Dharun Ravi Sentenced: A Moment to Consider Indian Americans as Convicted Felons

Mar 26, 2012
Dharun Ravi

Dharun Ravi, center, is helped by his father, Ravi Pazhani, second right, as they leave court in New Brunswick, N.J., Friday, March 16, 2012. Photo by the Associated Press.

by Aditya Desai

On March 16, ex-Rutgers student Dharun Ravi was convicted on multiple charges of invasion of privacy for online video streaming a gay sexual encounter between his roommate, Tyler Clementi, and another man. This led to Clementi’s suicide days later. Two years ago in 2010, Clementi’s death was headline news. Now, similar headlines appear once again—except with Ravi’s face on the front-pages.

In all respects, this story shows the worst and darkest outcome that can result from what someone would consider “harmless fun.” As a hate crime, Clementi’s death re-energizes conversations about homophobia, internet privacy, and online bullying. For all of the questions surrounding Clementi’s death, one aspect seems surprisingly under-discussed: the fact that Ravi is Indian American. After all, this hate crime involved a sexual minority. If so, how did racial minority slip from news coverage?

The Indian American community is often referred to by luminaries of science and technology, or making headway for America’s immigrant communities. It is a jarring to think that now, we have another public figure in Ravi and his hate crime.

As the Indian American population grows and prospers, it is unfortunate—and perhaps inevitable—that the darker side of our human nature shows. How do we react and accept those from our community who are cuffed and charged on the 6 o’clock news?

If names such as Sanjay Gupta, Bobby Jindal, and Deepak Chopra are commonly seen as shining stars, “apples-of-our-eye” as it were, is there any anxiety about what Ravi represents for Indian American attitudes regarding homosexuality?

Naturally, Ravi has been labeled a rotten apple of the good bushel, and the matter is seemingly brushed away. Fair enough, but this fracture to the Indian American image thus far in the media, against the Ravi case, merits further discussion.

Putting aside the notion of whether Ravi’s actions were pranks or purely homophobic, would a focus on his ethnicity, the community he came from, have shifted people’s opinions? Could it have  “softened” his image in his defense, or risk sullying the image of all other Indian Americans?

As a minority, is he held more accountable for ostracizing Clementi? Or is this our noble colorblind court system at work?

These questions are not meant to push any agendas. Ravi has been tried and convicted by a jury. But in the interest of promoting a better image of Indian Americans, we thought it prudent to provide a space to hear your thoughts.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Aditya Desai is pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland, College Park.


  • http://twitter.com/lassiwithlavina Lavina Melwani (@lassiwithlavina)

    Very thoughtful piece. I do think the ethnicity of the perpetrator should not carry any weight. Indians, like any other community, are a mixed bag. If they were all ‘good apples’ then the prisons in India would be empty! Indians, being part of the imperfect human race, are also prone to poor judgement and bad decisions.

  • http://twitter.com/prashanthbhat Prashanth Bhat (@prashanthbhat)

    Homophobic or not, Ravi’s actions led to loss of Clementi’s life. This shouldn’t be looked at from a racial or color point of view. The intent of crime may be crucial in law. I guess it becomes irrelevant when the consequences of that intent is loss of life… We Indians have a hypocritic view of homosexuality. A few act homophobic to hide their sexual identity, a few are homophobic because homosexuals are caricatured in our movies and hijras. ” Mardh Ban ” is taught to us from childhood. Homophobia or appearing homophobic is mandatory for an acceptance in our country that is driven by social audit.

  • http://SecurityCrossroads.com Ramana Gopalan

    Clearly biased against Indian Americans.
    NJ is full of bias. Check out the Time Magazine story about Edison NJ

  • girija

    It is an interesting question and the omission of race in this discourse is curious. I find that the narrative around this case is only structured around the “popular-jock-kid” versus the “sensitive-misfit-artsy-kid.” It was also interesting to me that the media covered the prosecution arguments extensively but reported little during the defense’s testimony. I wondered also if my attitudes would have been different if the race of the two boys were reversed. Would it then have been discussed more along racial lines?

  • http://niceguyadi.wordpress.com Aditya Desai

    Slate.com just posted an article detailing Ravi’s own soundbytes:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2012/03/23/dharun_ravi_gives_interviews_and_looks_totally_unsympathetic.html

    I think this echos the above commentator’s narrative of jock kid vs artsy kid. Again, little mention of his ethnic background, curious especially since the article mentions he risks being deported back to India.

    I’d also like to point out the quote writer Libby Copeland takes from Ian Parker’s New Yorker piece (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/02/06/120206fa_fact_parker?currentPage=all) about Ravi faces such a severe sentence in lieu of there being no legal crime against “shiftiness and bad faith.”

    Is Ravi’s court verdict a result of ambiguity of his actions — more severe than “being mean” and yet not quite an intentional hate crime?

  • girija

    I think there is a fundamental issue here that is not being discussed. Everyone assumes that the spying is what caused Tyler Clementi’s suicide but there is however no evidence that this is indeed the case. In fact the case against Ravi is not that of manslaughter but invasion of privacy. I think everyone implicitly associates the suicide with this guy’s actions and as a result discuss punitive consequences.
    Dharun Ravi might have been an insensitive, self-important, overconfident, adolescent idiot: but I am not convinced he is/was a malevolent criminal.

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