Kansas shooting: Indian IT workers worry for safety

By Imran Qureshi
BBC Hindi

media captionWidow of killed immigrant talks of her fear of hate crimes in US - and why she's determined to stay in America

Computer professionals and students in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, a major IT hub, are apprehensive after the killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla in the US last week.

At Mr Kuchibhotla's cremation on Tuesday, people held placards with slogans such as "Down with Racism", "Down with Trump" and "We strongly condemn hate crimes".

He and another Indian man were drinking in a bar in Kansas last week when they were shot by a man who reportedly yelled "get out of my country" as he fired at them.

The mourners holding the hand-written placards included young people and older people whose children are planning to go abroad or are already abroad.

For most Hyderabad students, the American dream begins as early as high school.

image source, Getty Images
image captionPeople at Srinivas Kuchibhotla's funeral were angry about his killing

But a change in mood is most evident at the Chilkur Balaji Temple on the outskirts of the city.

It is better known as the "visa" temple because everyone hoping to travel to the US brings his or her passport there before applying for a visa.

The temple deity reportedly has a high level of success. Many applicants from a range of professions say they received their visas after offering prayers there.

The number of devotees has not seen any significant reduction since Mr Trump became president, but the number of prayers uttered by the faithful has increased.

media captionEyewitness and friend Alok Madasani, and widow Sunayana Kutchibhotla spoke to Rajini Vaidyanathan

"An extra prayer or two has been added," the chief priest, CS Rangarajan, told BBC Hindi. "We have started praying for their safety and also started praying that Donald Trump's thinking towards Indians will change because our boys and girls are skilled workers. They are not a liability to the American nation."

Mr Rangarajan was referring to a new US bill designed to limit the entry of highly-skilled workers which is likely to have a serious impact on the country's IT industry. Almost 70% of the visas go to Indians, most of whom are IT professionals.

Many Indians see this proposal as a dangerous shift in attitude towards Indian immigrants, and have linked this with the murder of Mr Kuchibhotla.

Mr Kuchibhotla's mother made an emotional speech at his funeral, saying she would not allow her other son to return to the US.

She is not alone.

image source, Anil Kumar Patwari
image captionA temple in Telangana sees tens of thousands of people go to pray to the "Visa God"

The father of one IT professional told the BBC that although his daughter had got her US visa, they were worried, and were debating whether to let her go or not.

"The entire IT community is in a state of shock and this includes the students as well as IT professionals, all of whom grew up on this American dream," said Kiran Chandra, who heads the Forum of IT Professionals in Hyderabad.

Mr Chandra is convinced that "all this is happening because President Trump is leading the hate message against non-American people from the front".

"IT companies in India send a lot of people to the US. More importantly, Indian students subsidise US universities by contributing $2.4bn (£1.95bn) annually. American corporations set shop in India and take profits home. When American companies can compete in India why can't Indian IT professionals compete in America?" he asked.

Kris Lakshmikanth, the CEO of Indian recruitment company Headhunters, says that there is a sense of apprehension about employment, but says that has more to do with the uncertainty over the H-1B visa.

image source, Getty Images
image captionIndia is one of the world's fastest growing information technology markets

"Basically, the number of Indian IT professionals going to the US will come down if the policy on H-1B visas changes. First of all, not many IT companies will be seeking H-1B visas for their employees because of the proposed doubling of wages from $65,000 to $120,000."

He says the full picture will emerge only around May when the visas are actually issued.

Students seeking education in the US, meanwhile, say they are watching the situation.

"Yes, there is some fear. The number of students interested in the US has not reduced but they are also seriously looking at back up options. They are now also applying to universities in Canada and Australia," said education consultant Bindu Chopra.