L.B. Reddy was admired for his success in America, revered for his philanthropic contributions here in the U.S. and in his village, and his employees and townspeople who looked up to him as their savior trusted him. In the end, a successful wealthy charitable immigrant Reddy, when unmasked, turned into a sexual predator. This is kind of drama worth a 60 Minutes coverage and aFrontline analysis. I hope the American TV networks take up the challenge and cover the story nationally, without the cultural and ethnic stereotypes that plague our American media.
According to Associated Press, Reddy pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, two counts of transporting a minor for illegal sex and one count of submitting a false tax return in 1998 for lying about having foreign bank accounts in India. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. Several people have written to District Judge Saundra Armstrong, urging her to give Reddy the maximum sentence of 38 years in prison.
This is not the first time when a wealthy successful immigrant man who has gained respect and admiration of ordinary folks for “pulling himself by the bootstraps,” and going “from rags to riches” with only “hundred dollars” in his pocket has turned into a notorious criminal. One who did not break rules or laws to help the poor like Robin Hood, but actually abused the very poor who looked up to him and furthered their enslavement and exploitation. Is eight years in an American prison enough for such a man? No! Even 38 years would not be enough, but that at least would have been more justified than eight!
Reddy used the social desperation and economic deprivation of young girls and their families in his native village of Andhra Pradesh to not only abuse their labor, but also procure their sexual services. It is sad that in a country that suffered the humiliation and exploitation of having millions of its citizens become indentured laborers to the colonial powers, a man would do the same to his own people.
Reddy is going to find out the hard way that the very judicial system that let him off leniently outside may not be so congenial in the inside. We have a prison system where even criminals and crooks can be discriminated based on gender and color. Take it from me, a social worker that has visited some of the best penitentiaries in the U.S., it is not pretty inside.
American courts, historically more sympathetic to the rich and powerful, have disappointed us again in its flagrant class prejudice and bias. We are getting better at incarcerating our poor, our young, and our addicts than we are at addressing poverty, the problems of the disenchanted youth and the concerns of the physically addicted who need treatment, not jail term. The same judicial system that is excessively punitive to the poor and the disenfranchised lets the rich crooks and deviants, who have hurt their own people the most, get away easy. Justice has certainly not been served.
Yet, more than what the judicial system does or does not do to Reddy, the other critical question is what he will do for his redemption and those he has hurt the most here on. It is not too late for Reddy to repent and turn his life around—though it will have to be within the American prison system. An educated and an intelligent man, he can help prison inmates who need education, mentoring, and fair legal representation to improve their lives. He can do some serious and genuine social work while in the prison. I hope he does.
This case will hopefully make many of us take a stock of our values that guide our work, profession, career, business, and entrepreneur-ships. Even if Reddy is just another anomaly, he should be a reminder to Whites, Blacks and Browns as well as the poor, the middle class, and the rich that “values” of compassion and caring, that go beyond economic greed and pure self-centered pleasures, do matter! Values of self-restraint, community, authenticity, and social justice are as important as values of pursuit of affluence and individual achievement.
Values are not something to ponder about only after some major personal crisis or during a mid-life transition when the realization dawns on us that one more BMW is not going to bring us happiness. Importance of values and meanings of who we are and what we do must be integrated into all aspects of our lives, every day and in every business from the beginning till the end.
Indian culture and Hinduism have always placed emphasis on integrating spirituality with every aspect of daily living. They have also emphasized respect and appreciation for the community through the love of our extended family, cultural and social services to our ethnic communities and national and international humanitarian work. TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) got it right when its theme for the 2001 conference was “Back to Basics” which is about businesses taking another view of their values—doing some kind of “value” evaluation more so than just a simple “fiscal” evaluation.
There is another dimension to this scandal that the Indian community does not want to discuss—the sensitive issue of sex, sexuality and companionship. For men of Reddy’s age and culture, sex was restricted, guarded and carried double standards between what men can do coyly and what women can never do even secretively. These are men who grew up with concubines, mistresses, two or more wives and visits to the prostitutes while the women in their households covered their faces, stayed virgins until marriage, did not speak to men outside their families, and were expected to never explore their sexuality in a healthy way.
Lots of men of that generation, by sexually restricting the women in their families and communities, ended up shooting themselves in the foot when it came to having a healthy sexual life with women close to their age or even with their wives. Educated, intelligent, attractive, youthful, sexually liberated women are not going to find men like him appealing. These men have not developed their inner self to attract outspoken sexually bold women emotionally or sexually. Powerless girls, women, and children are their only targets for they can be easily lied to, seduced, and manipulated.
There is nothing wrong with an 18-year-old (no longer a minor) having consensual sex with a 64-year-old, no matter how odd and disgusting it may be to many of us. Life and love brings the strangest of people together. But Reddy’s case is not about consensual sex between two adults with a big age difference, nor is it about professional prostitution where services are clearly paid for. Reddy’s case is about rich powerful men using the labor of the poor and their children to procure cheap work and sexual services for their own selfish and self centered needs without any sense of fairness, compassion, and self-restraint. It is not just Reddy’s actions but his intent that borders on the perverse and disgusts us.
Also, the case is not about legitimate or professional self-directed prostitution, it is about deceit, abuse, rape, and even pedophilia. It is about lack of values, intoxication of power, and quiet collusion of family and community members (men and women) who out of loyalty and their own greed stood by silently while one rich successful man they knew violated, in the crudest of ways, the poor, the desperate and many trusting children and women. Could there be a greater crime against children, women and the poor?
This case, more than ever should convince us that women’s emotional, political, economic, and sexual empowerment is as important for men as it is necessary for women. When women’s needs, rights, and equality are denied and denigrated, men lose out on a healthy, happy (emotional and sexual) relationship with women as much as women do with men.
Reddy’s case should also be a reminder to all that the real American dream is as much about pursuit of happiness and social justice as it is about the pursuit of wealth and affluence.
Meera Srinivasan, Senior Evaluation Specialist and Faculty at San Francisco State University, writes prolifically on immigrant, cultural, and political issues.