Asian Correspondent » Sunil Adam http://asiancorrespondent.com Asian Correspondent Thu, 28 May 2015 01:43:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 The rise of Narendra Modi and the end of Brahmin supremacy http://asiancorrespondent.com/121101/rise-of-modi-and-the-end-of-brahmin-supremacy/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/121101/rise-of-modi-and-the-end-of-brahmin-supremacy/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 21:37:58 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=121101 Does the decline and the impending collapse of the Congress Party fortunes, which coincide with Narendra Modi’s gate-crashing on to the national stage, signal the end of Brahmin supremacy of India? If the answer is yes, it would amount to a tectonic shift in Indian political sociology.

Since the country’s independence from the British, the Congress Party has insured and managed the political domination of Brahmins through a progressive manipulation of social-democratic ideology and institutions, on the one hand, and a skillful forging of social and political coalitions, on the other.

While this arrangement has been under threat for at least three decades, it has begun to come undone since the late 1990s when an explosion of intermediate caste aspirations begun to overwhelm the political processes, if not the system.

India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi. Pic: AP.

The Mandal job reservations for the backward castes have had a direct bearing on the making of the present political equations, which, ironically, have also put paid to the political entitlement of the Brahminical counter-elite represented by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Nearly two decades ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political arm of the RSS, sought to steal the mantle from the Congress by rallying the insurgent but disparate Other Backward Castes under the mantle of Hindutva.

The BJP did succeed for a brief “shining” moment in the form of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, but the stratagem unravelled as quickly, not only because Hinduism is not a viable political construct, but also because caste is truly the “March of God on Earth” – the Hegelian characterization of the State.

L.K. Advani, who built the Hindutva movment brick-by-brick with his tumultuous Rath Yatra, now smarts under the upstart usurper’s whims, reminiscing the time when he, like Aesop’s fabled fly, “sat upon the axel-tree of the chariot-wheel and he thought to himself, what a dust doth I raise!”

After losing two consecutive elections, the BJP’s road back to power has been paved by the tempestuous rise of lower caste Modi, which in turn was made possible, or made inevitable, by the RSS leadership conceding the arithmetic of electoral politics.

That explains why it is countenancing Modi’s characteristically intemperate jettisoning of senior (also upper caste) leaders in the party who are capable of staging a palace coup after the polls. A whisper campaign within the party has consolidated Modi’s hold on the rank and file, precluding any perfidious moves by apparatchiks of the ancient régime.

The RSS, which has traditionally relied on collective leadership, has also gone along with the otherwise anathematic development of personality cult around Modi designed by focus-group driven professionals and publicists. Perhaps, it sees a deeper historical necessity that calls for a “passage to Bonapartism” – to paraphrase a historian’s assessment of the cult of Lenin in the success of the October Revolution.

The RSS’s logic seems to be – if you can’t be in power, at least manage it. That makes sense considering the alternative is a scary counter-revolution of the “lumpen proletariat,” represented by the anarchic and often disquietingly sanctimonious Aam Admi Party, and an assortment of regional parties whose caste and ideological affiliations require an algorithm to untangle.

The fact that these entities are crisscrossing the political spectrum in their bid to ensure their post-election relevance, works to the advantage of Modi, who has happily peaked at a time when fissures have ripped through the alliance of backward castes and the Muslims forged during the Emergency rule of Indira Gandhi.

The politically subversive proposal of job reservations for Muslims embraced by the ever-remorseful Congress Party, not only threatens the interests of the unsolicitious backward castes, but deepens the communal divide, playing into the (this time) unsullied hands of Modi, who is using the occasion to wash off his old Godhra stains. To vouch for him, Modi even acquired towel-ready M.J. Akbar, an invaluable apostate at the hustings.

The possible end of upper caste domination of Indian politics, however, need not be a cynical inference considering that the ascendancy of Modi, who has based his entire campaign on his ability to initiate an economic turnaround, might also signal, at least theoretically, the beginning of the end of caste as a political constituency. The cross-cultural mandate that Modi seems to be garnering could be viewed as capitalism trumping caste and religion – till now, the two implacable impediments to the modernization of Mother India.

