The bodies of a family of four found frozen last week in a Manitoba field near the Canada-US border will not be flown back to their home in India, a relative said.
On Thursday, officials confirmed the identities of husband and wife, Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, 39, and Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, 37, and their children, Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, 11, and three-year-old Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, after autopsies left the family dead from exposure to extreme weather conditions.
“This sad incident has happened in our home and the whole family is grieving,” Jagdish’s cousin, Jaswant Patel, said in a statement.
“Nobody is ready to speak” [about] something or they are also unable to speak. The bodies will not be brought here and the last rites will be performed in Canada.”
The family is believed to have been part of a group that attempted to walk across the international border into the US, only to be separated from the rest during a snowstorm and froze to death near the Manitoba town of Emerson on Jan. 19.
Shortly before the family’s bodies were discovered, US officials had detained seven other Indian nationals on the US side of the border.
The family’s update came at a funeral held Thursday, said Vaibhav Jha, a local journalist who was outside their home in Dingucha village during the service.
All day long, men in white and women in black saris — formal funeral attire in India — flocked from nearby villages to pay their respects to the grandfather who has now lost his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, he said.
“He doesn’t want to talk to the press. He hasn’t even spoken to the families and relatives. He has locked himself up at the house,” said Jha, a senior correspondent at the Indian Express newspaper in Gujarat.
“The news was devastating to them.”
VIEW | Bodies of family found near the border will not be returned to India:
Looking for opportunities
The victims had left their parents’ homes this month after suffering serious financial losses while running a small shop and being unable to support themselves on their farm income.
“The couple felt they were struggling to run their home and the children needed better education… they decided to leave India because they couldn’t find a good job here,” said Sanjay Patel, a cousin of the victim who lives in Dingucha, home to more than 1,200 families.
Jha said that both Jagdish and Vaishaliben used to be teachers, and more recently, the father worked in the garment industry.
Despite being a highly industrialized state, thousands of Gujarat residents are moving to the United States and Canada in search of better opportunities.
The couple felt they were struggling to run their home and the children needed a better education… they decided to leave India because they couldn’t find a good job here.– Sanjay Patel, family member
More than 2,000 village residents have migrated to the United States in the past 10 years, mainly working at gas stations, malls and restaurants, said Patel, who also serves on the village’s self-governing council.
During his stay in Dingucha, Jha said, about half of the houses in the village appeared to be empty.
“It is an urban, prosperous village, where people have mansions and bungalows. Yet they are locked up because these people have already migrated to overseas countries or metropolitan cities in India,” he said, describing a trend that he believes is underway. is. for decades.
An Indian police officer investigating the case said the late Patel was one of tens of thousands of residents who immigrate to the West because they are reluctant to take menial jobs that they consider to be below their social status.
“The Patel community has historically chosen to settle abroad, but now we are seeing an increasing number of cases where people are willing to sell their land, gold just to find a way to live in Canada or America. life,” said the official, Ajay Parmar.
“Everyone wants better jobs and they are not easily available in India.”
Posters of travel and immigration agents advertise what they describe as convenient US, UK and Canadian visa facilities on several walls of the town square.
“I haven’t seen another ad — not even a soap or shampoo brand — but I saw ads from travel agents, operators promising student visas to just about anyone,” Jha said.
He said the Patel family probably paid a large sum of money to smugglers to get to North America. But so far people in the village are silent about what they may know about the operations.
“They feel sad for the four-member family that has passed away, but they are very afraid to talk more about the other seven members who have been detained,” Jha said.
Last week, US authorities charged Steve Shand, 47, of Florida with transporting or attempting to transport undocumented migrants in connection with the case. Shand was later released on a number of conditions.
Indian police said they have detained 13 travel agents as part of an international smuggling investigation to track down illegal immigration networks in Gujarat.
From 2016 to the end of 2021, the Canada Border Services Agency opened 355 criminal investigations into people smuggling, a spokesman said. Of those cases, charges were filed in 162.
And while authorities have so far kept quiet about what they know about the family’s journey to a frozen field in Manitoba from their native village in India, Jha said he hopes more involved will be caught soon.
“In the end, this man just wanted to be good to his family, and his desperation was taken advantage of by some nefarious illegal traffickers,” he said.