NEW JERSEY: The resounding ‘GUILTY’ verdict in former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi’s case has set off a raging debate across the US and abroad on the “unfairness” of the likely punishment.
While there is unanimity of expert and public opinion that Ravi did indeed invade the privacy of his roommate when he spied on his intimate encounter with another man through a remotely accessed webcam, no one including gay activists favored the likely punishment that Ravi faces, which involves up to 10 years of imprisonment and deportation to India at the end of the sentence.
Even as op-ed writers, columnists, bloggers and people in general are going hoarse calling for a relook at the bias intimidation laws in the nation, a petition to the Obama Administration has been launched on the White House website, to address the issue of “media driving the justice system’s decision.”
“Dharun Ravi is NOT Biased”, the petition says.
The petition says that Ravi was “prejudged” by everyone as they believed that in 2010, Ravi, who was then an 18-year old Rutgers student, secretly recorded his roommate Tyler Clementi while he was with another man and posted video on the internet for everyone to view. “Until 2012, before trial started, this is what the world was told by every media outlet, politician, and activists worldwide and we accepted it as the truth,” the petition says. “Two years later (March 2012), we know none of this is true, nothing was ever recorded/broadcasted over the internet. Yet Dharun was robbed of one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution: presumption of innocence. No one treated Dharun as though he was innocent until proven guilty.”
The petitioners continue to say that: “The prosecutor’s office has taken advantage of a faulty law that can prosecute any citizen for the thoughts of others along with misplaced political pressure from activist groups to convict Ravi on bias charges, a law that even the Judge Glen Berman admitted was muddled.
“Every single witness testified unequivocally that Dharun Ravi had absolutely no hatred towards gays/homosexuals, however the prosecution decided that he did, they decided what was in his mind despite all the evidence saying otherwise. This is not the precedence we want to set in United States.”
The petition that has already garnered over 2,000 signatures, requires 25,000 signatures by April 15 to get a response from the White House.
The community reacts
The Indian American community is, to put it simply, upset and disturbed over the outcome of the trial. What has flummoxed most is the interpretation of the State’s Bias Intimidation law. On that charge, Ravi was found Not Guilty of bias intimidation per se, but was found Guilty for leading Clementi to reasonably believe that he was being intimidated because of his sexual orientation.
“That kid (Dharun) never had a chance,” said Madhu Jampala, a software company executive in New Jersey who has a daughter in an upstate New York college and a younger son in middle school. “Almost two years of a media-built image of a loathsome jerk and an overzealous prosecution worked against him. He was already found guilty long before the trial.”
However, Jampala, as one belonging to a minority community, is acutely aware of how vulnerable his own children are at school or for that matter in society at large. “I can very well understand what the Clementi family must be going through. But this punishment is not commensurate with the crime.”
“What I am freaked out about is this intimidation law,” said Sayu Tiwari, a second year political science student in New York City. “My friends and I are afraid to even casually rib someone or pull somebody’s leg in fun because you never know who might take offense and feel intimidated; this law is not just about the perpetrator’s intentions but about the victim’s feelings, which could be so subjective.”
“We live in such a complex society. This is not just about the case of Dharun Ravi vs Tyler Clementi,” said Poornima Jagannath, a retired teacher in New York. “It is about a privileged kid against a vulnerable kid; it is about social conditioning, about passed on mindsets, and about a legal system that is desperately trying to cope with changing social and moral codes of conduct where modern technology has a huge role to play.”
“What does any teenager with access to sophisticated technology do but try to find new and more exciting ways of using it. That’s how they become popular among friends. But it is not to justify criminal use of these gadgets,” she adds. “Who do you blame – the parents for buying them or the manufacturers for selling them?”
“I do not know what to advise my kids anymore,” adds Jampala. “At school our kids are torn between trying to fit in with their peers not only with the non-Indian groups but also within their ethnic group. They want to adapt to American ways but are pressured by their own community to carry their unique cultural identity. As if that was not pressure enough, parents like me are all the time pushing them to perform better at their academics.”
“As a society we all live with so many different kinds of prejudices and biases… we can only teach ourselves and our children to be tolerant, but how do we uproot inherent biases?” asks Swati Patel, a Connecticut mom of a teenage daughter. “Don’t we all know that it is not possible to please all the people all the time? So where do we go when they have laws that force you to please all the people all the time?”
“Bullying is a real issue in schools,” says Radha Panjwani, a New Jersey housewife who has a son in middle school. “I am tensed always, on a day-to-day basis because I am not only afraid that my son might get bullied, but that he might himself get into trouble knowingly or unknowingly.”
“Being sensitive towards others is absolutely important, but I think we are living in a world of extreme political correctness, where we now have too many groups classified as “minorities” and “vulnerable” – you have the religious groups, gender-based groups, health-based groups, mental-ability groups, country-wise groups, ethnic groups, sexuality groups, racial groups, political groups. Anything you say can be considered as offensive or insensitive by one or the other group,” Panjwani rants.
Upon hearing news of Ravi’s guilty verdict, Shija Nair, a San Antonio, Texas physician, said she had only one advice for her hyper-active 10-year old son. “Mind your own business. Don’t mess with anyone at school.” A life lesson that should go a long way.
India Post News Service