While there is much to suspect in the prognostication of pollsters, television anchors and talking heads – all bankrolled by corporate houses that are betting on Modi for the survival of crony capitalism – there is no doubt that a wide swath of young India is invested in the Gujarati Mandarin’s ability to deliver a bright future for them and the country.

If that were to happen, India can finally leave its past behind, or at least the unsavory parts, and really make, what one illustrious Brahmin once called, “a tryst with destiny.”

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India and the United States: Why the twain shall never meet http://asiancorrespondent.com/118450/india-and-the-united-states-why-the-twain-shall-never-meet/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/118450/india-and-the-united-states-why-the-twain-shall-never-meet/#comments Thu, 16 Jan 2014 04:49:21 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=118450

Devyani Khobragade. Pic: AP.

THE month-long drama, which ended last week with the recall of Devyani Khobragade – the Indian consular official who was indicted on two counts of visa fraud and making false statements in a New York court – laid bare the fundamentally distrustful nature of relationship between the United States and India, which was for long deliberately glossed over by both countries for reasons of strategic and economic expediency.

A deep chill has set in U.S.-India relations, the likes of which was not felt even during the Nixon administration, widely considered to be the lowest point in the relationship. On Monday, when a reporter asked if there were any efforts afoot to repair relations after this incident, a U.S. State Department spokesman said “…we will now take significant steps with the Indian government to improve our relationship and return it to a more constructive place.” That’s how chilly things are.

Independent of the merits of the New York incident, which has many moving parts and does not lend itself to categorical conclusions, what begs the attention is the response of the Indian officials that were ludicrously disproportionate to the actual import of the incident. Doesn’t the so-called “strategic partnership” account for anything – at least make it obligatory to resolve unexpected and/or inadvertent crises without playing to the galleries?

The Indian argument that by withdrawing special privileges of American diplomats stationed in India, it was merely reinstating reciprocity in bilateral relations that were skewed in favor U.S., does not wash. There is rarely equal footing in any relationship – the U.S. enjoys special privileges in a host of countries because it is a pre-eminent power with greater bargaining leverage. Besides, India could not have accorded special privileges all these years without a quid pro quo, even if it is never spelled out on paper. For instance, it is not without reason that thousands of children and relatives of Indian politicians, diplomats and officials manage to immigrate to the U.S. with greater ease than average Indians.

Then what accounts for New Delhi’s visceral reaction that, as The New York Times put it, revealed “a troubling level of Indian animosity toward the United States”?

“War with France,” Otto von Bismarck said, “lies in the logic of history.” The events leading up to the Unification of Germany proved the 19th century Prussian chancellor right. So, is there really some “logic of history” that makes the India-U.S. estrangement inevitable? Are there any “historical forces” that make sure the twain shall never meet?

It was only a decade ago when New Delhi seemed such an attractive proposition that Washington swallowed the bitter pill of India’s incontestably defiant underground nuclear tests of 1998 and quickly moved to strengthen its economic and strategic ties with a country whose growth potential seemed both inevitable and limitless. The U.S. effort was to create a new balance of power in a region characterized by the exponential growth and influence of China, an unreliable entente with Russia and a dangerously volatile situation in the AfPak region.

But for India, the United States was the bitter pill that it had to swallow, following the unceremonious collapse of its ally, the Soviet Union, and its economy teetering toward a collapse in the early 1990s. Strategically orphaned and financially beleaguered, India ever so cautiously and often reluctantly opened up its “license Raj” to Western capitalism. Following the first Gulf War which established America as the sole Super Power, India quickly adjusted to the new world order by abandoning nonalignment, the bedrock of its foreign policy till then, and as a consequence disabused itself of the long-held delusions of grandeur on the international stage. But even as it embraced the so-called globalization and tacitly reconciled to America’s global hegemony, New Delhi sought to jealously guard its sovereignty by taking a leaf out of the old playbook.

