Indian student from Kerala shot dead in Alabama, one suspect arrested

A 30-year-old Indian student, Neil Kumar, was recently shot to death at point-blank range in Alabama last week. The local police have arrested Leon Flowers suspected for killing an Neil.

Neil Kumar, who was pursuing his Master’s in Computer Science at the University of Troy in Brundidge, Alabama was shot to death in an apparent robbery. The 30-year-old was a student at the Sharjah Indian School and a native of Thrissur in Kerala. Neil was working as a part time cashier at a Gulf Gas station convenience store on the busy Highway 10 when the robbery and shooting took place last Wednesday morning.

NielKumar
source: facebook

 

Three CCTV visuals of the attack were released by the police personnel on Thursday. The visuals, carried by local newspapers, showed the assailant who is dressed in all black with white gloves and was carrying a gun. The time code on the CCTV visuals indicate that the suspect had been lurking around the area of the convenience store prior to the shooting. This suspicion was even raised by the Sheriff of Pike County who is investigating the homicide.

Officers have also told the media that this was the first time in years that Brundidge, which is the second biggest city in Pike County, has witnessed such a violent crime.

Born to parents Purushothaman Kumar and Seema, who are based in the UAE, Neil had been studying in the United States for a year after graduating from a Chennai college. His parents and sisters Neema and Natasha flew in to Alabama on hearing the news. Neil’s funeral will be held on Monday afternoon in Alabama, in the presence of friends and family. Apart from computers, Neil also nurtured a passion for photography.

Several friends and classmates remember Neil as a happy person who left a lasting impression on whoever he met. The community at Troy University also held a memorial for their late classmate.

 


Past stories of crime against Indians

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Indian sprinter Dutee Chand says she’s in same-sex relationship with soulmate

Same sex relationships and gay rights in India seem to be catching up with rest of the world. Of course, this is not universal or uniform. Some cities and states in India are more advanced than others when it comes to accommodating Gay rights. Some like Bengaluru have gone as far as having Public Toilets for Transgenders (link)

Now comes news that Dutee Chand is the first Indian sports star to openly acknowledge being in a same-sex relationship with her ‘soulmate’. Dutee Chand is the 100 m record holder and winner of two silver medals at the 2018 Asian Games.

Dutee spoke to The Sunday Express about her relationship, career plans and eventually settling down with the woman she loves. She is busy training for the Tokyo Olympics and that she hoped to settle down with her ‘soulmate’ in future.

“I have found someone who is my soulmate. I believe everyone should have the freedom to be with whoever they decide they want to be with. I have always supported the rights of those who want to be in a same-sex relationship,” she was quoted.

The 2018 Asian Games double silver medalist didn’t reveal the identity of her partner, and wants to safeguard her from being “the center of undue attention”, in a country that is still getting used to the decriminalization of homosexuality.


 

More about  Dutee Chand:

She is an Indian professional sprinter and current national champion in the women’s 100 metres event. She is the third Indian woman to ever qualify for the Women’s 100 meters event at the Summer Olympic Games. However in the 2016 Summer Olympics, her 11.69s in the preliminary round did not make her qualify to the next round. In 2018 Chand clinched silver in women’s 100m at the Jakarta Asian Games. It was India’s first medal in this event since 1998.

Also in New York Times:  Sprinter Dutee Chand Becomes India’s First Openly Gay Athlete – A champion sprinter with village roots has become India’s first openly gay professional athlete, less than a year after the country’s top court overturned a longstanding ban on gay sex.

 

Amid a record driver shortage, Indian-American Sikhs are taking to trucking

NPR ran an interesting feature on truck drivers from Punjab filling the void in American trucking industry.

The trucking industry is experiencing a major shortage of drivers. But in the last two years, one demographic has been gravitating towards the industry by the thousands: Indian-American Sikhs. It’s an attractive blue-collar job because it doesn’t interfere with articles of faith, like turbans or beards.

Listen to story on NPR  https://www.marketplace.org/2019/03/07/world/indian-american-sikh-truckers/popout

Also check out “Sikh Truckers in America”

Starting at 2 am, Pandher hopes to cover the 520-mile stretch in about 9 hours with recommended breaks to reach Lincoln before noon. The long journey through the night doesn’t bother Pandher who is used to such hauls. What does bother him though is the nights and weekends that his work takes him away from his family and little children.

