South Asian diaspora demands justice for Kandula

Subhasini Naicker Wednesday 20th September 2023 08:22 EDT

A tragic and unsettling incident has sent shockwaves through the South Asian community globally, when the story of a 23-year-old Indian student who was killed after being flung 100 feet away as a police car struck her at a speed of nearly 119 kmh on 23rd January 2023 came into limelight. This heart wrenching incident has raised questions about safety and accountability of law enforcement, sparking widespread concern and demands of justice. 

As per details, on 23 January, Kevin Dave struck and killed Jaahnavi Kandula, 23, in a crosswalk. Dave was driving 74 mph (119 kmh) on the way to an overdose call and Officer Daniel Auderer, a drug recognition expert, was assigned to evaluate whether Dave was impaired, The Seattle Times reported.

Adding on, a viral bodycam video appeared where Auderer was heard making light of the incident, where in Jaahnavi Kandula lost her life. In the video, Auderer can be heard saying, "Yeah, just write a check. $11,000. She was 26 anyway, she had limited value."

Seattle mayor Bruce Harrell and chief of police Adrian Diaz issued an apology in response to the tragic death. Mayor Harrell extended his apology in a private meeting with representatives from the South Asian immigrant community in the Seattle area. "We want to express our extreme condolences for your loss. Many comments that have been made do not reflect the sympathy and the empathy and the condolences that we have," the mayor said.

As of September 14, officer Kevin Dave doesn’t face any criminal charges in connection with the incident. He continues to be employed at the Seattle Police Department. As for Daniel Auderer, he has a history of racial violence on duty.

America’s Northeastern University has decided to award Jaahanvi Kandula her master’s degree posthumously. "Her loss will be felt deeply by students, staff, and faculty,” a university official said. The official also condemned the remarks made by the Seattle police officer in the aftermath of the accident, saying they have "deepened our collective heartbreak". The degree will be presented to Jaahnavi's family, who hailed from Andhra Pradesh, India. 

Waves of shock and discontent among the diaspora

A rally was put together by UTSAV, an organisation based in Bothell (USA) that helps connect South Asians with their communities, founder Arun Sharma said. “First, we went to meet the Mayor of Seattle and the top officials of the city, where they apologised to the India community. Later in the afternoon, we organised a peaceful march against insensitivity towards a fatal crash of a South Asian Woman by a SPD Officer.”

“We wanted our community to stand for the dignity of South Asians living in the USA. We organised a gathering at Denny Park and walk to the crosswalk of Dexter Ave N and Thomas St where the incident happened. From kids to grandparents, everyone participated in the march, even people from different races joined together in solidarity of Jaahnavi Kandula,” he added. 

Shreya Pathak, from Ahmedabad (Gujarat), whose son studies in the US told Asian Voice, “My son told me about the incident, and it shook me to my core and made me tense, but I also know God is with my son. My prayers to God have increased. He didn’t tell me initially because he might get worried but through the news channel, I got to know about it, and I immediately called him and talked to him.”

Talking about her child’s safety, she said,” This incident has left me worried about my son’s daily life safety as well. First, I was worried about his food and academics but now I am more alert about his life.”

A student at the University of Southern California, Manthan said, “My initial thoughts were why are basic rights of living put on hold? Just because we don’t consume this country’s rights doesn’t mean we can’t live.” 

Speaking about safety, staying updated about the case and talking to parents about this, he added, “It terrifies me to even walk down the streets for groceries and I try my best to stay updated on the news. However, I do not comment on social media as it can get scary. I am in constant touch with my parents to assure them about my whereabouts as they are in panic since this case has been disclosed in public.”

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