It may be recalled that India’s first nuclear tests in 1974 came three years after it signed a Treaty of Friendship with the Soviet Union in what may be considered trying circumstances of war with Pakistan which had the tacit backing of Washington and Beijing. Historians agree the Pokharan I tests were as much Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s way of signalling to Moscow that India remains its own master despite its “Special Relationship” with the Soviet Union, as they were to ward off China and the U.S. from fishing in the troubled waters of the subcontinent.

Similarly, India’s second nuclear tests (Pokharan II), during the throes economic liberalization, can be seen as a pre-emptive assertion of India’s sovereignty in circumstances of unequal partnerships and dependencies.

Indians never bought into the popular mythology that India and the United States are natural allies by virtue of their common (political) values and beliefs and (economic) interests. At best, they regard their non-formal alliance as marriage of convenience for mutual benefit. And India’s deeply embedded anti-Americanism (a dominant strain of the essentially anti-Western disposition) is presaged on a perceived sense of civilizational and cultural superiority, which is unfortunately perched on the thin ice of political, economic and military realities.

The discrepancy between the country’s self-image and ground realities is at the root of the passive-aggressive postures of Indian officials in bilateral and multilateral forums. But the habitually supercilious Indian officials were so far held in check by the rigors of bureaucratic hierarchy – which never let push come to shove. That is why it came as a surprise when over the past one month India decided to wash all kinds of linen in full view of the global audience, knowing full well that the Khobragade drama will be a sold-out show in Islamabad and Beijing.

By going for the jugular, India seemed to have decided that it was more important to assuage the feelings of misplaced national pride than serve its national interests – confirming that estrangement with America lies in the logic of history.

Sunil Adam is the editor of News India Times, a New York-based newspaper. The views expressed here are his own and not necessarily that of the newspaper.

