Venna killings rivet Indian community here and abroad

Members of the Indian community watch, and take cell phone photos as Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman, briefs the media on the recovery of Saavni Venna's body early Friday morning.
Members of the Indian community watch, and take cell phone photos as Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman, briefs the media on the recovery of Saavni Venna's body early Friday morning. (TOM KELLY IV)
Posted: October 28, 2012

Astonished and grieving, members of the Indian community in the region could make little sense of the notion that one of their own allegedly kidnapped and killed a 10-month-old child and slayed her grandmother.

Both the suspect and the victims' family come from the same part of India, Andhra Pradesh, a state about 300 miles south of Mumbai, executives of various Indian associations said Friday.

It's hard for people to understand that Raghunandan Yandamuri shares cultural ties with the people he allegedly killed, tiny Saanvi Venna, and her grandmother, Satayvathi Venna, 61.

"It is really shocking that somebody from my part of the world would stoop this low in such a callous, cruel way," said Korah Abraham, president of KALAA, an organization of people from southern India. "This is not what is expected of fellow Indians."

Such violence among the Indian diaspora in America is "extremely, extremely, extremely" rare, Abraham insisted.

He explained that Indians widely believe that only "the cream of the crop emigrates to America - the better-educated, the more successful ones. America has always attracted the best."

That fact is what fascinates people in India following the case, Abraham said.

"When there is aberrant violence among the cream of the crop in America, it is unusual and captures the imagination of the people in India," he added.

There is hunger for details about the Venna family in India, and among Indian immigrants across the United States, say immigrants who monitor Indian news reports via television, the internet, and Indian newspapers.

"It's shocking to everyone," said Mallik Budhavarapu, vice president of the Telugu Association of Greater Delaware Valley.

Initial reports in India about the homicides described gunshots and four people riding in an SUV, an image more in keeping with the Indian view of American cities as places of violence, Budhavarapu said.

For Indians in the area, many of whom are working in fields such as IT and are fairly well off, the idea that a child would be kidnapped and held for $50,000 ransom seemed strange.

"Many Indians working here make that kind of money," said Manish Ingle, president of the Council of Indian Organizations in Greater Philadelphia. Ingle owns a medical-device company in Hatfield.

"Fifty thousand is not an enormous amount," he said. "We are all professionals."

The killings have induced soul-searching among Indians living here.

"Most of us have been here 15 years or more and we may be forgetting our culture," Budhavarapu said. "The evidence of that is we're getting used to gambling, or feel peer pressure to strive to earn more for a car."

Abraham agreed. "The world is more materialistic and young people are under pressure to achieve financially and sacrifice morally."

On Friday, members of Indian associations were careful to thank authorities for the swift arrest in the case.

They were also marshaling resources to help the Venna family.

One national group, the Telugu Association of North America, was preparing to send Satayvathi Venna's remains to India on Friday night, said chairman Anjaiah Chowdary Lavu, who lives in Atlanta.

"I've been dealing closely with the family," he said.

Representatives from organizations with ties to people from the Indian state of Kerala were scheduled to convene in Bensalem on Saturday, a meeting that had been set before the slayings.

Now, Abraham said, some of the agenda will be altered to discuss how the Vennas can be helped, and what implications the deaths have among Indians living here.

"What we need to understand," Abraham said, "is how to go forward."


Contact Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or alubrano@phillynews.com.

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