By Ruzanna Stepanian
Law-enforcement authorities suggested on Friday that suicide was the likely cause of the mysterious death of an Indian university student that triggered angry street protests in Yerevan by scores of his young compatriots also studying in Armenia.
Prashant Valecha, a third-year student at Yerevan State Medical University (YSMU), died on his way to hospital on Thursday after falling to the ground from the sixth floor of his dormitory. Witnesses said they immediately phoned for an ambulance but it took at least 40 minutes to arrive at the scene. They also claimed that hostel wardens and police officers prevented them from treating the dying student before the doctors’ arrival.
More than a hundred Indian students of YSMU and other state-run Armenian universities gathered outside the parliament building in Yerevan on Thursday afternoon to express their fury with the alleged negligence which they believe cost Valecha his life. “The boy was left bleeding for 60 minutes,” said one of them. “Our dean [of YSMU’s foreign students department], who is a doctor, stood by but didn’t help,” said another Indian student.
However, the chief of the Armenian ambulance service, Artyom Petrosian, described the accusations as “unfair,” saying that the ambulance team reached the student in about 15 minutes and found him in a critical condition. “I must say that the victim had open skull and brain injuries incompatible with life,” he told RFE/RL. “When our doctors arrived there he was already in a state of death-agony.”
Chanting “Help us, president!” in Armenian, the protesters also demanded the resignation of YSMU’s newly appointed rector, Gohar Kalian, alleging that she insulted and made obscene gestures at a group of Indian students who rushed to her office shortly after Valecha’s death. They threatened to boycott classes before forcing a late-night meeting with the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, Tigran Torosian, and India’s ambassador to Armenia.
Kyalian strongly denied the allegations, insisting that she herself was shown “middle fingers” by the furious students. “When they made that gesture I responded by holding out my hand in the same way and saying, ‘If you make such a gesture to your rector, I have nothing to discuss with you.’”
Meanwhile, a Yerevan district prosecutor leading an official criminal inquiry into Valecha’s death, told RFE/RL on Friday that the investigators suspect that the student, reportedly in his early 20s, committed suicide. Gagik Khachikian said they have so far no facts to suggest that he might have been killed by someone.
Khachikian spoke as Valecha’s body underwent autopsy in a Yerevan mortuary. Dozens of Indian students gathered outside to await its results.
The YSMU rector suggested that the student may well have “jumped out the window on his own.” “He essentially fell on his feet,” she argued. “The most severely damaged parts of his body were his feet. This is what happens when a person falls on his own.”
Kalian also claimed that shortly before the fall Valecha had a “bitter argument” with his Indian roommate who accused him of theft. “The roommate says that after they quarreled he went to the toilet and then came back to find the room empty and the window open,” she told RFE/RL. “This is what he testified.”
The unidentified roommate was among several Indian residents of the student dormitory who were questioned by the police late Thursday. One of them subsequently wrote on his website that one of the first questions they were asked was, "What do Hindus do after a person is dead? Do they burn them?"
The Indian said some policemen also wondered “whether the police in India took bribes like they did.” He claimed that they tried to “frighten me with stupid statements ranging from ‘Did you kill him?’ to ‘We will deport you.’”