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CNN Must Fire Piers Morgan and Hire Ann Coulter http://asiancorrespondent.com/92784/cnn-must-fire-piers-morgan-and-hire-ann-coulter/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/92784/cnn-must-fire-piers-morgan-and-hire-ann-coulter/#comments Sat, 01 Dec 2012 01:14:16 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=92784 Can Jeff Zucker, the newly named president of CNN’s worldwide operations, arrest the network’s slide to the bottom of the ratings pile? Can Prince Charles grow back his hair? OK, that’s not a fair comparison. But as a news junkie, I can’t imagine how CNN can survive as a news organization if it continues to be a one-trick pony.
CNN has become primarily a White House news network, perhaps because it’s cheaper to cover just the presidency and mix it up with a few feature stories here and there. That may be working for Fox News and MSNBC because those are politically inclined opinion-based networks catering to their ideological and partisan bases. But CNN, which tries, even if clumsily, to be a nonpartisan and objective “news” channel – never mind the “keeping them honest” shtick, which is not the business of a news organization — has not been able to sustain viewer interest with coverage of just the White House and politics surrounding it. There is, after all, only so much real news out there every day.
Ironically, the narrow focus of news is slowly making way for non-American sources of television news around the world. BBC World News and Al Jazeera, with their extensive international coverage, are gaining ground at the expense of CNN. It won’t be long before Al Jazeera overcomes the corporate and political blockade of its channel to gain the attention of even American viewers interested in developments and trends in a globalized world. Parachuting Anderson Cooper into crisis zones for a few photo-ops cannot substitute for sustained news coverage that contributes to viewers’ habit formation. Cooper’s vacuous anchoring might appeal to equally vacuous demographics that make up for ratings, but, in the long run, it is the mature viewers that account for the success of a news organization.
If CNN’s coverage is any indication, one would have to conclude that there’s nothing to report in most of the 50 states, barring some political happenings in swing states – when was the last time you saw a report from Kansas or the Dakotas or Idaho? In fact, there is virtually no coverage of developments and trends in important states like Texas or California. Why can’t CNN, for instance, have an afternoon hour with news from states? A pre-prime time hour covering crime stories from across the country and a late-evening hour covering lifestyle and human interest stories from faraway places, could auger well for its ratings.
And then there is Piers Morgan. His is the most insufferable program on CNN in the prime time lineup. His uninspiring interviews with an assortment of guests of no consequence, makes you wonder about CNN’s personnel policies. Remember how it fired Eliot Spitzer, even though the fault was in the way his show was conceptualized and not in his person? If anything, Spitzer had the intellectual prowess and gravitas of a good political talk show host, not to mention a great voice that any successful anchor needs, which is again something that Morgan lacks. Can you imagine Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams or Bernard Shaw with a Morgan-like voice?
If CNN really wants to shake up the prime time, it should hire Ann Coulter and let her run amok from 9 to 10 – she’s smart and glamorous but not pretentious, provocative without being offensive and can hold her own on any subject with any pundit or politico. Her slice and dice sense of humor would be a bonus. More importantly, a Coulter show has the best chance of filling in the “opinion gap” where CNN is getting slaughtered by its two rivals.
Talking of hiring and firing, CNN will have to do something about its women. Suzanne Malveaux, Brooke Baldwin and Fredricka Whitfield should stop being warm and fuzzy all the time. News anchors have to demonstrate authority and gravitas, not good cheer. Soledad O’Brien has the opposite problem – she tries to project intellectual depth that she clearly lacks. The less said the better about Candy Crowley, who’s clearly too much for an anchor on high-definition television. I say this without any bias against obese people, but it is an entirely a different matter whether they are suited for the visual medium, irrespective of their journalistic capabilities. As for Erin Burnett, sooner or later CNN is likely to kill her career (like it did with a few other good reporters before) because she has been given a show that does not exploit her strong business reporting background. Instead, she has been saddled with an hour-long slot that seems to have no theme, purpose or presence.
When will CNN realize that good reporters don’t always make good political talk-show hosts or news program anchors? That includes Wolf Blitzer and John King, who are my favorite reporters, but are hardly captivating hosts. NBC’s David Gregory is another classic example of a good reporter destroying a legendary show. Anchors need to have well-honed analytical skills backed by strong academic, political and intellectual credentials. It is not surprising that the best news talk shows are “Morning Joe” and “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
The two best anchors on CNN are Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Fareed Zakaria, neither of whom has a reporting background. But the fact remains their programs/shows/reports are well-conceptualized, based on solid ideas and presented in a way that is both educational and interesting — not entertaining, which should not be the desired or intended objective of any good news channel. Leave that to “The View” and the “The O’Reilly Factor.”
Last word: please dump Anderson Cooper’s RidicuList. I’m tired of gnashing my teeth every time that segment comes up.

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Reasons for Rage, Reasons of State http://asiancorrespondent.com/90362/reasons-for-rage-reasons-of-state/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/90362/reasons-for-rage-reasons-of-state/#comments Thu, 04 Oct 2012 18:56:57 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=90362 Why do Muslim mobs in Islamic countries go on violent rampages in response to perceived insults to their religion? This question has surfaced once again in the wake of the riots across the Islamic world apparently triggered by the film, misleadingly titled, “Innocence of Muslims.” A range of reasons is being debated, including the nature of Islam, cultural inferiority of pre-modern societies, lack of democratic traditions, anti-Americanism inspired by decades of American support to Arab dictatorships and its unqualified support to the Jewish state.

While there may be some truth in all these, for a fuller understanding one should examine the other question that crops up in this context: Why don’t Christians in Western countries resort to violence even in the face of extreme provocation, including terrorist attacks by Islamic radicals? Is it because Christianity is a peaceful religion?

That can’t be true, because despite what the New Testament preaches, the history of political Christianity – from Constantine the Great to Christopher Columbus and beyond — is marked by relentless violence. No other religion, not even Islam, comes close to the scale of violence, physical and structural, that has been inflicted in the name of Christianity.

