Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Imperfections of a Judiciary System

Let me start this with a story. 

I was once a  teenager.  To say that my teen life was fun would be an understatement.  It was really over the top at times. We had lot of fun.  Our idea of fun usually involved some gray "fun" which did not seem gray at that time.  Let us visit some of the gray fun.  One of the oldest tricks ( I would call it fun) was looking at someone's dingdong when they were peeing and then describing it to others much to the chagrin of the victim.  Also at times, the inherent curiosity prevalent amongst Homo sapiens about genitalia during those growing-up years would lead to instances of kids checking out each other's dingdongs. No! homosexuality was not involved; just plain curiosity. Those caught "checking out" would automatically become the object of "soft ridicule" and the "butt" of jokes that summer.  The brave took it on with a smile. The weak kept quiet. The sensitive complained to parents. The extra-sensitive did not come out to play for a day or two. But no one ever went beyond this. Everything would be back to normal in a short time.  Everyone would be friends again. It was just a prank, a mischief and nothing more, but then it was a time where there was no Facebook or Twitter.

Wondering why I recounted the whole shit about my growing up years ?  Well, I came across a recent incident which at best can be compared to those long forgotten years, but in this era this had taken monstrous proportions, and both the victim and the perpetrator were punished to an extent where it outweighs everything - the guilt and the crime. 

I am talking about Dharun Ravi. 

For the uninitiated, Clementi, who was gay, asked for privacy to use the room he shared with Dharun Ravi for an encounter with a 32-year-old non-student with whom he had connected on the Internet. Ravi met his roommate’s date briefly and sent text messages to friends describing the man as “creepy” and expressing worries about theft. Ravi said he deliberately left his webcam on to monitor the visitor because he was worried about the security of his property. With another student, he watched Clementi embracing the other man and then sent out derisive Twitter and text messages about his roommate “kissing a dude.”
Ravi invited other friends to join him in watching the next scheduled visit, two days later. But the webcam did not work on that occasion, perhaps because a guilt-stricken Ravi dismantled it, as he later claimed, or because it malfunctioned, or because Clementi discovered the intrusion and disconnected the equipment himself. The next day, Clementi complained to the dormitory’s resident assistant and to two other officials, and said he no longer wanted to share his room with Ravi. A day after this, Clementi committed suicide by jumping off George Washington Bridge.

Dharun Ravin was charged with invasion of privacy, witness tampering and the more serious charge of bias intimidation and on March 16, a jury sentenced him to 10 years in prison with possible deportation to India.

So was the verdict harsh ? Ohh yes, it surely was.  Not to diminish the crimes that were committed in any way, but how does throwing Dharun Ravi in jail solve anything?  It's tragic that a young man took his own life and Ravi should bear some responsibility, but are we becoming a society of victims?  The crime was harsh, but the sentence was harsher.  Everyone forgot that it was a foolish stupid prank gone wrong.  Everyone forgot that the perpetrator was a teen.  It doesn't make the crime small, but the criminal deserves the benefit of doubt.  He did not harass any gays or cyber bully anyone. People just want to feel like something is being done about these situations that are in the spotlight now, and Ravi happens to be the lightening rod for the blame.  It is not cool but it is not a major felony crime either.  Going by his final words to Clementi, "I've known you were gay and I have no problem with it. In fact one of my closest friends is gay and he and I have a very open relationship. I just suspected you were shy about it which is why I never broached the topic. I don't want your freshman year to be ruined because of a petty misunderstanding, it's adding to my guilt. You have a right to move if you wish but I don't want you to feel pressured to without fully understanding the situation.", Dharun Ravi seems much less of a villain than he is made out to be.  I wonder if everyone is out to prove a point and this everyone includes the liberals, conservatives and the gay agenda too.  Without a doubt, Dharun Ravi behaved despicably to his Rutgers roommate. But had Tyler Clementi been straight, no one would have claimed Ravi’s webcam spying constituted a major offense. Had it been a female companion, everything would have boiled down to a teenage prank. 

Dharun did not take up the plea bargain because he sincerely believed that he did not commit any hate crimes. Though the jury agreed at some point with defense, he was sentenced.  Did they want to make an example of him?  This is outrageous.  I personally think that this case reveals a "lynch mob mentality" of the populace that has led to this overkill.  A justice system which has let O.J Simpson roam around freely convicts a boy of doing something which he thought was a practical joke and never realized it had such criminal consequences.  Was the jury impartial?

Anybody give a thought to what would happen to Dharun Ravi in jail? An Indian in an American maximum security jail populated by a very dangerous crowd. His chances of getting out from there without being battered and raped would be one in a million.  He is just 20 years old.  I just hope he does not become a hardened criminal in those years.

In retrospect, Dharun Ravi should have taken up the plea bargain, but then his attorneys are to be blamed for that.  In retrospect, he shouldn't have spied on his roommate, but then he did.  In retrospect, he should have opened up properly to his roommate when he first heard of the room-change requests. 

All said and done, it is up to the justice system to introspect whether it is making an example of Dharun Ravi and is it not a too-high price to pay?

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