The hate crimes verdict against former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi has roiled the Indian American community. Indian immigrants fear that Friday’s verdict against Ravi will fuel negative stereotypes of Indian immigrants.
They’ve begun circulating a petition online asking the White House to intervene. The petition holds that Ravi, now 20, was “prejudged” because of an impression presented by the media, politicians and activists that he was indeed guilty. About 4,000 people have signed the petition as of Thursday; we found in checking into this that the White House, acknowledging people’s First Amendment right to petition the government, requires 25,000 signatures on a petition for the administration to review it, send the petition to the appropriate policy experts and issue an official response.
The Indian American newspaper called the petition a plea for tolerance. The petition reads in part: “We know . . . nothing was ever recorded/ broadcast; every single witness testified that Ravi had NO hatred towards gays; however, the muddled law led to the guilty verdict. Ravi was robbed of one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed by the US Constitution: presumption of innocence.”
Any immigrant convicted of a crime in the U.S. automatically faces the potential for deportation. Ravi, who grew up in the U.S. but is not a U.S. citizen, might also receive five to 10 years in jail before being deported.
Deportation is at the discretion of the judge, but observers think there’s a good chance Ravi will get deported. As Nori Nessel, director of the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey, told the Star Ledger this week that “his situation from an immigration perspective is definitely very serious.”
Home sweet home?
If Ravi is deported to India, he will be confronting culture shock. Ravi’s defense team insisted that Ravi is accepting of gay people. But he would be entering a country that is culturally conservative. Homosexuality is considered a taboo topic in Indian society, though human rights groups in India have pushed for an increase in tolerance. Attitudes toward homosexuality have shifted for the better in India, the BBC found in a series of stories. And in 2009 the Delhi High Court in a landmark decision decriminalized private sexual acts between consenting adults. Still, the Indian health minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, told OutlookIndia.com last year that men having sex with men is not only a “disease” but it is also “unnatural.”
In a 2009 survey in India by the CNN-IBN news service, as reported by Religious Tolerance, 70 percent of Indian adults believe that homosexual behavior should be illegal, 83 percent felt homosexuality is not part of Indian culture and 90 percent said they would not rent their houses to gay or lesbian couples.
Arthur Pais, a reporter for India Abroad, a publication in the U.S. geared toward the Indian community, said Ravi will have a difficult time if he is deported. “It will be tough for him,” Pais told Latitude News. “In the U.S. he and his family could keep their anonymity.” But in India, ”it will have great media attention.”
Discrimination cuts both ways
The other facet of the case against Ravi involved cyber bullying. India has laws protecting young people against bullying, in particular cyber bullying. But, there are limitations. According to the website CyberLawTimes, which tracks cyber bullying worldwide, “In India, there is no school manual, guidelines or uniform regulations to prevent bullying or cyber bullying.”
Discrimination and intolerance remain a problem in most parts of the world. Commenting on the verdict, Sunil Adam, editor of the Indian American, thinks the jury may have discriminated against Ravi himself.
Now there are two victims. Tyler Clementi and Dharun Ravi. The former paid with his life. The latter will pay with his future. With the jury’s guilty verdict in the so-called Rutgers spying case, Ravi, it appears, has been turned into the proverbial sacrificial lamb for society’s collective guilt about its own bias intimidation against homosexuals, a condition that probably drove Clementi to commit suicide.
Adam said that while the Indian press has not paid special attention to the Ravi case, it will if he is deported. Ravi would then be a “celebrity” of sorts. “It would hit the media waves in India.”
At New America Media, a nationwide collaboration of ethnic news organizations, they believe the trial centered on Ravi’s ethnicity. “Dharun Ravi’s biggest liability: He was Indian,” trumpeted its headline. It argued that the case highlights ”America’s broken immigration system.” They cited the case of Loeun Lun, a Cambodian immigrant who fired a gun in the air as a teenager to protect himself from a gang attack. Lun had a wife and two daughters in the U.S., but was sent back to Cambodia, where he struggled to survive as a farmer.