Bullied Indian Student at Otemon Gakuin University Commits Suicide

December 27, 2010

Although this is just being reported now, the suicide happened in June of 2007! Although the family of the Indian student who committed suicide asked the Otemon Gakuin University to investigate, the school let this case sit on a shelf for 3 years. The university made no report until the bereaved family hired a lawyer in August of 2010.

This is really sad news. I have not seen this picked up by a lot of news agencies yet, but I really hope this news goes international. I have personally seen cases of exchange students having trouble making friends, having trouble with host families, and even being picked on or disliked by teachers before. This story, however, is even more extreme.

If early news reports such as this one in MSN Sankei Shinbun are accurate, an exchange student (however he may have been born and raised in Japan… I’ve seen him described both ways) from India was bullied extensively while studying abroad at Otemon Gakuin University. The story reports that he was nicknamed “Bin Laden” and had his pants forcibly removed in public by a number of male students at the school. There are also reports that the students shot fireworks in his direction. The student later committed suicide.

This information comes from a friend of the student. A suicide note was also left. Otemon Gakuin University officials strongly deny that “bullying” was a factor in the suicide.

Further accounts state that a member of the group told the student that bullying him recently had been the most fun he’d had. Another member reportedly said that just looking at him made him angry. The Indian student’s friend was distressed about not being able to  do more to protect him.

A professor at the university also reportedly tolded Sankei News that even though the university understood that there was a high probability that the student had been bullied, they failed to investigate and covered up the incident.

(If I’ve missed or misunderstood anything, please feel free to let me know in the comments. I am really frustrated with how schools and university’s that have the trust of the people continually cover up things like this. In fact, I think this should be treated as a hate crime (though I don’t think Japan has any hate crime laws… time to make them), and the students (if guilty) and the university are guilty of racism and a slew of related crimes because of the cover up.)

I’ll be setting up some Google Alerts so that hopefully I can follow this story.

{ 9 comments }

1 Professor Raghu December 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm

SHAME ON THIS UNIVERSITY! SHAME ON THE JAPANESE! SHAME ON JAPAN! DO THESE CULTURALLY ILLITERATE BIGOTS KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT INDIA OR ABOUT JAPANESE BUSINESS INTERESTS IN INDIA! THEY RESEMBLE SOME OF THEIR AMERICAN VICTORS IN THEIR IGNORANCE ABOUT OTHER CULTURES, INCLUDING OTHER ASIAN CULTURES. THEY CRY “SABETSU” WHEN THEY ARE DISCRIMINATED AGAINST IN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES, BUT DON’T HESITATE TO DISPLAY DISGUSTING AND STUPID PREJUDICES AGAINST FOREIGNERS EVEN FROM NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES AND FROM ASIA AT LARGE. I FULLY SUPPORT A LAWSUIT AGAINST THIS ABJECT “UNIVERSITY” ON THE GROUNDS THAT IT FAILED TO PREVENT THE HEINOUS HARASSMENT OF THIS UNFORTUNATE STUDENT!

2 jay@newzjapan December 27, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I don’t think we should generalize about all Japanese college students (or Americans who were not involved, for that matter), but I think a very important part of this case should be what was or wasn’t done during the three years between the suicide, and it finally coming to light. The cover up, the reasons behind it, what the university has done to prevent similar incidences, how they dealt with other reports of bullying during this period… not to mention how non-Japanese students are treated and counseled at the university are all important issues that should come out if this goes to trial. Honestly, I expect to see it settled quietly behind closed doors… which is a shame.

There is a relatively large (for Japan) Indian community in Kobe, so if the student had been raised in Japan, I’m sure he knew the culture well. (I7m still waiting for confirmation one way or the other.)

I think there will definitely be a lawsuit, and if it was “ijime” I hope that they can prove it and prove accountability on the part of the university. The reality is, however, that bullying is very hard to prove in the Japanese legal system. Bullies often start out as friends, and lawyers tend to play it off as trouble among friends or something unrelated to school, even when the school turned a deaf ear on complaints or requests from the victims. In cases like this, many families just settle with the school. The school in turn avoids the “bullying” label. The sad result is that laws and mindsets remain the same.

3 Mr. S. December 27, 2010 at 5:33 pm

And this goes well with the HTML link on how Japan’s universities are attracting fewer foreign students, and fewer Japanese are studying abroad. That and a thirty-year recession, collapsed birth-rate, little immigration and negligible naturalization: Japan’s %$#@ed.

4 SH December 27, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Hi. I am Japanese and heard this news today. This is a really shameful incident and I feel really sorry as a Japanese.

I can never forgive this university’s ignorance of the incident off course, but also I cannot understand why those Japanese students did such a stupid thing, even though they should be matured enough to know what is right and what is wrong. I feel anger to those guys really.

5 Andrew Grimes December 28, 2010 at 3:46 am

I would just like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles dealing with mental health issues in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal.

