• Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Diaspora

US assures prompt action after outrage over Indian student’s death in Seattle

US lawmakers and Indian Americans were anguished by the alleged insensitivity shown by a police officer over the death of the 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula.

Indian student Jaahnavi Kandula who died after being struck by a speeding police patrol car in Seattle, US, in January 2023. (PTI Photo)

By: Shubham Ghosh

THE Joe Biden administration has assured the Indian government of carrying out a quick investigation into the death of a 23-year-old Indian student Jaahnavi Kandula who was hit by a speeding police patrol car in January and bringing to justice the police officers who were responsible for it.

American authorities swung into action after the Indian ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu strongly raised the matter at the highest level in Washington. He demanded prompt action on the death of the student who hailed from the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and was pursuing a master’s degree from the Northeastern University campus in South Lake Union, Seattle, and the allegedly insensitive behaviour of a policeman after her death who said her life had “limited value”.

She had gone to the US from the Indian city of Bengaluru in 2021 in a student exchange programme and was due to complete her graduation this December.

Kandula’s family in India was in a state of mourning. According to India’s NDTV, the family was yet to recover from the loss and the behaviour of a policeman, who allegedly mocked the victim after her death, made it worse. Her grandfather was quoted as asking by the news outlet, “How can anyone speak like that after a tragic accident?”

Kandula died on January 23 after being struck by the police vehicle driven by officer Kevin Dave. He was driving 74 mph (more than 119 kmph) on the way to a report of an overdose, the Seattle Times newspaper reported on Monday (11).

In bodycam footage released the same day by the Seattle Police Department, officer Daniel Auderer laughed about the deadly crash and dismissed any implication Dave might be at fault or that a criminal investigation was necessary.

US lawmakers, Indian Americans outraged

US lawmakers and Indian Americans have expressed outrage over the death of Kandula. Senior administration officials are believed to have assured the Indian ambassador and the Narendra Modi government that the entire incident has been taken very seriously by them.

They are monitoring its investigation from Washington DC the progress of the case to ensure that there is adequate accountability.

Officials said that they were “shocked” and “horrified” at this incident. The Indian consulate general in San Francisco on Wednesday (14) termed the handling of Kandula’s death as “deeply troubling”.

“We have taken up the matter strongly with local authorities in Seattle and Washington State as well as senior officials in Washington DC for a thorough investigation and action against those involved in this tragic case,” the mission said in a post on platform X.

“The Consulate & Embassy will continue to closely follow up on this matter with all concerned authorities,” it added.

“Jaahnavi Kandula came here for graduate work from India. She was killed on a crosswalk by a speeding police car, and officer Auderer said her life had “limited value.” I thought of my dad who came here in his 20s. Mr. Auderer, the life of every Indian immigrant has infinite value,” Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna said.

“Anyone who thinks that a human life has “limited value” should not be serving in law enforcement,” Khanna said.

Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said, “This is appalling. I hope to see justice for Jaahnavi Kandula’s family and accountability for those involved.”

In a letter to the Kandula family, Seattle City mayor Bruce Harrell said that the comments made by one person do not reflect the feelings of the city or the communities that call it home.

“We recognise that Jaahnavi’s death is a loss for our whole community – the loss of a young woman who had so much life ahead of her to do amazing things and share that joy with loved ones,” Harrell said in his communication to the Kandula family.

Indian consul general in San Francisco Ashok Mandula has been in constant touch with the officials from Seattle City and Washington State on this issue.

Expressing his deepest condolences to the Kandula family, Harrell said the “community is heartbroken and mourns alongside your family, friends and everyone who shared the privilege of knowing” her.

Expressing condolences on the untimely passing of Kandula, community leader Ajay Bhutoria said her death reminds of the importance of safety and respect for all individuals in the community.

“We are deeply troubled by the unfortunate statement and poor conduct displayed by a Seattle police officer during this incident. Regardless of one’s background or circumstances, every individual deserves dignity, fairness, and compassion,” he said.

Describing this as unacceptable behaviour, Bhutoria said it is crucial that incidents like these are rigorously examined, and accountability is upheld to maintain community trust in the law enforcement agencies.

“As a community, we must unite to support Jaahnavi’s family and advocate for positive change. We urge authorities to take swift action to address this situation and implement measures to prevent such tragic incidents in the future,” Bhutoria said.

The Seattle Office of Police Accountability said that it has opened an investigation into the incident and they need to complete it before January 29.

(With PTI inputs)

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