That said, one must note that for the most part — barring revolutions, ethnic and racial pogroms – societal violence for redressing grievances has been notably absent in modern nation-states of the Christian West. It has something to do with the philosophical and inherently secular construct of the European State in which the subjects, as if they were under a social contract, surrender their right to violence to the sovereign.

According to German sociologist Max Weber, the very existence the State is contingent on having “monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.” As the key appropriator of social passions and competing interests, the State enabled the formation of a civil society and a set of deliberative institutions like parliaments and the media. It also helped develop the modern notion of “citizenship” that inspired what political scientist J.W. Garner terms as a “habitual obedience to law” – by which, for instance, most people pay taxes or respect traffic rules or refrain from encroaching on other peoples’ liberty even when outside the scrutiny or reach of legal authority.

The European State, notwithstanding its Christian orientation, evolved into a secular construct, largely because the intellectual foundation of Western civilization lay, not in the Christian doctrine, but in Greek political philosophy from where the State originated. If anything, the attributes of religion were projected on to the State, thus rendering it the very the embodiment of morality and justice. German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel even compared it to “the march of God on Earth.”

Alongside, the “Protestant ethic” contributed to the rise of the capitalism which also diminished the influence of religion in public affairs. Of course, the same idea of State, in its extreme and perverse form, gave rise to fascism and totalitarianism. (It did not lead to utopian communism that Marx believed would eventually make the State redundant, causing it to wither away.)

Outside the West, only a few countries have been able evolve as modern nation-states where citizens displayed “habitual obedience to law.” Notable are Japan after the Meiji Restoration, and Turkey, where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk decided that it was futile to resist what he termed “the impetuous torrent of modernization.” In India, notwithstanding the success of its democratic institutions, the State continues to compete for loyalty with parochial factors like the caste, religion, language and ethnicity. As a consequence, the country remains hostage to violent subnational movements and sporadic rampages by murderous mobs.

In most of the Afro-Arab countries where the idea of State did not take root, competing interests of disparate tribes and sects thrown together by arbitrarily drawn political boundaries were held in check by authoritarian regimes that had the monopoly of violence. But with the fall of dictators in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring, and with nascent forces of modernization struggling to assert themselves the power vacuum is being filled by traditional power structures.

Against this background, if the State monopoly of violence accounts for the Western countries taking a legalistic view of violence – only violence sanctioned by the State is deemed legitimate – in Islamic countries, with weak allegiance to the authority of State and relative indifference to law, violence has come to be accepted an expression of popular will in the defense of the tribe, tradition, custom, religion or, a combination of all conveniently swept under the rubric of honor.

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Romney’s Jewish Problem http://asiancorrespondent.com/86990/romneys-jewish-problem/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/86990/romneys-jewish-problem/#comments Thu, 02 Aug 2012 17:43:54 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=86990

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Romney on Drowning Street http://asiancorrespondent.com/86678/romney-on-drowning-street/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/86678/romney-on-drowning-street/#comments Sat, 28 Jul 2012 04:53:46 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=86678

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God Particle: An Article of Faith http://asiancorrespondent.com/85655/god-particle-an-article-of-faith/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/85655/god-particle-an-article-of-faith/#comments Tue, 10 Jul 2012 21:20:31 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=85655

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Opinion: The question of Dharun Ravi’s apology http://asiancorrespondent.com/83081/the-question-of-dharun-ravis-apology/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/83081/the-question-of-dharun-ravis-apology/#comments Thu, 24 May 2012 21:10:59 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=83081 There was a telling moment during the sentencing of Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers University student who was convicted of 15 criminal counts in the webcam spying case. That was when Judge Glenn Berman admonished Dharun for not standing when he was being sentenced, and a perplexed Dharun desperately looked at his attorney, who obviously didn’t advise him to stand. Can a 20-year-old, who has lived the last two years of his life completely under the tutelage of his attorneys, be held responsible for this legally discourteous slip? Or should the judge have held in contempt his attorneys, who, even after the reprimand, didn’t have the presence of mind to advise Dharun to stand for the remainder of the sentencing?

