Desi vs. Desi on Wall Street

610x.jpgS. Mitra Kalita’s Wall Street Journal article, “Desi vs. Desi” frames the news of the largest hedge fund insider trading case in history as part of a broader story of desis immigrating to the United States, developing networks with other desis, and their progress in the technology and financial industries (desis might have found hedge funds to be more of a meritocracy than the “cozy world of investment banking”). Those industries are at the center of the allegations that billionaire founder of Galleon Group Raj Rajaratnam, conspired with director of consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Anil Kumar and Intel Capital’s Rajiv Goel, among other executives and hedge fund managers.

Media reports included coverage of the downward effect of Rajaratnam’s recent arrest on the Colombo Stock Exchange in Sri Lanka, where “even rumors of his trades can send the stock market up or down” and transcripts from wiretaps of the illegal conversations at issue. But “Desi vs. Desi” brings up another interesting angle on the story about the case’s prosecution. The recently appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who will be prosecuting the case against Rajaratnam is also desi. Preet Bharara, formerly the chief counsel to Senator Chuck Schumer, oversees hundreds of lawyers and high-profile cases, including the ongoing fraud case against Bernie Madoff. He’s been billed as The New Wall Street Nightmare.

Does Bharara being brown like the defendants complicate matters? Before you dismiss the question as silly or irrelevant, consider the comments from a couple of legal experts.

Sonjui L. Kumar, president of the North American South Asian Bar Assocation, says that Bharara “has to walk as fine a line as there is.” “White prosecutors arrest people all the time, but here you have this financial mogul who happens to be South Asian and then you have a South Asian attorney.” (WSJ)

New York-based defense attorney Ravi Batra was a bit more explicit.

“When you are rising in the mainstream, you have to prove that you’re not parochial or ethnic.” He drew a comparison to another instance of a top prosecutor leading the charge against criminal activity by individuals of the same ethnic background. “What former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani did to the mob is what Preet Bharara will do to Wall Street.” (WSJ)

The implication appears to be that Bharara should guard against any perception that he’s going easy on another desi. On the flip side, I wonder if guarding against that perception might lead him to move more aggressively against the desis faced with insider trading charges. Given popular support for tackling this kind of white collar crime I guess the latter possibility isn’t one that many of us would be too concerned about, but the issue of whether/how perceived bias becomes an issue in brown-on-brown courtroom dramas is intriguing and I don’t recall any episodes of Law & Order exploring this!

What do you think, readers and legal eagles? Does Bharara have something extra to prove in this high-profile case given the desi defendants? Or will this commonality be a non-issue as he pursues charges against all the defendants, desi and otherwise?

90 thoughts on “Desi vs. Desi on Wall Street

  1. “in a pluralist republic i think it’s really not healthy for us to divide in this way.”

    I totally agree! This concept of continually only helping out your own ethnicity while you live within a multi-ethnic is really dangerous on the long run. It’s not as bad when its one or two minorities who find themselves swamped amongst ‘whites’ but really dangerous as the diversity of a country/city increases.

    “i’d invite you to meet a friend of mine who had a rough experience while getting her masters at university of british columbia….”

    I say the odds are those thugs were either Tamils or Punjabis, well much more so Punjabi given its BC. I’ve noticed much of the subcon crime and macho behaviour usually comes from these two groups as well.

    I think the whole pan-desi thing is overdone. I mean a few thousand inter-ethnic marriages within a population of a few million Indian Americans, or even a few hundred thousand in South Asia within a population over one billion subcons isn’t much.

  2. No Ikram, but MIA’s working on a new album, that should cover them.

    Why didn’t the hubbub around the ‘Toronto 18′ result in any particular attention to Pakistani immigration?

  3. “Why didn’t the hubbub around the ‘Toronto 18′ result in any particular attention to Pakistani immigration?”

    I think thats because the Pakistani community isn’t as large as the Tamil community and they hasn’t been as ‘high profile’ within the Canadian media over the past year.

