From Desi Parent's Biggest Nightmare to DEATH of talented Indian American Freshman at the University of Illinois

Written on 01/27/2024
Asia91 Team

Scene 1:  

Vikas proudly shows his newly purchased home to his friend, Nagaraju Ramalingum. He boasts about the sophisticated and expensive cameras he's installed. These cameras have advanced features like motion control, sound detection, live streaming, and cloud storage. Nagaraju, known for his street-smartness, listens to the features and then asks a critical question: What would happen if a burglar cuts the internet connection outside the house? Vikas is caught off guard by this question. He admits he hadn't considered this scenario and acknowledges the need to find a solution. "There must be something to counter this," he says, "otherwise, what's the use of these security cameras? I'll look into it and let you know soon."




Desi parents often have differing views on their children's education. Some prioritize sending their kids to the best universities, regardless of location. On the other hand, another group prefers their children to attend colleges or universities closer to home, ideally within driving distance. Narendra, for instance, moved to Dallas with the intention of his daughter attending a renowned university in Austin, Texas. This university is a convenient three-hour drive from his house, aligning with his aspirations for her education. These varying perspectives highlight Desi parents' diverse priorities and concerns when it comes to the higher education choices for their children.




Sri Vidhya, originally from hyderabad and now settled in Frisco Texas, proposed an unconventional idea to her husband. She suggested buying a residential property near each major university in the U.S. that their daughter might consider attending. Although her husband found this idea somewhat bizarre, he was willing to compromise. He recognized that real estate investment is generally a sound decision, especially when they have children. This plan could potentially provide their daughter with convenient housing options while also serving as a strategic investment.



We will intertwine the above three scenarios into our story, but first, let's revisit the tragic story of Akul Dhawan. Akul, a talented, intelligent, loving, and kind freshman from the University of Illinois, tragically passed away.



His death was attributed to hypothermic skin changes, a result of extreme cold weather conditions. This unfortunate incident allegedly occurred due to the negligence of UI police officers. Akul's story is a poignant reminder of the unforeseen challenges and dangers that can arise in any setting.



The UI Police reported that one of Akul Dhawan's friends declared him missing on January 20 at 1:23 a.m. Tragically, Mr. Dhawan was found deceased the following day at 11:08 a.m. on the 1200 block of West Nevada Street.


A UI employee discovered him on the back porch of a building. Notably, the spot where Mr. Dhawan was last seen and the location where his body was found, more than nine hours later, was less than 500 feet apart. This close proximity raises questions about the circumstances leading to his untimely demise.


The Dhawan family informed The News-Gazette that the location-tracking data on their 18-year-old son's phone indicated he was outside the Canopy Club in Urbana around midnight on January 20. After this, his phone's battery depleted. 



An autopsy performed on Mr. Dhawan revealed signs of hypothermic skin changes, as stated by Champaign County Coroner Steve Thuney on Wednesday. 



The preliminary findings indicated no significant trauma. A comprehensive final report, including the results of toxicology studies, is still pending. This information is crucial to fully understanding the circumstances of Mr. Dhawan's untimely death.



What the Parents of Akul Dhawan Says:


This is bizarre that a kid is never found who was just less than a block, like one minute away, sitting there, dead, frozen to death," Ish Dhawan said. "Imagine what's going through in our mind as dad and mom. I visualize every minute that my son froze to death on a university campus.



We need answers," his mother said. "What is the proof that they searched in this area, around the area they're talking (about), this half-block? My kid would have been found.



UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said


Police searched for Mr. Dhawan in multiple places Saturday morning after a friend said he had not answered his phone in an hour.



Police checked the area where the student was last seen, the student's residence hall, and the likely path between the two locations, including the main Quad and streets,


Police also checked local hospitals, accessed student ID card information to see if he had used it to enter any campus buildings, and attempted to reach the student via telephone. The search did not yield any additional information about his possible location.


Any loss of life, but particularly one as bright as Akul's, is immeasurably tragic,




According to his father, Akul, who turned 18 in September, received numerous college acceptance letters, including one from the University of California. However, his passion for robotics led him to choose the University of Illinois.


He enrolled in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering despite his parents' preference for him to attend a school closer to their home in California. This decision highlights Mr. Dhawan's dedication to his interests, even as it meant moving away from his family.


Impact of This Tragic Incident on the Desi Community:


It wasn't long ago that the Kandula Incident was still a recent memory. Although this is an entirely different situation, it nonetheless brings to the forefront significant concerns about the safety and peace of mind of Desi parents sending their children to universities far from their hometowns.


After conversing with several South Asian parents, I've compiled a list of key points reflecting their thoughts and concerns.


After speaking with several South Asian parents, I've noted a few key points encapsulating their thoughts and concerns.


What Desi Parents Might Be Scared Of:


Safety Concerns in a New Environment: Worries about their children's physical safety in an unfamiliar city or country, mainly if there are known safety issues or cultural differences.


Cultural Assimilation and Identity Loss: Fears about their children losing touch with their cultural roots and values in a predominantly different cultural setting.


[Only Few Parents] Academic Pressure and Mental Health: Concerns about the intense academic pressures their children might face and the impact on their mental well-being.


Distance and Communication Barriers: The challenge of being far from their children and potential communication difficulties in logistics and emotional connection.


Financial Strain and Uncertainties: Worries about the financial aspects, including the cost of tuition, living expenses, and the uncertainty of job prospects post-graduation.



What They Are Doing About Their Kids' Education and Safety:


Establishing Strong Communication Channels: Setting regular schedules for phone or video calls to stay connected and informed.


Building a Support Network: Encouraging their children to connect with local communities, including cultural associations or student groups, for a sense of belonging and support.


Educating Themselves and Their Children: Gaining knowledge about the new environment, its culture, and its educational system, and educating their children about personal safety and cultural sensitivity.


Financial Planning and Management: Conduct thorough financial planning to manage education costs and living abroad, including exploring scholarships, part-time work options for their children, and savings plans.


[Only Few Parents] Emphasizing Mental Health: Prioritize and discuss the importance of mental health and explore resources like counseling services offered by universities or independent professionals.



It's no wonder that many South Asian students are selecting universities and cities with predominantly Desi-Indian and South Asian populations for their education.



From the numerous stories and experiences we've heard, it's clear that no one can guarantee the safety and fate of an individual. However, the Asia91 team extends heartfelt condolences to the victim's family. 


More importantly, we earnestly hope for a thorough and fair investigation to ensure that tragedies like this do not recur. Of course, we recognize that this is not just about the death of an Indian American child; such an incident could happen to anyone.


Prayer is powerful. Asia91 urges everyone to see this not just as an article, but as a call to action. Please take at least a minute to pray for the parents and for justice in this situation.


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