A Harassed Indian Student’s Tale of Woe

The Open Doors report, which is published annually by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with support from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, says that the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased to an all-time high of 6,71,616 in the 2008-09 academic year and has been steadily growing.

The report says India that has been at the top in enrolment in 2008, is now the second leading place of origin of students after China that has gained only a marginal edge over India. The report is based on a comprehensive survey of approximately 3,000 accredited U.S higher education institutions of all types and sizes, regarding international students at all levels of study. On many occasions we have heard stories of sufferings and misery of Indian students in the U.S. Most relate to bias and discrimination.

Many a time the embassy of India and the Indian consulates have been accused of complete indifference to the students’ plight. The present story of a young student at University of Texas, Brownsville is no different. Harassed by the university authorities the young man turned to the Consulate at Houston but failed to move the authorities there.

I do not wish to pass any judgment on the Indian Consulate in Houston but our readers will agree that this unhelpful attitude of the Consulate authorities in protecting the interests of an Indian student is not compatible with their charter of duties. Please do not forget young Indians come to this country with big dreams, as many of us came with, and we need to help them realize their dreams, for themselves and for India.

Indian students are the second highest foreign student contingent in USA. They come here to study, to make a career and to experience a different culture. They do not come here to get assaulted, hazed upon, or to have sexually profane acts get carried out in their house. Lastly they do not expect their college to take a biased decision against them. However such is exactly the list of inexperiences that an Indian student, who requests not to be identified, had to suffer at University of Texas, Brownsville between January and December 2011, as a graduate student.

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During his stay, he was hazed upon by a PhD student from Sri Lanka by the name of Shihan Weeratunga, who asked repeatedly for over 3 months to be included in a start-up already registered in the Indian student’s and his American business partner’s name. No one can ask to divulge company secrets (tantamount to asking one to commit a crime) or insist overtly to be included in a start-up at the expense of an existing co-founder. Mr.Weeratunga also behaved in many unacceptable ways in the Indian student’s house, including but not limited to groping of a common friend.

There were also plenty of sexual allusions and at least one promiscuous act with a fellow student, in the Indian student’s house, after tactfully getting the latter inebriated, the details of which are not being divulged for now upon request. This reporter feels that this act alone is enough to get someone thrown out of a college and possibly incarcerated.

Finally on the night of 25th August, Mr.Weeratunga cornered the Indian student on the staircase outside his house, and with much name calling, finger pointing and shouting, physically assaulted (coming chest to chest, shove/push, hit) him. The University’s code of conduct can be found here – http://www.utb.edu/ba/hoop/Polic y/6-4-1.pdf Mr.Weeratunga was clearly in violation of multiple items.

The Indian student lodged a complaint to the college coordinator of judicial affairs, first submitting a brief report on the 19th September 2011 and then a full complaint on the 2nd October 2011. The adjudicator, upon receiving the first of the complaints, replied with the following, even though he had been asked to sit in judgment – “Because your allegation of harassment of you by Mr. Weeratunga is so serious, I am compelled to respond in some form.

I need to do this because if your allegations are found to be true, then they represent a violation of our policy on harassment. The University is intolerant of behaviors that would be deemed as harassment and that create a hostile environment for any individual on our campus.” The official complaint was only against Mr.Weeratunga, and did not directly implicate anyone else.

However the adjudicator then made a volte face and shut the case up in one day, conducting only a shoddy evaluation, once another Hispanic female student of the college (who carried out her share of distasteful acts in his house) came into the picture. The Indian student was denied a fair and full investigation, which is mandated by US law for all employees (student worker) of American institutions, and was instead threatened verbally with suspension and told by the adjudicator not to mention these incidents ever again.

The about turn (and shoddiness and haste with which the investigation was carried out) made by a Hispanic adjudicator of a principally Hispanic institution after a Hispanic woman came into the picture, reeks of prejudice and borders on racial partiality to say the least.We suspect the adjudicator had already decided to exonerate Mr. Weeratunga and intimidate the Indian student to keep things secret even before receiving the full (2nd) report, for the sake of the female student.

The Indian student had to lapse into medical trauma (noted by the college medical counselor Miss. Liebscher) since the day of the assault and more so since this misjudgment. U.T. Brownsville is part of the University of Texas system of colleges and cannot act in violation of their central set of rules.

We demand that U.T. Brownsville please explain the anomaly, and explain why Mr.Weeratunga was allowed to get away with assault and many other violations of University policy and why another student was made to suffer in this way – is it for the reason we suspect – to protect the reputation of the woman? Mr.Weeratunga is part of the Physics PhD program of U.T. Brownsville, which is a degree conferred by the University of Texas, San Antonio – we believe that U.T.S.A. would also consider distancing themselves from him once the full extent of Mr. Weeratunga’s misdoings emerges.

The Indian student after suffering this way, produced a dismal grade, and was ousted by U.T. Brownsville. He has since returned to another college in Texas and is doing many times better there. He went back to Brownsville this April and filed a case for assault against Mr. Weeratunga, and made the Indian Consulate in Houston aware of these developments (including supplying the police report). The Consulate promised to take up the matter with the college but has not done so as yet.

He also contacted many Indian organizations and Indian media agencies (including NDTV) and the U.S.I.E.F. in India, but with little or very modest success. Indian Panorama is the first to feature this story. The student has recently made the U.T. Brownsville Physics department aware of the full extent of Mr. Weeratunga’s misdemeanors and now intends to sue the college for damages on grounds of partiality and deliberate negligence but does not have the resources to engage another law firm (he already engaged the law offices of Sherin Thawer, to file for an U visa), except on a percentage basis.

He is now toying with the idea of writing a reveal-all book in future and contacting watch-dog bodies that monitor acts of hazing, violence, sexual misdemeanor and racial partiality in American Universities.

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