  4. Vandy asked: Why didn’t the hubbub around the ‘Toronto 18′ result in any particular attention to Pakistani immigration?

    Because the Toronto Terrorism case is an example of pan-ethnic Canadian terrorism. It includes Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Indians (Hindu converts), and West-Indian Desis, as well as Somalis, Egyptians, and African-Canadians and others. What’s more, one government informant, Mubin Sheikh, was also Pakistani (the other informant was Egyptian). All but 1 of the suspects were born or raised in Canada and its often referred to as “home-grown” terrorism.

    I think another difference is that in Canada, Pakistanis are moderately prominant in business (Nader Mohamad), politics (Wajid Khan, yasir Naqvi, shafiq qadri), and media (Haroon Siddiqui, Tarek Fatah) while Tamils are mostly just known for their link to the Tigers. I can’t think of any prominent Tamil-Canadians, and couldn’t find any on wikipedia who weren’t partly Sinhalese.


    Here’s a rundown of the folks implicated in the toronto terrorism case. A bunch of these guys have been aquitted, and I’m not including the Bangladeshi arrested in Atlanta. Some of these are guesses. I assume all muslim Desis are Pakistani, and that Hindu converts are Indian, except for the Sri Lankan kid.

    Pakistan (5) — Qayyum Abdul Jamal, Saad Khalid, Fahim Ahmed, Asad Ansari, Amin Durrani India (2)(converts) — Steven Chand, John Doe #1 Somalia (2) — Yasim Mohamed, Mohamaed Ali Dirie Sri Lanka (1) (convert) — John Doe #2 African Canadian (1) — Jahmaal James Trinidad and Tobago (1) — Ahmed Mustafa Ghany Egypt (1) — Shareef AbdulHaleem Jordanian – Greek Cypriot (1) — Zakaria Amara

    Unknown (3) (to me) — John Doe #3,John Doe #4, Ibrahim Aboud

  5. I assume all muslim Desis are Pakistani, and that Hindu converts are Indian, except for the Sri Lankan kid.

    There were many Hindus in Pakistan once upon a time. How do they know they were converts anyway? How are they calling them “John Doe” while being able to trace whether they’re converts?

  6. I can walk into the liquor store near my workplace, owned by Sikhs, and they give me a discount b/c “we’re both Indians”; I run into the reporter, who’s Indian near my workplace and he and I exchange pleasantries purely on the basis of our desiness. The sikh clothing store owner near my workplace, even though he and I did not know each other, started saying hello to me and another indian girl

    I avoid Indian (and, more broadly speaking) desi-owned establishments (well, except for restaurants!) like the plague. The damn uncles are always either (1) hitting on me or (2) asking uncomfortably personal questions.

  7. The damn uncles are always either (1) hitting on me or (2) asking uncomfortably personal questions.

    hey babe. what’s your cup size?

  8. YogaFire: There’s been extensive media coverage of the Toronto terrorism case, and details of many of the accused’s families have come out, including the stories of Hindu parents whose school-age children converted and were arrested. Go read the archives of the 4 toronto newspapers (Globe, Post, Star and Sun). Or read Wikipedia. Or use google.

    It’s possible that some of the Hindu converts have families that originate from Pakistan. And that some of the Muslims have families that originate in India. But absent specific information, I think I’ve made the safer guess. You are free to guess otherwise.

  9. It’s possible that some of the Hindu converts have families that originate from Pakistan. And that some of the Muslims have families that originate in India. But absent specific information, I think I’ve made the safer guess. You are free to guess otherwise.

    I’m not questioning your guess, I’m just curious as to how the press is able to figure out their religious backgrounds while only being able to identify them as John Doe.

  10. was to understand that the only reason this guy was bagged was because of the tamil tigers association.

