Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Murder-Suicide in Silicon Valley's Indian Family

Five members of a South Indian family are dead in an apparent murder-suicide in Sunnyvale, CA. The 42-year-old Yahoo engineer, Devan Kalathat, aka Raghavan Devarajan, opened fire on his wife, his two children and his wife's brother's family who were all living in the same townhouse in Sunnyvale, and then turned the gun on himself.

According to media reports, Kalathat was a naturalized U.S. citizen who moved from India to Sunnyvale 15 years ago. Kalathat's wife, Abha, is reported in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds in her upper body. Sunnyvale Police identified the dead victims as Kalathat's children: 11-year-old Akhil Dev and 4-year-old Negha Dev; Kalathat's brother-in-law Ashok Appu Poothemkandi, 35, Poothemkandi's wife, Suchitra Sivaraman, 25; and the Poothemkandis' infant daughter, Ahana Ashok.

In a story posted Tuesday, the Times of India had an interview with Kalathat's father-in-law, Appu Master, an 80-year-old retired schoolteacher, in Tamil Nadu. Master told the news organization that the shooter had a "quarrel" with Master's son, Poothemkandi.

Ashok Kumar Sinha of the Consulate Generals of India in San Francisco said it helped police notify relatives and will be working with the family to claim the bodies. Relatives from India and England are on their way to Sunnyvale.

There was another, similar incident involving an Indian family near Los Angeles, California, last year in Oct. Time magazine reported that police discovered the bodies of the Rajaram family in their home on Como Lane. Karthik Rajaram, 45, had shot his mother-in-law, wife and three children to death before killing himself.

Rajaram, a former financial analyst at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Sony Pictures, left two suicide notes — one for police and another for family and friends — and a will. "I understand he was unemployed, his dealings in the stock market had taken a disastrous turn for the worse," said Los Angeles deputy police chief Michel R. Moore. "This was a person who had been quite successful in this arena." Amid news of the global financial crisis and the credit crunch, this murder-suicide has become emblematic of the times — in its way parallelling the deathly plunges of Wall Street stockbrokers in 1929, reported the magazine.

While this murder-suicide is very tragic, the news of violent crime or deadly violence among South Asian-Americans in Silicon Valley is very rare. Most members of the community are well educated with solid middle class backgrounds. Many own their own homes and are known to be highly family oriented, sending their children to the best schools in the valley.

Related Links:

Bigotry Bedevils South Indian Eatery

Silicon Valley Job Cuts Hit H1B Workers

Musharraf in Silicon Valley

Pakistani American: Mr. Thirty Percent of Silicon Valley

Sir Syed Day Mushaira in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley Summit of Pakistani Entrepreneurs


Anwar said...

Very unfortunate and sad event. I do not know if he lost his bearing due to economic hardship of the present times or something else. My sympathies...

Anonymous said...

Guy's a moron. He had a good job at Yahoo and was in no danger of losing it. Anger management case if ever there was one.

Riaz Haq said...


It's really tragic, it seems he was a normal guy who just flipped.

Anonymous said...

It's really tragic, it seems he was a normal guy who just flipped.

Riaz, but there's no excuse to take everyone else down with you. Especially the kids ... unpardonable - no circumstances can mitigate that.

Riaz Haq said...


"there's no excuse to take everyone else down with you. Especially the kids ... unpardonable - no circumstances can mitigate that."

I agree. It's hard to make sense out of something so senseless.

Anonymous said...

What ever happened to the wife, is she ok? Does anyone know?

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "What ever happened to the wife, is she ok? Does anyone know?"

This was last report I saw in Mercury News:

The mother who survived the shooting deaths of her two children and four other relatives is still in critical condition nearly a month after the grisly Santa Clara murder-suicide, according to police.

Abha Appu, 34, still hasn't been well enough to speak in detail to investigators, Santa Clara Police Lt. Phil Cooke told the Mercury News. And a motive for why her husband, Devan Kalathat, 42, shot five relatives to death before killing himself on March 29 has not yet been publicly disclosed.

Appu was shot multiple times in the upper body.

At a housewarming party in the upscale Rivermark development where his family had just moved to from their longtime home in Sunnyvale, police said that Kalathat used two .45-caliber handguns to kill his children, Akhil Dev, 11, and Negha Dev, 4. Police say he also killed his wife's brother, who was visiting from India, Ashokan Appu Poothemkandi, 35; his wife, Suchitra Sivaraman, 25; and their 11-month-old daughter, Ahana. He killed himself, too.

Finances didn't appear to spark the rampage, police said. Kalathat, who also was known as Raghavan Devarajan, was a web analytics engineer at Yahoo.

Anonymous said...

Does any one know if Abha is better now?