“As truckers, we do miss quite a bit on their (kids) growing up. And that hurts more than the hard work. But that’s the price you pay to be a trucker,” says Pandher, wistfully.

Pandher, who started as a truck driver, running an intrastate hazmat in 2003, today owns the Laramie, Wyoming, based Akal Travel Center, which has 9 trucks, 13 tanker trailers and 4 truck stops in Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico. Pandher is among the thousands of Sikhs in the American trucking industry.

Nearly 71% of the freight tonnage on land moves on trucks. The American trucking industry forms the lifeline of the U.S. economy. According to the 2012 Survey of Business Owners by the U.S. Census Bureau, there were nearly 600,000 trucking companies with $300 billion in sales. The American Trucking Association estimates that 3.5 million truckers move 10.55 billion tons of freight annually.

 

 

Swaminarayan Hindu Temple vandalised in Kentucky, US

A Hindu temple in Louisville, Kentucky was recently vandalized, sending shock waves across the close-knit Hindu community.  According to media accounts, the incident happened sometime between Sunday and Tuesday morning when vandals broke through a window at Louisville’s Swaminarayan Temple leaving glass shattered on the floor.

The Temple was defaced with black graffiti, including xenophobic and anti-Hindu messages. Black paint was sprayed onto a poster depicting a religious figure, and the temple’s walls were covered with black crosses and phrases such as “Jesus Is The Only Lord” and “Jesus Is All Mighty.” A knife was reportedly plunged into a chair in the temple.

Utsav Pictures from the Louisville Swaminarayan temple

A message spray-painted onto a bulletin board at the temple read had the word “foreign” followed by an expletive, Fox affiliate WDRB reports. Temple spokesperson Raj Patel told the news station that this last message indicates that the vandalism was “not about just a god.”  “It’s about a race or someone’s skin color,” he added.

The vandalism was discovered by a repairman on Tuesday morning. No one was in the temple while the vandalism occurred, Patel told the Courier Journal.

Patel said his community, consisting of 60 to 100 Sunday worshippers, is deeply saddened by the incident. The community has been meeting in the building, a former church, for about five years.

“We come here to worship,” Patel said during a press conference at the temple on Wednesday. “We should not have to turn our backs to see who is behind us.”

According to Mohan, the editor of Garamchai.com,  “There are over 300 Hindu temples in cities across America. Such incidents of vandalism are really rare and shocking. In most communities, Indian Americans peacefully co-exist with other members of the community and Hindus manage worship and religious gatherings at local temples and places of worship.”

US Government makes changes to H1B visa applications; Advanced degree holders get top priority

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a final rule for H1B visa applicants that will raise the probability of more US advanced degree holders filling the first wave of total available slots. This recalibration will filter out those with just bachelor’s degrees, making it harder for them to get an H1 Visa approval.

The DHS summary states:

This final rule amends Department of Homeland Security (“DHS” or “the Department”) regulations governing petitions filed on behalf of H-1B beneficiaries who may be counted toward the 65,000 visa cap established under the Immigration and Nationality Act (“H1B regular cap”) or beneficiaries with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions of higher education who are eligible for an exemption from the regular cap (“advanced degree exemption”).

Image result for dhs h1b

The Trump administrations’s rule goes into effect 1 April. In the current system, 65,000 visas are available in addition to 20,000 for those with advanced degrees from a U.S. institution. The annual lottery is scheduled for April generally starts with lottery for the advanced-degree holders first. The change is estimated to increase the number of advanced-degree holders selected in the lottery by 16 percent, or 5,340 workers each year, the USCIS said

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) chief L. Francis Cissna was quoted saying “these simple and smart changes are a positive benefit for employers, the foreign workers they seek to employ, and the agency’s adjudicators, helping the H-1B visa program work better”.

“The new registration system, once implemented, will lower overall costs for employers and increase government efficiency. We are also furthering President Trump’s goal of improving our immigration system by making a simple adjustment to the H-1B cap selection process. As a result, U.S. employers seeking to employ foreign workers with a U.S. master’s or higher degree will have a greater chance of selection in the H-1B lottery in years of excess demand for new H-1B visas.”