Useful telephone numbers for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal: Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):

Japan: 0120-738-556
Tokyo: 3264 4343

If you believe that he may be about to attempt suicide you should call the Japanese police:

Emergency contact numbers:
Both the police and fire/medical assistance are available 24 hours a day.
 
110 is the number to the Police Headquarter Command Post, and 119 is to the Fire Department Command and Control Center. They will take your call, and arrange a police car, fire engine, or ambulance in case of emergency.
 
You can dial 110 and 119 for free. Even from a public phone, you do not need a phone card or money. Hope this may be of some help to you.

All the best,

Andrew Grimes

Tokyo Counseling Services
*******************************************
Tokyo Counseling Services
03-5431-3096
tokyocounselingservices@gmail.com
http://tokyocounseling.com/english/
*******************************************
東京カウンセリングサービス
03-5431-3096
tokyocounselingservices@gmail.com
http://tokyocounseling.com/jp/
*******************************************

6 jay@newzjapan December 28, 2010 at 5:23 am

Thanks for the information, Andrew. I think it’s very hard for some people to reach out, and even harder if they don’t know where to reach out to!

SH – This kind of thing really happens everywhere, not just in Japan. The cover ups and denials make it all the more painful, though. We just have to stay open minded and try to be there and not let people (Japanese and non-Japanese alike) feel like they are going through it alone.

And Mr. S… Don’t get me started! It’s high time for Japan to end the us vs them, nihonjin vs gaikokujin mentality. Non-Japanese teachers and professors are often treated and contracted differently from others setting up a dichotomy in the beginning.

Once, at a park a little boy came up to me and a few of my Japanese friends. (For the record, I’m American.) We tossed a ball around with the kid for a while. When his parents finally came over to take him home, the father looked lovingly down at the boy, pointed a finger at me and said, “See him? He’s a gaijin. You are Japanese. He is a gaijin.” Establishing the dichotomy at a young age.

7 jay@newzjapan December 28, 2010 at 6:01 am

It seems that the student was raised in Japan, and had Japanese citizenship so it wasn’t a case of an exchange student being bullied. I still think it’s racially motivated based on some of the things that were reportedly said. It is time for there to be hate crime laws in Japan, and for them to be enforced.

Also, Asahi Shimbun and other news outlets are reporting that a 3rd party investigation issued a statement that they can not deny that bullying (ijime) was a factor in the suicide. The panel interviewed students who studied in the marketing department with the victim.

There is more tragedy to the story as told in Asahi. The student’s father also reportedly killed himself in 2008 saying that he was going to meet his son. The mother commented that if the university had not covered up the bullying, her son and husband would still be alive.

The 3rd party panel also determined that papers saying the family was asked to sign after the boys death infringed on the family’s rights. The papers were signed by the family just after the death and waived their rights to any monetary claims against the university. These papers were signed by the family at the same time the university gave them “mimaikin”, money traditionally given to someone after a death in the family. As stated above, the 3rd party panel said they infringed on the family’s rights to an investigation.

8 Professor Raghu December 28, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Jay, I wasn’t generalizing about Japanese or Americans. I was talking about the large segment of the population in Japan which harbors such prejudices against foreigners and contributes to a social climate in which incidents such as the one in Otomon Gakuin University. The problem, in the form of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim prejudices, is also present on American campuses.

9 jay@newzjapan December 30, 2010 at 10:10 am

Thanks again Professor Raghu. I just want to keep the discussion focused on some of the societal issues Japan is facing that come up in this case. I fear that speaking too globally will dilute it and give perpetrators a diversion. I think that anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim prejudices is a valid and important issue… not limited to America and Japan. However I definitely do not want to lose the trees in the forest, to paraphrase and adapt a common expression.

The young man in this case was raised in Japan and reported to have Japanese citizenship.

The obvious issues that still need to be addressed are those of bullying, and as Andrew mentioned above, suicide prevention and counseling.

Another issue of importance is that this was covered up for so long. We have seen the same kinds of cover-ups exposed in rape cases and other crimes that would affect the reputation of a given school. We only know of the unsuccessful cover ups. Who knows how many schools have successfully kept their names out of the newspapers at the expense of victims’ peace of mind.

Yet another issue is the severe lack of laws against hate crimes.

The final issue is one I have not seen much of in Japan, but believe it warrants discussion. That is, what of the culturally and linguistically Japanese people who are of Indian descent in Japan. There are large communities that deserve, and probably are not getting proper representation and legal protection.

I fear however, as I stated above, that this case will be settled and nothing will have changed.

I also want to note that reactions to this crime on bulletin boards and 2CH in Japan have universally decried the boys that did this. People are angry on behalf of the student, and I would venture to say that most people (that I’ve heard from or read) want to see the perpetrators as well as Otemon Gakuin University tried in court.