    Possibly. I wonder if they were tapping his phone orginally becuae they suspected him of funding terrorists and just happened to catch some inside info being passed.

    the white collar crime which he committed is ubiquitous, right?

    i guess but its really hard to catch unless you do something really stupid like sam waksal did. i mean, the ceo selling shares in his own company right before bad clinical data is about to be made public is a red fag. but i think insider trading is more of an individual thing. most hedge funds don’t practice old fashioned stockpicking anymore, like raj or james cramer does, but rather practice some form of the the efficient market theory which believes stock picking is a losers game because all the relevant info is built into the market over the long run, ergo the need for insider info to win that game. if mutual fuinds ar doign it they’re certainly not doing enough to beat the index. market manipulation strikes me as a bigger problem.

    for those worried about the desi reputation i don’t think there will be a problem. like i said on the temple of doom thread this may even give us some street cred as big bad mofos who look like miles davis. people care more about petty crimes, like mugging an old lady, b/c its creepier. like bob says, steal a little and they put you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king.

  11. YogaFire wrote: I’m just curious as to how the press is able to figure out their religious backgrounds while only being able to identify them as John Doe.

    In some cases, they interviewed the parents. The “john doe” ID is a legal requirement, a consequence of the Youth Criminal Justice Act that forbids IDing minors. I suppose the media are skirting the edges here.

    In fact, the Sri Lankan kid has had his name revealed in the press, as he was sentenced as an adult. But I see no reason to repeat it here, for googling eternity. You can look it up yourself.

  12. And more so among Indians b/c well India, though not as “modern” in citizen identity as the US, is country that formed out of various cultures and languages, thru a shared identity; I think we would have broken up long ago, in the way of other european states, or african states, if there wasn’t a relatively strong sense of shared Indianness and that identity has been seen for centuries.

    i agree. the common idea of nationhood (language, ethnicity) that people assume should hold is a fairly primitive construct imo. the united states has a nicer idea of nationhood—admittedly in retrospect, but kudos to them for evolving into modernity—based on the bill of rights, attempting to include everyone even if they are not always successful.

    a non-colonial study of india will reveal that states such as these have existed for quite a bit. the vijaynagar empire is perhaps the most recent of them, but examples abound where the empire encompassed multiple languages and cultures, all on an equal footing rather than one dominating the other.

    i think that it would be fascinating to articulate what nationhood has meant in india. our academics don’t particularly care for it other than regurgitating either marxist or (fill up with your favorite ideology) narratives. but a real answer may result in a much deeper understanding of today’s india as well as a more cogent political system. and answer why it is that we find this bonhomie among desis, what is the basis of that comfort zone?

  13. Possibly. I wonder if they were tapping his phone orginally becuae they suspected him of funding terrorists

    Probably not, I read in WSJ that the NYSE picked up this first in 2007 when it saw an unusual trading of Hilton & AMD stocks. The informant is supposed to be another desi named Ms. Khan. It is really ‘desi vs desi vs desi’ then.

  14. The informant is supposed to be another desi named Ms. Khan. It is really ‘desi vs desi vs desi’ then.

    I just saw the news posted under SM News that it’s Roomy Khan. The name rang a bell because I read a recent article about Vilma Serralta’s case against the Khans for unpaid wages as a domestic worker. The case was recently settled.

  15. if you have a roomy with a view of your trades, you’re liable to meet the the wrath of khan.

  16. It’s disgusting to read of Rajaratnam’s links to LTTE front organisations. I felt sorry for the man initially, but if his money has gone into funding child soldiers, suicide bombers and random bomb attacks on trains, buses and public places in Sri Lanka then well, I hope he gets what’s coming.

  17. Archana

    You’re comments make me laugh because of how true it is. Many of my desi female friends have the same sentiment as you.

    Even though i’m only 24, its pretty clear i’m over 21. I never get carded at grocery stores or other places that sell liquor that aren’t owned by desis. But when i lived in a smaller city, the uncles would always ask for my ID just so they could read my name and see if they knew my family.

    But i’ll take the bad with the good. Before i was 21, there were a few spots that would still sell me liquor. One guy hesitated, then asked if i was in school, and since i was, he let it slide. I guess he has a moral code.

