He's a native son of India and the press has his back. On Friday, the guilty verdict of former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi on invasion of privacy and hate crime charges flooded India's Twittersphere as users passed around links to U.S news sites. The country's largest newspapers have taken longer to catch up to the news but as they do, there's a note of skepticism about Ravi's responsibility for roommate Tyler Clementi's suicide and concern about the harsh punishment he may face. (Ravi now faces as much as 10 years in prison and possible deportation).
Today, The Hindustan Times and The Times of India, the largest circulation English-language newspaper, ran identical stories rounding up all the doubters of the case in the U.S. under the headline "Voices rise against 'unfair' verdict in Dharun Ravi's case." It included commentary from Sunil Adam, editor of The Indian American, who said Ravi "has been turned into the proverbial sacrificial lamb for society's collective guilt about its own bias intimidation against homosexuals." It also included a view from Bill Dobbs, a gay activist and civil libertarian who said "This is well beyond looking for justice and into the realm of vengeance." He added "As hate crimes prosecution mount, the flaws of such laws become apparent."
Another major article gaining traction is Emily Bazelon's column in The New York Times, which was syndicated in The Deccan Chronicle, an English-language daily published in Hyderabad. Swapping The Times' headline "Make the Punishment Fit the Cyber-Crime," the Chronicle goes for the more straightforward take: "Punishment greater than the crime." In the column, Bazelon says the verdict was an over-reach. "This isn’t what civil rights laws should be for," she writes. "The idea of shielding vulnerable groups is well intentioned. But with the nation on high alert over bullying — especially when it intersects with computer technology and the Internet — these civil rights statutes are being stretched to go after teenagers who acted meanly, but not violently."
Elsewhere, stories about the petition by Indian-Americans asking the White House to address the alleged injustices of the trial are also gaining ground. The petition asks the Obama administration to "Address the fact that .... Dharun Ravi is NOT Biased." Though it's only collected some 2,000 signatures (25,000 are needed to prompt a White House response), it's gotten wide pickup on the Indian news channel IBN, The Sakal Times, Twitter and the Indian news portal Rediff News, which earlier ran a story quoting Ravi's friends say he wasn't anti-gay. To be sure, skepticism over the trial is surfacing in many places, not just India. Because of Ravi's age during the incident (19), the confusion over whether he was acting out of bias, and a lack of consensus over the legitimacy of hate crime laws, it was bound to be a controversial case anywhere. Still, it's not hard to see an overall narrative the press is pushing.