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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 theGeorge 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.
Sunil Adam is the editor of The Indian American, a bimonthly general-interest magazine published from New York. This article originally ran in the Huffington Post.