  18. I just saw the news posted under SM News that it’s Roomy Khan. The name rang a bell because I read a recent article about Vilma Serralta’s case against the Khans for unpaid wages as a domestic worker. The case was recently settled.

    What the hell is up with desis and their love of harassing maids?

    Inner red neck is about to speak…..

    If you come to this country then make sure you dont pack your 3rd world morals with you.

  19. yeah, this desi chick in my office building used to make me buy cigarettes for her (from the desi lobby store owner).

  20. If you come to this country then make sure you dont pack your 3rd world morals with you.

    Dude. Have you seen how White people treat their maids?

    Acting like a dick to service employees and hired help is pretty universal among status conscious people who are anxious to prove how great and awesome they are. It’s not a Desi thing, it’s a “douchebags who feel like they have something to prove” thing.

  21. It’s not a Desi thing

    Thank you; I’m so sick of ignorant comments like these that take one or two incidents and put it on the whole culture. Jeez, my family has treated their maids fine, both here and in India. Jeez, why do we need hateful nonIndian/nondesi ignorants when you’ve got homegrown ones cheering their ideology along.

  22. in my experience shallowthinker is right. Indians treat the help on average worse than whites, which is probably due to the servant mentality of the the motherland. now shallowthinker decided to package this belief in incendiary rhetoric, probably reflecting the anger he felt mixed in with a little humor, but putting that aside for a moment is stereotyping necessarily bigoted?

    i say no. surely different cultures have different characteristics and to merely note them is not in and off itelf bigotry, although to assume everyone within that culture possesses the aforementioned stereotype is. if we can note that immigrants work harder than most certainly we can note this too.

  23. in my experience shallowthinker is right. Indians treat the help on average worse than whites,

    Really which whites – Europe, in Slovakia, in Britain? French?; do you think economics plays a role? Before America was able to afford unions and labor protection laws, did “whites” enslave millions of Africans and treat them like animals. How about the high class Russians and how they treated their serfs.

    How about middle easterners and how they treat their servants – worst than desi? How about black people/Africans and how they treat their servants? How are those African/black governments and how they treat their own people? worst than desis? How about S. Americans and how they treat their help – how about Mexicans and how they treat their help? You can now say from your experience (which is different than my experience) that desis treat their maids worst than…who exactly?

    Airing your experiences as if they encompass a whole culture is misleading and fuels a lot of bigots – if that is the case I might as well not trust a Mexican or black person, considering what the stats in the US say about their crime rate or the number of stories I hear about illegal immigrants fleeing from countries that are killing their own people. Do you have any stats on how desis in the US treat their maids as opposed to whites, or blacks or middle easterners or latinos or whatever?

  24. Really which whites – Europe, in Slovakia, in Britain? French?;

    Americans–wasps and jews specifically.

    Before America was able to afford unions and labor protection laws, did “whites” enslave millions of Africans and treat them like animals

    Yes. and if someone were to take american society to task for racism, and say “leave your goddamned American racism at home when you come to my country,” i wouldn’t begrudge them.

    How about middle easterners and how they treat their servants – worst than desi?

    i think so. they appear to suck. fuck them too.

    How about black people/Africans and how they treat their servants?

    you could be onto something here. it may be how we treat our own, like how the mafia targets italian americans. i don’t think desis would treat a non-desi maid the same way. the lady who cleans my office once mentioned to me how whe’d never do housekeeping for a black family, because she gets treated worse than when she works for whites (she’s black). so maybe that has something to do with it.

    Airing your experiences as if they encompass a whole culture is misleading and fuels a lot of bigots

    Yes that is the danger. but just because something may result in bad consequences, doesn’t make it false. i don’t know how to solve this conundrum other than to utilize plato’s solution: such topics should be restricted to the intellectual elite while the masses are fed noble lies.

  25. http://btcc.ips-dc.org/maid.htm In a recent case, Hilda Rosa Dos Santos, a housekeeper from Brazil, was trapped with no pay and insufficient food for 20 years in the home of a Brazilian couple who told her that she would be raped or killed if she went outside because Americans don’t like dark-skinned people. An Indonesian maid was told by her Saudi Arabian boss that Americans don’t like Muslims so she would not fare well if she left the home.

