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Indian student's assailants face life in prison

Arthur J Pais in New Bedford | July 04, 2003 10:29 IST

Chris Hansen, whose arrest in the beating of Indian graduate student Saurabh Bhalerao, was announced at the No Hate rally in New Bedford on Wednesday, has pleaded not guilty.

More than 150 people from many ethnic and religious backgrounds gathered on the steps of City Hall in this Massachusetts town on July 2 to condemn the attack.

Police say Bhalerao, 24, an University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth student, was beaten, burned with cigarettes, tied up, shoved into the trunk of a car and eventually stabbed when he attacked his kidnapper with a hammer from the trunk of the car. As many speakers denounced the hate crime, police officer Arthur Kelly announced Hansen was arraigned that morning, and the investigation was moving swiftly.

Bhalerao, who was delivering pizza around 11 in the night, thinks the incident began as a robbery and turned into a hate crime when he told his assailants he was from India.

Bhalerao, who sympathizes with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, was mistaken for a Muslim.

Hansen, who was already on probation after being caught by the police in two drug raids, had been convicted of heroin possession recently. Like three young men also charged in the same crime, Hansen is charged with kidnapping, assault to maim, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, armed robbery, motor vehicle larceny, two counts of conspiracy, and a hate crimes charge. If convicted, police said he could face a life sentence, along with his three friends.

The preliminary trial hearing is scheduled for July 23.

All four men arrested for the June 22 attack have been held on $100,000 bail.

According to The Standard Times, Hansen, 17, told the detectives that co-defendant Christopher Pereira, 20, ordered the pizza and later beat Bhalerao along with Ryan Marsh and Tyrell Tavares, both 17. Though Bhalerao believes Tavares shoved him in the trunk of his (Bhalerao's car) and stabbed him, the police have a different version. According to them Marsh told detectives he stabbed Bhalerao in self-defense.

Hansen said he called family friends and told them 'they're rolling this guy right now.' One of the friends, Debra Hebert, told reporters that she called Sarducci's, the pizzeria where Bhalerao worked as a deliveryman, and told the owner that Bhalerao was in serious trouble.

At Wednesday's rally, many speakers said hateful crimes diminish every citizen of a town or a city. Some speakers said while the attack on a student like Bhalerao was new to the Dartmouth-New Bedford area, it reflected the danger many immigrants, especially those from South Asia, faced after 9/11. Ravi Sakhuja, chairman of the Indian American Forum for Political Education's Massachusetts chapter, partly blamed the attack on the hysteria arising after the 9/11 attacks. State and federal authorities have noted a dramatic increase in hate crimes since then, he said.

"We are living in a world that is much more difficult than it was in the past," added Vanita Shastri, president of the same group, who spoke at length how Indians are integrated in the civil life of Massachusetts and are a force in the state's economic engine.

Bhalerao was not just the victim, but the larger society suffered too, said Robert Leikind, executive director, Anti-Defamation League in New England, whose organization has certified as New Bedford as a no-hate town for three years in a row.

"It isn't just an attack against a person. It's an attack against the vision of what a good society should be," he said.


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