Petition seeks probe into death of ex-US soldier

Panaji, Apr 19 (IANS): US-based ISKCON devotees have started an online petition demanding a probe into the death of a former US airman and Hare Krishna devotee Caitanya Holt, who died in mysterious circumstances in a Goa village in January.

The petition, started by Mississippi-based Lila Grenham, a former associate of Holt, has also warned of canvassing against Goa as a tourism destination, if the probe is not undertaken by the state authorities in Goa seriously.

"We are calling on the US Consul General in Mumbai, Thomas L. Vajda, to demand an investigation into Chai's (Caitanya) murder and to acknowledge the general lawlessness in Goa that has led to the deaths of many tourists and locals alike," says Grenham in her online petition, which has 413 backers.

She also claimed that Holt may have been a victim of a powerful drug mafia operating in the coastal state.

Grenham's petition is part of the #JusticeforCaitanya campaign, which had started in January soon after Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar dismissed reports of foul play in his death.

Ohio-born Caitanya Holt died on January 12 reportedly after choking on mud in the paddy field in Korgao village, 25 km from Panaji, as he was chased by the villagers and police after being allegedly mistaken for a thief.

It was also reported by the media that Holt was beaten up.

A subsequent post-mortem examination conducted in the presence of the US embassy officials and an ISKCON member deputed by Holt's family, revealed that he died of asphyxia caused by choking on sludge.

Non-fatal injuries were also acknowledged in the autopsy conducted by a panel of forensic doctors of Goa Medical College, who have sent the viscera obtained from the remains for further forensic examination to a central laboratory. Four months since, results of the examination are still awaited.

It is this delay that has irked Caitanya's friends. Grenham also expressed unhappiness over the manner in which the US Consulate in Mumbai has followed up on the issue.

"So far, the US Consulate in Mumbai has failed to investigate -- or even acknowledge -- the extremely disturbing circumstances surrounding Chai's murder, so I created this petition calling on Consul General Thomas L. Vajda to take action," Grenham says in the petition.

In a recent interaction with IANS, a senior official attached to the US Consulate said that ever since the incident, they had been in constant touch with Goa Police, seeking follow-up on the case.

"We have been following up on this case with local police. However, it is up to the Indian authorities to investigate the case," the official said on condition of anonymity.

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