Dharun Ravi – What’s in a Name?

2
Dharun Ravi has been convicted in the Tyler Clementi case. Was it a schoolboy prank or a bias crime?

Dharun Ravi

The Verdict is in – Dharun Ravi gets  30 days imprisonment for spying with a webcam on Tyler Clementi, his roommate having a sexual encounter with a male, and then tweeting about it. Clementi later committed suicide. Here is the full story at The New York Times
Did the punishment fit the crime or was it too light?

Dharun Ravi – Searching for Answers

(This blog was first posted on April 1, 2012)

As an Indian-American, one can’t turn anywhere without hearing the name ‘Dharun Ravi’. I recall the first time I heard it two years ago, driving, listening to the details of the Tyler Clementi suicide on the radio. With my desi radar switched on, I immediately caught the name ‘Ravi’, and wondered whether he happened to be Indian, since I was familiar with it as a first name, never as a last name.

However, the thought of whether he was Indian or not dissipated as the news about 18-year-old Clementi’s suicide sank in, leaving me chilled. Clementi’s room-mate Ravi had secretly recorded his sexual encounter with a male friend on a web cam and tweeted about it. In the following days, Tyler Clementi  jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

What a sense of rejection and despair  must there be for a young man, hardly out of high school,  to want to leave this bright, sunlit world and seek the abyss of  endless water. We depend on the kindness of strangers but sometimes human beings can be cruel, very cruel, especially when they are just on the cusp of adulthood.

‘Dharun Ravi’ is now a known name, albeit for all the wrong reasons. His notoriety has spread as far as India and across the world as this becomes a case with so many legal ramifications to it. Was he merely a schoolyard bully caught red-handed in this time of Twitter and Facebook? Or was this a clear bias crime and was Ravi a homophobe?

Reporters, bloggers and columnists across the US have weighed in on this and for once, the Indian-American community has had plenty to say. Is that because the perpetrator is Indian and his guilt is sullying the collective shining image of Indian-Americans? But why should Indians have the monopoly on a blemish-free image?

An Indian-American Name

What if his name was not Dharun Ravi – but John Smith? Would the Indian-American community be so agitated?  Isn’t a tragedy a tragedy and an injustice an injustice, no matter to whom it happens? Aren’t we all part of the human race?

Currently you see For-Ravi and Against-Ravi sentiments, hundreds of  blog comments and letters to the editor. I think the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime – a 10 year prison term or possible deportation sound just too harsh. A huge petition drive has been undertaken by Ravi’s family and friends to absolve him. They need 25,000 signatures before April 15.  Seems this is a drama which we all will be watching for quite a while.

I cannot help but think of two families ravaged, one life obliterated and another in ruins.  There are grieving mothers on both sides, and hurting fathers too. If Ravi has to be a whipping boy, it should be for the real need for education on ethics. Whether in this country or in India,  homophobia is perpetuated by a society which never speaks about homosexuality or if it does, it is in hushed tones, wink-wink talk or with outright disapproval. Children absorb these unspoken messages and often internalize them.

We start off teaching our kindergartners to say thank you and sorry and to be nice to people. Somewhere along the way we stop and let them improvise, to take their cues from the influences around them, whatever they may be.

Crass video games and reality shows rule our world, and nasty behavior is considered just another hi-jink; it’s a cool game to trespass on people’s privacy, to destroy their self-esteem.  But kindness for The Other, respect for those who are different has to be a life-long learning crusade, starting in the home and in school.

In the end it doesn’t matter whether his name is Dharun Ravi or John Smith. In this time of online depravity and the callousness free-for-all – be it on blogs, talk shows or social media –  all of us need to make sure our moral compass is still functioning and pointing us in the right direction. Dharun Ravi can still learn, and so can we.

What do you think? Do you think the punishment fits the crime?

Share.

About Author

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. Twitter@lavinamelwani & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

2 Comments

  1. “Reporters, bloggers and columnists across the US have weighed in on this and for once, the Indian-American community has had plenty to say. Is that because the perpetrator is Indian and his guilt is sullying the collective shining image of Indian-Americans? But why should Indians have the monopoly on a blemish-free image?”

    Lavina – once again a great article. Though our community is one of the most accomplished in this country, I have to say Lavina, there are certain areas where we have not matured or evolved (and I have observed this in both 1st and 2nd generation Indian Americans) too much.

    Indian Americans are still very hesitant to openly reflect and dialogue about the problems in our community. Yes, we have Atul Gawandes and Preet Bhararas, but we also have Raja Ratnams and physicians who commit insurance fraud and Wall Street professionals who do insider trading, to name a few. No community is blemish free. And I only wish Indian Americans would own up and be honest with ourselves that we have human problems and flaws like everyone else. irrespective of titles and money!

  2. Lavina Melwani on

    Well said, Leena. Time to get out of the complacency and self-congratulatory mode!