from the jail to the gas station where Vivek was working part-time. And in 2 days, he unleashed this terror on Vivek. He has been accused of attacking his wife and attacking a policeman in the past. 

Prema Sridevi: In the video, I could see that Julian Faulkner was striking Vivek with a hammer more than 50 times. In the third strike or so, I noticed that perhaps Vivek had lost his life, but then the man was so cruel that he continued striking Vivek, who had no life left. And he did this several times. What is most striking is that there were onlookers to this incident. There were U.S. citizens watching this horror, but no one came forward to help Vivek. Do you think that if the society there had been more proactive and stopped the criminal from doing this, Vivek’s life could have been saved?

Shivam Saini: I definitely feel that Vivek’s life could have been saved. People in the U.S who witnessed this incident were just mute spectators. They could have raised an alarm and saved Vivek. We were completely shocked when we heard about this incident. We got a call from Vivek’s friend one and a half hours after the incident. My father and I did not reveal the entire details to our family back in Panchkula in Haryana. We only told the family that Vivek had met with an accident. We didn’t even know how to handle this situation. No one was prepared for this.

Prema Sridevi: What kind of immediate support or assistance did you get from the US or Indian authorities? Did you receive any calls from the embassy or the Indian government?

Shivam Saini: No, we didn’t receive any calls from the Indian government. We didn’t hear from the embassy. We haven't received any help or assistance from the Indian government so far.

Prema Sridevi: Since you and your family are based out of Haryana, how are you fighting the legal case in the US court?

Shivam Saini: The US government has assigned a state government lawyer for the case. They had taken signatures from me to file the case. We have been following up, but there has been absolutely no movement in the case. Two and a half months have passed since this incident, but the matter still hasn't even been listed for a hearing in court.

Prema Sridevi: What is the lawyer in the U.S. telling you? You must be having Zoom meetings with the lawyer to understand the progress of the case. What are your contentions in the petition?

Shivam Saini: The U.S. lawyer has not even shared the petition copy with us. I don’t understand why, as it is our case, and he is our lawyer fighting against the accused. Why hasn't the family been given a copy of the petition being filed in court? The lawyer said that the matter can only be discussed after the hearing. We asked for details related to the accused, such as whether he had taken drugs at the time of the incident or whether he had any other issues. We wanted to know what the medical records said. The lawyer has access to everything but refused to divulge any information to us.

Prema Sridevi: This is very strange. What you are saying is that the same lawyer who was appointed to fight your case in the U.S. court took your signatures to file a case but is now refusing to give you any information, to the extent that you don't even have a copy of the petition filed in court?

Shivam Saini: Yes, that is exactly the matter. We asked the lawyer why the information cannot be divulged. I feel that the lawyer is trying to protect the government's interests. The lawyer is a government lawyer. We have been asking for the death penalty for the accused because he is a threat to society. He is a serial killer. We want him to receive the maximum punishment, but we don’t see that happening at all.

Prema Sridevi: Do you feel that help from the Indian government will enable you to get justice?

Shivam Saini: Yes, we believe so. It’s not just Vivek’s case. You have seen so many cases of Indian students being murdered in the U.S. This is a matter that the Indian government should take up with the U.S. government. I know for a fact that in many cases, even the accused has not been arrested. Only if the Indian government takes this up seriously with their U.S. counterparts will these instances at least reduce in the future.

Prema Sridevi: Tell us more about Vivek? We know that he was a very bright student. What were his dreams and ambitions?

Shivam Saini: Vivek used to be a very calm and composed person. Unlike other brothers who usually fight, between us, not once have we fought. He is extremely kind and calm. He used to be a topper in school and college back in India. He went to the U.S. to do his MBA, and within one and a half years, he earned his degree, and he was a topper. He even received an award for that. He wanted to become an entrepreneur and start his own business.

Prema Sridevi: Vivek was murdered on January 16th. But just a few days back, he had got a new job, so he booked a flight for January 23rd from the US to India. He wanted to come to India, meet his family, and then go back and join his company. So you and your family were eagerly waiting for Vivek’s return on January 23rd. But on the same day, and in fact, on the same flight, his dead body, his mortal remains, came. How is your family coping with this?

Shivam Saini: I can’t express in words the sorrow of my family. We were expecting him, but his mortal remains came on the same flight which he had booked to come to India. What more can be said? At that time, we had lost complete sense of reality as to what was happening with us.

Prema Sridevi: This is not just the story of Vivek alone. Many Indian students and Indian-origin students have died in the US in the recent past. The latest was the case of Uma Satya Sai Gadde who died in Ohio. In March, a trained classical dancer from India, Amarnath Ghosh, was shot dead in Mussoorie in the U.S. Sameer Kamath was found dead in Indiana in February. Vivek Taneja was attacked in February in Washington DC. Paruchuri Abhijit’s body was found in a forest… and there are many more cases. What do you think is the real reason behind these attacks? Do you think these attacks are racial in nature?

Shivam Saini: I strongly feel that these are racist attacks. After talking to many people related to this incident, we as a family strongly feel this attack is racist in nature. We also believe many more attacks in the U.S on students are racist attacks. They don’t want Indians to be there. If they don’t like Indians and cannot protect Indian students, then they should not give us visas at all in the first place.

Prema Sridevi: Did you tell the U.S. lawyer to push the case of racist attack so that it is included in the petition?

Shivam Saini: Yes, we told the lawyer, but the lawyer was very unresponsive. The lawyer stated that whatever is necessary will be done, and they will handle it. The lawyer is not even sharing a copy of the petition. For the last month, we have been requesting the petition copy. That’s the sorry state of affairs. What more can be told? That’s why we believe that it is high time the Indian government intervenes in this case and gets justice for all the victims and their families.

Prema Sridevi: These are extremely difficult times, Shivam, for you and your family. But stay strong. Don’t lose hope. We are all with you in this moment of grief. Let’s hope that the Indian government takes up this matter with the US government in the most stern way possible. Let’s hope we don’t see more such incidents. And let’s hope the accused in the case of your brother’s murder gets stringent punishment. Thank you for talking to me.

Shivam Saini: Most welcome. Thank you.

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