There are several experts voicing concerns about this move. Cyrus D Mehta, founding partner of a New York based law firm told TOI,

“The skewing of H-1B visas towards those with master’s degrees from US institutions under the new selection methodology is in some senses counter to the H-1B law, which was to permit those with foreign degrees, and equivalent work experience, to qualify for H-1B classification. Hence, a foreign physician with a master’s degree in medicine from a foreign university who intends to provide critical medical services in a shortage area in the United States may have less chances of nabbing an H-1B visa under the new proposal.”
“Even a highly skilled IT worker with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from a reputed Indian institution such as the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), will have less chance of getting an H-1B in the new proposal. Both the physician and the IT worker with foreign degrees have the potential of making contributions to the US in the same way, or even greater, as one who has recently graduated with an MBA from a US.

Others like feel that the move is a step in the right direction. Mohan K, an Enterprise Architect and a technology consultant says

“Foreign students pursuing advanced degrees in American Universities are likely to benefit from this move. Graduates of such programs are more likely get their H1 Visas approved and will stay back and contribute to the US economy.

While there will be some short term confusion, the move is likely to attract more students to American Universities.

However, students planning to pursue advanced degrees and PhDs in the US, should  will have to keep in mind that a rule like this is not ‘law,’ but a policy decision by the Trump administration. As a recent WSJ article indicates, the move may be challenged in the court or rolled-back by future administrations.

About H1B: The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa category in the United States under the Immigration & Nationality Act, section 101(a)(15)(H). It allows U.S. employers to seek temporary help from skilled foreigners who have the equivalent U.S. Bachelor’s Degree education. Link to a list of The list of Top 100 H-1B Employers in 2017

Air India To Charge 40% Less For Bringing Back Bodies From Gulf Countries

Death and dying is a topic we seldom give much thought to. And when we encounter untimely death of family or friends, we try and follow the rituals as dictated customs and mores dictated by the society. If a relative or a close one dies in a foreign country, the costs and paperwork associated with repatriation can make a terrible event even worse.

The logistics of Death gets magnified when the person in question dies in a foreign land. For instance, when a death occurs in Abu Dhabi, or the middle-east, the family might opt to have the funeral and last rites in India, their home country. This requires jumping through bureaucratic and logistical hooops to ensure the body can be transported across international boundaries. Here’s a link to an article on GaramChai.com that briefly describes the process.

Besides the logistics and paperwork required to transport bodies, families of the bereaved have to budget for the cost of embalming, storage and Air-transport of the bodies that can amount to a sizable sum of money.

Image result for dead body air india
image source: India Today via google

Now comes news that the Indian national Airliner, Air India will Charge 40% Less For Bringing Back Bodies From Gulf Countries. According to a PTI news release

In order to reduce the expenses of grieving families in bringing back dead bodies from gulf nations, Air India has decided to reduce prices by 40%.

“After discussions with the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Civil Aviation, we have decided that we will be charging a ”flat rate” to bring back dead bodies from six Gulf countries…This flat rate would be 40 per cent lower than what is usually charged,” a senior Air India official said on Monday.

He added that this “flat rate services” for bringing a body back would currently be available for six Gulf countries–United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.

COMMENT

Gulf dream, no longer cool for Indians

As we approach the end of 2018, there are a number of media articles that describe how the “gulf dream” is slowly dying for Indians.

A recent Right to Information (RTI) request and an inquiry in parliament revealed that in the last six years, an average of more than ten Indian workers died every day in Gulf countries. In August 2018, Venkatesh Nayak from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) submitted an RTI to the Ministry of External Affairs seeking to know the names, age, sex, and occupation of Indian workers who died in the six Gulf countries from January 1, 2012 till date. He also sought to know the cause of their deaths as mentioned in the death certificates.

Gulf countries, India, deaths, US dollar, working conditions, remittance, Telangana

About 24,570 Indian workers died in six Gulf Countries Since 2012. These include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Saudi Arabia recorded the most deaths at 10,416 while Bahrain, at 1,317, had the least.

Mr. Nayak has also analysed the annual ‘Migration and Remittances Data’ released by the World Bank and found that Indians working in Gulf countries accounted for more than half of the remittance that India received from all over the world between 2012-2017. Out of a total of US$ 410.33 billion in remittances from the world over, remittances from the Gulf countries accounted for US$ 209.07 billion.

Articles of interest: