Border tragedy: the community mourns its family

Winnipeg’s Gujarati community prayed during an online vigil on Saturday for the Indian family of four who froze to death last week trying to cross the border from Canada into the United States.

The dignitaries sent their condolences, while Bhadresh Bhatt led the solemn ceremony.

He sang prayers for the lost family in a farmer’s freezing field.

“Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,” he told mourners, who responded with the same plea for peace in the online video-calling platform’s chat.

The village of Dingucha in the western state of Gujarat is mourning the loss of the Patel family — Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, 39; his wife, Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, 37; their daughter, Vihangi 11; and her three-year-old son, Dharmik.

The community closed on Saturday to pay their respects to the family who died in the frozen prairie halfway around the world.

The Winnipeg vigil, organized by the Gurajati Cultural Society of Manitoba, lasted about 45 minutes, with prayers sung by three people.

An elderly woman took over from Bhatt, clapping between her chanted prayers.

“Our community has been shaken over the past two weeks,” Kirit Thakrar of the Hindu Society of Manitoba said at the vigil.

“It’s a very difficult loss for all of us.”

A man on the US side of the border has been arrested and charged with human trafficking. US officials allege he is part of an organized human trafficking business.

US court documents allege Steve Shand of Deltona, Florida, was driving a pickup truck with two Indian nationals just south of the border on January 19.

Documents indicate that five other Indians were spotted shortly afterwards in the snow walking towards the van. They told border agents they had walked for more than 11 hours in the freezing cold and four other people had become separated from the group overnight.

A man in the group also said that he had paid a large sum of money to obtain a fake student visa in Canada and that he expected to be driven to a relative’s home in Chicago after crossing the border, according to the documents.

— with Canadian Press files

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera
Multimedia producer

Erik Pindera is a multimedia producer at the Winnipeg Free Press.

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