Dharun Ravi, Philip Nettl, Steve Altman

Dharun Ravi, center, listens to a court officer with his attorneys Philip Nettl, left, and Steve Altman. Pic: AP.

The judge should have also known better than to chastise Dharun for not apologizing and not showing remorse considering that it could have been the defense strategy to keep Dharun silent, along with the decision not to let him testify during the trial and not make a statement during the sentencing. Particularly bewildering is how Dharun, setting aside the legal implications, was supposed to have conveyed his remorse, beyond what is already evident in his demeanor before the court and his conduct outside. The judge also seemed to have ignored the unsuccessful attempts by the Ravi family to reach out to the Clementis.

Even more confounding is that media critics, including the few who support the lenient sentence that Dharun received, seemed to parrot the judge’s views on the question of Dharun’s remorse and apology. The mighty New York Times in its editorial went so far as to urge Dharun to “take responsibility for his actions and demonstrate he is worthy of the justice he received from Judge Berman.” Really?

Consider this: The kid who beat up and cut the hair of his gay schoolmate can run to become the president of the United States and the guy who experimented with all kinds of drugs, including cocaine, gets to be the president. But the child who has no history of any kind of bias, or is guilty of any bad habit, let alone an illegal one, plays a prank on his roommate who was making out with a “dude” for a few juvenile giggles, has to show remorse and apologize? For what? Just so he can get to live the life of a convicted felon?

Everyone seems to agree with Judge Berman’s characterization of Dharun’s actions as reflecting “colossal insensitivity,” but no one seems to ask themselves how many 18-year-olds are capable of showing “colossal sensitivity” in a dorm, that too, toward gay sexual behavior that even mature adults struggle to come to grips with.

The Times’ Frank Bruni wrote in his blog that he “couldn’t help feeling powerfully frustrated and wondering if Ravi really carries as heavy a heart as he should, and is as inclined toward atonement and as capable of redemption as many of us would wish him to be.” Despite his claims to the contrary, Mr. Bruni obviously blames Dharun for causing Tyler Clementi to commit suicide. After all, atonement and redemption cannot be associated with watching a couple make out for a few seconds on the Web and then tweeting about it, can it?

Besides, Dharun wasn’t charged in Tyler’s tragic and immeasurably heartbreaking suicide nor is he accused of, as Judge Berman himself admitted, “hating” his gay roommate. In that case, where is the question of remorse or apology, let alone the fact that he cannot apologize for charges to which he pleaded not guilty? And stretching the limits of credulity, the judge rebuked Dharun for not apologizing to Tyler’s lover, who still remains anonymous.

And what kind of sensitivity are the media critics showing by taking exception to Dharun’s perceived demeanor? Looking at Dharun all through the trial, all I saw was a child who was petrified by all that was happening to him and around him – the police, the prosecutors, the media, the isolation, the alienation, the anguish of his parents and, aside from all the legalities and whether he admits it to himself or not, the latent guilt by association in the death of his roommate. In that stoical composure, I could only see him bottle up all these emotions, fears, bewilderment and, most of all, defenselessness.

Not every child is groomed to act out for “AC 360″ or op-ed columnists. This is not about playing to the galleries. This is about children making mistakes that sometimes, wittingly or unwittingly, lead to terrible consequences. Justice is a higher value than law. It is not served by extracting that proverbial pound of flesh.

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Obama’s Natural Selection http://asiancorrespondent.com/82327/obamas-natural-selection/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/82327/obamas-natural-selection/#comments Thu, 10 May 2012 18:27:51 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=82327

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Blindsided in Beijing http://asiancorrespondent.com/81907/blindsided-in-beijing/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/81907/blindsided-in-beijing/#comments Fri, 04 May 2012 23:23:20 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=81907

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Secret Service: In the Line of Floozies http://asiancorrespondent.com/80846/secret-service-in-the-line-of-floozies/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/80846/secret-service-in-the-line-of-floozies/#comments Thu, 19 Apr 2012 18:37:45 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=80846