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "Does any one know if Abha is better now?"

The last I heard was in July 2009 when Abha was out of the hospital. She was recovering in a care center and using a wheelchair to get around.

Riaz Haq said...

Suicide rates in India are about 5-10 times higher than in Pakistan, according to WHO data reported by Daily Times.

And suicides are on the rise in India, according to Times of India:

NEW DELHI: Every four minute, one person takes his or her life in the country and one in each three of victims is a youth below the age of 30 years, the latest report of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has revealed.

According to the 'Accidental Deaths and Suicides 2009' released recently, 68.7 per cent of a total of 1,27,151 people who committed suicide across the country in 2009 were in the age group of 15-44 years.

More than 55 per cent of the suicide victims in Arunachal Pradesh and Delhi were in the age group of 15-29 years -- 56.42 per cent (62 out of 110) of victims in Arunachal Pradesh and 55.3 per cent (817 out of 1,477) in Delhi were in this age group.

"34.5 per cent of the suicide victims were in the age group of 15-29 years and 34.2 per cent were in the middle aged group of 30-44 years," the report said.

"223 males commit suicides per day in the country while the number for women is 125 out of which 69 are house wives. 73 people commit suicide on a single day due to illness while 10 are driven to suicide due to love affairs," it said.

The country witnessed a 1.7 per cent increase in suicide cases in 2009 compared to the previous when it recorded 1,27,151 cases as against 1,22,902, the report said.

West Bengal topped the list with 14,648 cases followed by Andhra Pradesh (14,500), Tamil Nadu (14,424), Maharashtra (14,300) and Karnataka (12,195).

These five states together accounted for 55.1 per cent of the total suicides.

The southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala (8,755) together accounted for 39.2 per cent of the total suicide cases reported in this year.

Delhi recorded 1,477 suicides in 2009. Uttar Pradesh has reported a comparatively lower number of suicidal deaths, accounting for only 3.3 per cent of the total cases. The state accounts for 16.7 per cent of the total population.

"The number of suicides during the decade (1999-2009) has recorded an increase of 15 per cent from 1,10,587 in 1999 to 1,27,151 in 2009. The increase in incidence of suicides was reported each year during the decade except 2000 and 2001," the report said.

On the reasons for people taking extreme steps, family problems and illness topped the list with 23.7 and 21 per cent cases respectively. Love affairs led to 2.9 per cent and dowry dispute, drug abuse and poverty were 2.3 per cent each.

"It is observed that social and economic causes have led most of the males to commit suicides whereas emotional and personal causes have mainly driven females to end their lives," the report said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an NPR report on the abuse of H1b visas:

If you scroll through the government's visa data, you notice something surprising. The biggest employer of foreign tech workers is not Microsoft — not by a long shot. Nor is it Google, Facebook or any other name-brand tech company. The biggest users of H-1Bs are consulting companies, or as Ron Hira calls them, "offshore-outsourcing firms."

"The top 10 recipients in [the] last fiscal year were all offshore-outsourcers. And they got 40,000 of the 85,000 visas — which is astonishing," he says.

Hira's a professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He's also the son of Indian immigrants and has a personal interest in questions of labor flow across borders.

For the past decade, he's been studying how consulting firms use temporary work visas to help American companies cut costs. He says they use the visas to supply cheaper workers here, but also to smooth the transfer of American jobs to information-technology centers overseas.

"What these firms have done is exploit the loopholes in the H-1B program to bring in on-site workers to learn the jobs [of] the Americans to then ship it back offshore," he says. "And also to bring in on-site workers who are cheaper on the H-1B and undercut American workers right here."

The biggest user of H-1B last year was Cognizant, a firm based in New Jersey. The company got 9,000 new visas. Following close behind were Infosys, Wipro and Tata ‑‑ all Indian firms. They're not household names, but they loom large in tech places like the Seattle suburbs.

Cutting Costs

Rennie Sawade, a software designer with 30 years of experience, grew up in Michigan — watching the decline of the auto industry. And so, he went into computers in search of a more secure career. But that's not how it turned out.

"Basically, what I see is, it's happening all over again," Sawade says.

Programmers like him tend to be freelancers, or contract workers, and the big consulting firms are the competition. Sawade remembers when he almost landed a plum job at Microsoft.

"I remember having phone interviews and talking with the manager, having him sound really excited about my experience and he was going to bring me in to meet the team," Sawade recalls.

And then: nothing. He called his own placement agency to find out what happened.

"And that's when they told me, 'Oh, they hired somebody from Tata Consultancy.' And they actually told me on the phone, the woman I was talking to said her jaw just dropped when they found out how little Microsoft was paying this person from Tata Consultancy to do this job," he says.