Students from the campus group South Asians for Social Justice held a vigil and open forum Thursday night in honor of two Indian immigrant men — Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Harnish Patel — who were both murdered in the past month.
On the Mario Savio steps, students and community members gathered at dusk around candles, flowers and a poster of the two men. Organizer Anisha Chemmachel, a campus sophomore and intended psychology major, began the vigil with a statement emphasizing the need for greater unity among the community of groups that face oppression in the United States.
“We must hold close to us that every brown man senselessly murdered, every Black boy who fears for his life when a police car drives by, every undocumented immigrant who feels the color of their skin singing their lack of safety: that we are all fully human,” Chemmachel said.
South Asians for Social Justice, or SASJ, aims to create a unifying space for South Asians on campus interested in social justice issues. Chemmachel said South Asians, particularly recent immigrants, often feel out of place in civil rights movements because they may not have previously had the privilege or the space to speak out.
On Feb. 22 in Kansas, Kuchibhotla was sharing an after-work drink with his co-worker Alok Madasani, also an Indian immigrant, when another patron, Adam Purinton, allegedly began harassing them and questioning them about their visa statuses. Purinton was then escorted out of the bar but allegedly returned with a gun later.
“When I look at these photos I can’t help but see my dad,” said organizer and campus student Pranay Chaurasia. “They’re just like my dad, and I can’t get that out of my head.”
Purinton has recently been charged on one count of premeditated first-degree murder and two counts of attempted premeditated first-degree murder. Kansas law, however, does not include hate crime statutes, so such a charge would have to be litigated on the federal level.
On March 2, days after the Kansas shooting, Harnish Patel, a business owner and U.S. resident of 14 years, was shot dead in front of his South Carolina home. The perpetrator of this crime has yet to be identified.
Both murders have received extensive coverage in the Indian and American press.
Anirvan Chatterjee, a member of Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, attended and spoke at the vigil. Chatterjee, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 1999 but remained in the Bay Area, said he remembers what his experience was like after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 — adding that after Trump was elected, a similar feeling resurfaced.
“There’s this moment where people just look at you differently, and you think — I didn’t change, but the world did,” Chatterjee said.