India's leading newspapers latched onto yesterday's sentencing of former Rutger's University student Dharun Ravi convicted of bias intimidation against college roommate Tyler Clementi. The Indian-born defendant, who used a webcam to spy on Clementi with another man shortly before Clementi killed himself, has stirred a complex debate inside India about gay rights and hate crimes legislation. Following the sentence of 30 days in jail, community service, and a fine, the Indian press is showing a more sympathetic tone toward Ravi than its U.S. counterpart.
In terms of coverage saturation, the country's leading newspapers, The Hindustan Times, The Economic Times, The Indian Express and TV network NDTV all carried the news. Noticeably, some of the papers seemed to emphasize the counter-arguments to Ravi's critics rather than the criticisms of Ravi—especially as it concerns his lack of apology and arguably light sentencing.
During the sentencing, the judge harangued Ravi for not showing enough remorse. "I haven’t heard you apologize once,” the judge said. The point was not lost on U.S. commentators. "I couldn’t help feeling powerfully frustrated and wondering if Ravi really carries as heavy a heart as he should," wrote The New York Times' Frank Bruni. In India's The Economic Times, Ravi's rationale for not apologizing played front and center.
Glossing over the criticism Ravi came under, the paper spotlighted his defense. "Ravi ... did not apologize to the victim's family as he believed that it would sound 'rehearsed and empty,'" read the paper's lede. Pulling his remarks from a Star-Ledger story, Ravi is quoted: "Anything I say now would sound rehearsed and empty, and nothing I say is going to make people hate me any less." Ravi added: "When politicians give public apologies, to me, it always sounds so insincere and false. No matter what I say, people will take it that way."
The other major reaction to the case was Ravi's sentencing, which has been criticized in the U.S. as too light. Emphasizing the Ravi family view, NDTV plays up how the case has set Ravi back so far.
In it, Dharun's father says the case has permanently changed his life. "He has been living in self-exile for past 20 months," Mr. Ravi said. "Since then he seldom leaves the house for any social activity and is completely withdrawn from his friends. As a 20-year-old how much more is he expected to endure?"
Beyond that, one of the more unusual stories from yesterday came from the English daily newspaper The Sentinel, which ran with the headline "Dharun Ravi finds support from gay rights advocates."
In the two months since he was found guilty “Ravi has gone from being a symbol of anti-gay bias to being something of a folk hero, with rallies of his supporters urging the court to‘Free Dharun,’” as the New York Times noted in a front page story.
Needless to say, Ravi has certainly stirred debate in the U.S., but calling him a "folk hero," especially among the gay community is dubious. Especially given that the main evidence given is a Star-Ledger editorial against giving Ravi prison time time—not a view that necessarily makes him an icon of the "gay community."