The recent trial of Dharun Ravi is another wake up call for our country, specially the Indian American community of diverse faiths. As we become part of America in all aspects, of the society at large, we will see more and more of our community members fall in small and big ways. It is human nature. Are we ready to deal with it? Can we turn Dharun Ravi's tragic events into a collective learning opportunity not only for him but for our own community and the country?
Let us face it, Dharun Ravi did commit a mean act, behaved inappropriately without realizing the consequences of his actions and even he has accepted he needs to be punished. Dharun did not commit a murder, though a death did occur.
Dharun does not deserve to be sentenced so harshly. He had already begun to realize his mistake and apologized to Clementi, albeit 15 minutes too late. So he has started his reformation and repentance and he needs an opportunity to do so to re-construct his life. We have lost one child, Clementi, let us not lose another, Dharun.
Across the nation people are coming to terms with homophobia and accepting homosexuality in varying degrees. The vast library of books which makes up the Vedic/Hindu literature reference homosexuality and indicate acceptance from the Vedic times, through commentaries, art etc. Sculptures in some Hindu temples show homosexuality as part of human existence. Public social acceptance has been mixed.
From a societal perspective, I question whether Dharun was the only one at fault in this case. Clementi's own mother had not accepted the fact. Clementi was concerned about the way society at large would treat him. Collectively, the Indian community is also seeing a cultural change and is coming to terms with differences. Certainly much more work needs to be done. We need supportive infrastructure, faith-based or secular, to address our issues constructively, such as through education in our temples and organizations.
Was the case tainted by race and ethnic bias? Our experience shows many of our children are bullied but don't speak up and their parents do not know how to address it either. That makes me wonder if Dharun Ravi was bullied as a youngster, in some way? With so much national focus on bullying and push for acceptance of "differences," there was no way to avoid a crisis of consciousness, of spiritual and moral reformation at the trial.
Jurors are human beings selected from the community and processing information from their prism and lens of understanding. They upheld the law. However, was justice served? Will it really change the consciousness of middle and high school children across the country and will Indian Americans become targets now? Are we prepared to deal with that collectively?
We are now part of the American communities in which we live. And as new immigrants we may be still adapting to the new cultural norms, with limited understanding of what our children are really going through in the school yards. And even if we know, the community as a whole does not really have the tools to deal with the myriad issues they are confronted with. Sometimes there is a tear in the patched fabric. We need to break the silence of our lonely struggles. We need to work across cultures and faith to build national social cohesion and better understanding.
In my opinion, seva is our community social responsibility which in times of need can provide a buffer to bridge cultural/faith misunderstandings. I believe much needs to be done for us to collectively develop and strengthen our infrastructures. Seva Centers can address our collective issues to the various stakeholders. Though these we can address social justice concerns, especially for the youth (bullying, mentoring, cultural adjustments. The Seva Centers can serve as a platform for dialogue resulting in social harmony.
Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC) stands ready to work with the community to develop "Seva Centers" and bring our compassionate voice to the forefront. We hope one day "Seva Centers" across the nation, faith based and secular, will provide a caring network to help us deal with difficult issues and bring social justice education and impact policy changes.