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.