Cheistha Kochhar: Family and friends mourn ‘brilliant and brave’ Indian PhD student killed by bin lorry in London

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An Indian PhD student, who was killed in a collision in central London while out cycling with her husband, has been remembered by her friends and family as “the kindest person in the room”.

Cheistha Kochhar, 33, was cycling back to her house from the London School of Economics (LSE) when she collided with a garbage lorry on Clerkenwell Road, near the junction with Farringdon Road, on 19 March.

Kochhar’s husband was cycling a few metres ahead of his wife when he heard a loud noise and rushed to her rescue. Paramedics and police officers rushed to the accident site but the grievously injured woman died on the spot.

“The lorry, believed to be a garbage vehicle, stopped at the scene. The driver is helping with the probe,” the Metropolitan police said.

Kochhar was pursuing a PhD in Behavioural Studies at the LSE and had been married to her software engineer husband for just over a year.

Her father Dr SP Kochhar, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), on Saturday said he and his son were in London to collect her remains. He said her death “has devastated us and her large circle of friends”.

In a statement released through the police on Tuesday, the family said Kochhar always had a hug to spare for anyone and lived her life with the “principle that it was more important to be the kindest person in the room, than to be the smartest person in the room”.

“Cheistha’s deep intelligence and passions were belied by her sprightly demeanour and the consummate ease with which she eased people out of their shells to make friends with her.

“In the short span she had on this planet, she touched tens of thousands of people in extremely meaningful ways and the magnitude of this loss is incomprehensible.”

Before moving to London last September, Kochher was associated with the Indian government’s thinktank Niti Ayog. She had worked on a range of roles including in business startups and with various government bodies in her home country.

Amitabh Kant, former CEO of NITI Aayog, said Ms Kochhar had worked with him at a policy think tank in the Nudge Unit. “She was bright, brilliant and brave and always full of life. Gone away too early,” he said in a post on X.

“In spite of her experience as a practitioner and an executive, she had the heart of an academician, having worked and collaborated with Nobel laureates,” Kochhar’s family said, explaining her move to London.

The family said Kochhar wanted to learn from her work in London to help “tackle the grand challenges that countries from the global south face” and change lives in India.

A tribute page made for Kochhar has gained dozens of messages, with friends, admirers and colleagues alike posting words of condolence and farewell.

Hyun-Jung Lee, a professor at LSE, said Kochhar was in her Organisational Behaviour class last year.

She wrote: “Cheistha was curious and actively engaged in discussion thus helped bring the entire class to a next level. Whenever I saw her she brightened up my day with her trade-mark smile and optimism.”

Simon Munk, the head of London Cycling Campaign, a charity lobbying for better conditions for cyclists, said there were about seven cyclist deaths reported each year in London.

He told the Islington Tribune: “It’s horrific and deeply upsetting every time this happens, and it happens too often.”

“Our hearts go out to her husband Prashant who was cycling with her at the time,” the charity said in a post on X.

Mr Munk said cyclists passing through Clerkenwell Boulevard everyday lack protection, such as segregated cycle lanes and northbound cycling routes, making it dangerous for them to navigate the stretch.

Last week, LSE joined 35 other academic institutions and student unions to call on mayor Sadiq Khan and other candidates to end cyclist and pedestrian deaths by 2028.

In 2023, two LSE staff members were reportedly killed while cycling. Gao Gao, a 36-year-old mother of two, died after being hit by a driver in Hackney.

Adeline Stuart-Watt, 34, was struck by a motorcycle on Epping New Road last April.

The Metropolitan Police has appealed for witnesses and any road users with dashcam footage following the incident.

Anyone who witnessed this incident, or road users who have footage which captured events, are asked to call 101 or 02082469820 @MetCC and quote CAD6903/19Mar.

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