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'They did everything for one another': Indian family from Toronto who drowned in river remembered at funeral

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Four members of a close-knit Indian family who briefly called Toronto home were mourned Monday after drowning in the frigid St. Lawrence River during a failed border crossing at Akwesasne Mohawk Nation.

Speaking during a joint funeral at Etobicoke’s Lotus Funeral and Cremation Centre, Monali Chaudhari said her cousins Mitkumar, 20, and 23-year-old Vidhiben along with her aunt Dakshaben, 45, and 49-year-old uncle, Pravinbhai, were a family that was “filled with love and laughter” and will now forever be together.

“They did everything for one another. They did everything as a family, and now they will rest as a family,” she said at the end of the 90-minute Hindu service.

“They will stick by each other through life and death. ... They’re still with each other during this transition.”

Monali said the loss of her two cousins is especially difficult as they’re right around her age and had “such a life to still live.”

She added that at this time her family remains shocked their loss and isn’t prepared to speak to the circumstances surrounding what led to this “tragic accident.”

“But just lay them to rest with some dignity because that's what they deserve. And what happened has happened,” she told CTV News Toronto.

Dakshaben Pravinbhai Chaudhari, 45, and her two adult children, Mitkumar, 20, and 23-year-old daughter, Vidhiben. The family from India drowned in late March while trying to enter the U.S. illegally at Akwasasne. Husband and father Pravinbhai Veljibhai Chaudhari, 49, not pictured, also died in the tragedy. A funeral for the family from Toronto was held on April 10.

Non-profit Humans for Harmony facilitated the ritual after being contacted by the Indian consulate in Canada as relatives were unable to afford to send the four bodies back home. The Chaudharis will be cremated in the coming days and their ashes will be returned to India.

Speaking during the service, the organization’s president, Don Patel, said the family, like many, came to Canada with dreams of bettering their lives.

“We never thought that we will be performing this kind of duties with four people at a time, not even one or two,” he said, adding the team at Humans for Harmony feels fortunate to be able to assist the family during this trying time and hopefully help ease their pain.

“We are not sure why or what drives people in their minds to not only visit to but to try make that kind of step which a disaster which is for them and the whole community,” he told CTV News Toronto prior to the service.

“We should be passing and spreading awareness that yes, there are lots of legal ways to be here, make your life into that way and be prosperous because this is a country with opportunities. … Your own lives and your own well being is the most important first priority. You have to take care of yourself.”

Speaking during the funeral, Mississauga-Malton MPP Deepak Anand said he prays to God that families like the ones lying before him today find the strength to make better decisions, ones that don’t put them at risk of losing their life in the name of “more prosperity.”

He also said that he hopes that those involved in trafficking people illegally across the border understand the often deadly outcomes of their actions.

Lastly, as a fellow immigrant, Anand highlighted that the key to success in Canada is hard work and discipline and urged his fellow legislators to adopt the same message.

“If somebody is taking shortcuts, tell them to stop, and tell them and give them an examples with the shortcuts can lead to tragedy,” he said.

Pravinbhai Veljibhai Chaudhari, 49, his 45-year-old wife Dakshaben Pravinbhai Chaudhari and their two adult children, Mitkumar, 20, and 23-year-old daughter, Vidhiben. The family from India drowned in late March while trying to enter the U.S. illegally at Akwasasne. A funeral for the family from Toronto was held on April 10.

Late last week, Achal Tyagi, superintendent of police for the Indian city of Mehsana, told CTV News Toronto that the family from Gujarat province was in Canada on a travel visa.

"From what family says, they went to Canada to travel in Canada. The family had been talking with them every couple days. They had no information whatsoever as to whether, that they would be traveling to U.S. or that they had any plans to travel to the U.S," he said.

"It is possible that they (the family) may know more than they are telling us right now, but they are in mourning and their main focus is to plan a funerals."

It is not yet know why the Chaudharis, who owned about three acres of land in Gujarat, were trying to enter the United States.

Toronto’s Iordache family – husband Florin, wife Monalisa and their two children Evelin, 2, and one-and-a-half-year-old Elyen – also perished in the same frigid river just over a week ago.

The couple had come to Canada roughly four year ago from Craiova, a city about 235 kilometres west of Bucharest. Their children were born here and are Canadian citizens.

With files from CTV News Toronto’s Beth Macdonell and The Canadian Press.

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