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Student drive to avert backlash

Washington, April 18: As America tries to make some sense of the worst gun rampage in its history committed by a Korean immigrant, Indian and other South Asian students at the Virginia Tech university are leading a campaign to prevent any backlash against foreigners as a result of the incident.

Adeel Khan, an American student of Pakistani origin at Virginia Tech, last night spoke with emotion on their behalf at a huge candlelight gathering to honour fallen members of their academic community, including two Indians.

“These past two days have been trying for all of us,” Khan, who is president of the university’s student government, told the crowd that filled the university’s drill field. “With the entire country watching the details of this horrific event, we have come here tonight to heal. And to commemorate the members of this community we have lost.”

Khan later assured the media “that there is not going to be any backlash against foreign students. We care about every student here whether from another country or not.” He said the shooting spree by the Korean student “was not a hate crime or a crime against another country. There is no such connection”.

The need to be on guard against a backlash has become important with xenophobic talk show hosts on conservative television such as Fox News trying to live down the shame of gun culture in American campuses by repeatedly pointing out that the gunman in Virginia Tech was not an American, but a Korean.

The powerful gun lobby in the US has also been nudging conservative television pundits to speak for this country’s lax gun laws by subtly drumming up anti-immigrant sentiment to deflect public attention from the issue of gun ownership.

Virginia Tech has about 2,000 foreign students on its rolls, of whom about 500 are Indians. The Indian community in the campus, including families of staff, includes another 200 people. Yesterday, in a welcome departure from usual bureaucratic pen-pushing, the Indian embassy here rushed two senior diplomats to Virginia Tech to offer relief to the Indian community.

The embassy’s ministers for consular affairs and community outreach, Krishan Varma and Anil K. Gupta, met Indian students and university officials.

Their presence on the campus brought calm and reassurance, said several Indian students, who have no relatives or close family in the US and were at a loss in seeking cultural and institutional support outside the overstretched university framework.

The embassy is now preparing to receive family members of professor G.V. Loganathan, who was killed in the shooting.

The family members, who are being issued passports expeditiously by the regional passport office in Chennai, have been promised visas on the spot from the US consulate in Chennai.

The family members are expected in the US in a day or two and will be transported by the embassy here to Blacksburg in Virginia for Loganathan’s last rites.

At the time of writing, no decision has been taken on whether to send home the body of Minal Panchal, an Indian student who was a victim of the gunman.

Panchal’s mother, her sister and her brother-in-law are discussing the issue in Blacksburg. The embassy here has told the family that they will coordinate the transfer of the body, if needed and the principal resident commissioner of the Gujarat government in New Delhi will do the needful in India when Panchal’s remains arrive in India.

Although the Indian student is from Mumbai, she is a Gujarati, who earlier lived in Hyderabad.

Ramesh Rao, a professor at Longwood University, said in an email today that he may have misidentified Panchal yesterday based on information available on the Internet.

The confusion about Panchal and the delay in releasing her name as a victim, it has now been clarified, was because she could not be positively identified to the satisfaction of the authorities.

As a recent arrival in the US, she had not medical history or other usual sources for identification. Panchal officially became a casualty after her mother yesterday positively identified her body.

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