As millions of families across the globe were celebrating the beginning of a new year, the relatives of Anuj Bidve were attempting to come to terms with his senseless death. Anuj, 23, an engineering student from Pune, India, was shot dead at point-blank range in what was believed to be a racially-motivated attack whilst visiting Salford, Manchester, with a group of Indian friends on Boxing Day. His killer was Kiaran Stapleton, 20, who has described himself as “Psycho Stapleton” in court.
Bidve was laid to rest in India on 7 January and that same week, hundreds of people paid their respects at a candlelit vigil in Salford. Later this month, his university, Lancaster University, will hold a memorial ceremony and a memorial book has already been set up. Anuj’s father Subhash, who discovered his son had been murdered on Facebook, praised Anuj’s qualities when outside Westminster on 5 January 2012. He described his son as “really straightforward, very disciplined, very softly spoken and very friendly to everyone, and a very good son to me.
“I wanted to give him the best. As a father that’s what I wanted. He was a very great asset not just to India but the whole globe. That was the kind of work he was doing.” Mr Bidve also spoke of his concerns that other international students may be in danger whilst studying in the UK. He said: “It was really unfortunate that I lost my son. But I feel myself, as a father, this should not happen again because a lot of Indian students come here for their education and they go back to their own countries.
“I humbly request to you all, kindly do justice for Anuj and kindly make sure that students who come here for their studies … they have their own studies and go back to their own countries.”
Mr Bidve’s comments have been echoed by the Indian press, which is fearful for the thousands of Indians studying in the UK. In 2009-10 there were 38,550 Indian students and they still form a third of all non-EU students in Britain with China, which boasts 57,000 students. After a series of racist attacks and murders were carried out against Indian students in Australia in 2009, formerly a popular university destination, the Indian press leapt into a frenzy which has been attributed to the 46% drop in Indian applications that year. After Anuj’s death, an Indian website published an article stating “How Indians can avoid getting attacked in the UK.” This newspaper coverage prompted the president of Universities UK, vice-chancellor Eric Thomas of the University of Bristol, to speak out on 6 January. Professor Thomas sent a letter to popular English-language newspapers such as the Hindustan Times and the Times of India stressing that Bidve’s death was a “loss for us all” and a “terrible event.” Thomas attempted to reassure the Indian press that British universities take active steps to ensure the safety of their foreign students, offering “induction and orientation sessions for international students which includes advice on safety. We at Universities UK would want to reassure current and future Indian students and their parents that this kind of incident is, thankfully, exceptionally rare. Compared to other countries, the UK remains a safe and tolerant country with low levels of violence and street crime.”
Nevertheless, the concern remains for universities that overseas students in general may now house fears about the discriminatory treatment they could receive in this country. This begs the question, are the international students studying at our institutions in danger?
In 2011 there were cases of attacks on international students other than Anuj Bidve. One defining image of the August riots in London was of Malaysian student Asyraf Haziq being mugged by a gang of youths. The men falsely offered Haziq assistance, as he had facial injuries, before stealing items out of his bag. Haziq’s ordeal was uploaded onto YouTube, where it was viewed over one million times. Another incident occurred on Boxing Day when an Israeli student was set-upon by four men in Brighton. The gang, who allegedly used racist terminology, punched and kicked their victim before following him to his home and then throwing a bottle at the house. The student experienced minor injuries including a deep cut to his jaw. Detective Constable Emily Hoare said: “This is being investigated as a hate crime, as racist language was used during the assault and we believe the victim’s evident ethnicity motivated the suspects to commit this offence.”
In October 2011, two of Bournemouth University’s academics, Dr Lorraine Brown and Dr Ian Jones, compiled an investigation into racism levelled at international students. They gave 153 individuals, all postgraduate students enrolled at a university in the south of England, questionnaires. 49 individuals assented that they had been exposed to racism, with 11 students of this figure Indian and 11 Chinese. The most frequent examples of discrimination aimed at the students were being sworn at and told to go back to their own country. Physical assault and aggressive laughter were also cited, in lower quantities. This minority of the students questioned were left frightened after their experiences, but it is important to note that many participants acknowledged that racism was a global problem and that actually Britain was safer than some of their countries of origin.
A study from ForeignStudents.com conveys the brighter side of living for international students. All of the London students quizzed confessed that they had settled into the city quickly and loved its busy vibe. The obstacles that they had encountered were mostly problems relating to the language barrier and the fact that they found it difficult to meet British people.
This evidence is crucial at this time to remind international students that the majority of Britons welcome their presence. The tragic murder of Anuj Bidve should not serve to frighten overseas students. Rather it is a sad testament to simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.