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New Heart for Old Dick http://asiancorrespondent.com/79206/new-heart-for-old-dick/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/79206/new-heart-for-old-dick/#comments Wed, 28 Mar 2012 22:20:13 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=79206

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GoodFellas Can’t Joke http://asiancorrespondent.com/78804/goodfellas-cant-joke/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/78804/goodfellas-cant-joke/#comments Fri, 23 Mar 2012 18:32:24 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=78804

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The Dharun Ravi case: Law upheld, justice denied? http://asiancorrespondent.com/78356/the-dharun-ravi-case-law-upheld-justice-denied/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/78356/the-dharun-ravi-case-law-upheld-justice-denied/#comments Sat, 17 Mar 2012 17:59:40 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=78356 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 University webcam 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.

Sure, the jury upheld the law, but was justice served? Didn’t Ravi deserve even the kind of leniency that was shown to Lori Drew, the 49-year-old Los Angeles woman charged in the first federal cyber bullying case in 2008 pertaining to the suicide of a 13-year-old girl? Drew, who allegedly obtained unauthorized access to MySpace by creating a fake profile for a nonexistent 16-year-old boy and bullied the 13-year-old to suicide, was cleared of all but three misdemeanors. And to think that Ravi faces 10 years in prison even without being accused of causing or abetting Clementi’s suicide.

Now, all of us, along with the judge and the jury, will have to delude ourselves into believing that the Rutgers case has been only about the invasion of privacy and Ravi’s prejudice against homosexuality that drove him to intimidate Clementi and his older and anonymous mate (apparently a victim as well).

If the verdict is anything to go by, we all have to believe that this case had nothing to do with the tragedy of Clementi’s suicide – just as the prosecution had dexterously excluded any such linkage. It will remain a mystery in legal annals how someone can be held accountable for intimidation, but not its tragic consequences. One can only wonder if the jury deliberated whether there would have been a court case against Ravi had Clementi not committed suicide.

But there is a reason why all parties, including the defense, shied away from examining the gorilla in the room, as it were. Obviously, linking Clementi’s suicide with Ravi’s actions would have implicated us all – the whole society, whose prejudice and contempt toward homosexuality is what created the intimidating conditions that pushed Clementi to his death plunge from the George Washington Bridge.

Moreover, if Clementi’s suicide would have been (rightly) the focus of the prosecution’s case, the first person to be implicated would have, or should have, been Clementi’s own mother who, by Clementi’s recorded confession, could not bring herself to accept his sexual orientation, causing the kind of distress that would not be comparable to anything that he may have felt at some comments tweeted by his reckless and insensitive roommate.

By making Ravi the sole criminal in this case we have absolved ourselves of any involvement in the psychological makeup of Clementi  – the shame and intimidation he felt at being exposed. And, of course, we don’t need to ponder if Clementi would have felt the same way and been driven to suicide had he been exposed kissing a girl instead.

If the answer to that question is no, that Clementi wouldn’t have ended his life if he were exposed for indulging in a heterosexual act, then it has to be assumed that he was driven to suicide because he felt intimidated at being exposed to an unforgiving society, and not because Ravi did what any reckless and stupid teenager (at the time of events) with access to an array of gadgets and social networking tools would be tempted to do.

There had to be deeper reasons why Clementi was driven to end his life, because if he felt intimidated by Ravi, he wouldn’t have asked him to leave the room a second time so he could be alone with his male friend. And that is the reason why one would have thought Ravi had no role in Clementi’s shame or intimidation or suicide. But that was not to be.

And here one might add that Ravi would have quite likely played a similar prank even if Clementi had a girl over in his room, considering that Ravi is both arrogant and prudish thanks to his nouveau riche upbringing – peculiar to many Asian immigrant families – and Indian cultural values with all their misconceptions about and limitations concerning any kind of premarital sex.

But in the end, perhaps, Ravi’s life is a small price to pay for political correctness of our times, even if it means Atticus Finch loses and Anderson Cooper wins.

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