    One of the Campaign’s earliest cases was that of Hilda Rosa Dos Santos of Brazil who had originally come to the United States in 1979 to work for the Bonetti family on a G-5 visa. For nearly 20 years, she lived in slave-like conditions, suffering beatings from the woman of the house and receiving no pay or medical treatment even when she suffered from a large stomach tumor.

    Yeshehareg Teffera, an Ethiopian woman, was brought to the US in 1991 by an IMF official, Dawit Makonnen, and paid a total of $1,060 for eight years of around-the-clock work. Makonnen illegally kept Teffera even after he left the IMF. In 1998, Teffera ran away and, with the help of a Campaign lawyer, has won a $342,000 judgment against Makonnen. Makonnen fled the U.S. to avoid paying the fine. Despite extensive pr

    Elizabeth Iguago, originally came from Ecuador to work for an IMF official but was illegally “loaned out” to an American couple. She served as a cook, babysitter, hairdresser, and personal attendant for up to 84 hours a week at approximately 50 cents an hour.

  26. Well, that looks decisive, then–clearly the worst offenders are the dirtbags who work for the IMF and the World Bank.

  27. Do you have any stats on how desis in the US treat their maids as opposed to whites, or blacks or middle easterners or latinos or whatever?

    No, I didn’t think you had stats – you just have conjecture from your one story and personal experience. I’m sure I can find some Jewish-Americans abusing their maids, two stories is all you would need right?, and we then can include Jewish-Americans, (are we excluding the white atheists, christians, etc – are they easily vaulted with the abusive africans, desis, and middle easterners) as regular, cultural abusers of maids.

  28. i’d defer to the stats if they were available. and yes, its dangerous to extrapolate from anecdotes and its bigotry to assume an individual posseses certain qualities just because he’s member of a group that is know for those qualities.

    but i don’t think making the observation in and off itself should be out of bounds. otherwise, how could we even speak of white racism?

  29. how could we even speak of white racism?

    What is white racism? I don’t think all whites are racist? I’ve had more racist taunts from nonwhites.

  30. What is white racism? I don’t think all whites are racist? I’ve had more racist taunts from nonwhites.

    to say all whites are racist is racism. but to say blacks were treated worse in say post-reconstruction south–due to segregation, jim crow, the kkk, etc–in comparison to how they were treated in france for example is not, imo, a statement of bigotry but rather a legit cultural observation. i’d have no problem with a Frenchman telling an American displaying such bigotry to leave his racist american morals at home.

  31. but to say blacks were treated worse in say post-reconstruction south–due to segregation, jim crow, the kkk, etc–in comparison to how they were treated in france for example is not, imo, a statement of bigotry

    No, I don’t think this is bigotry either. But you are using factual events, institutionalized methods of marginalization based on race to support what you are saying. You might also want to throw in statistics on lynchings.

    But if you make such an assertion, an American might say, but maybe French didn’t treat African descent people badly b/c there were so few in Africa? How did the French treat the black men, and women in their colonies? The French had a large population of Jews and unfortunately, many in the population joined ranks with the antisemites and aided Germany in sending them to the camps. If there was a large black African population in France, would Vichy France and Germany come together to get specific race laws that included the systemic gassing of Africans? I don’t think what you said was bigoted, but if I was taking the American’s side, I wouldn’t necessarily extrapolate that b/c there was less lynchings in France than in America, and no Jim Crow laws, that that would mean the French were so much more open-minded in race/ethnic relations.

  32. I don’t think what you said was bigoted, but if I was taking the American’s side, I wouldn’t necessarily extrapolate that b/c there was less lynchings in France than in America, and no Jim Crow laws, that that would mean the French were so much more open-minded in race/ethnic relations.

    True, but you can’t assume equality either. My general point is that not all societies are equal, some treat people worse than others (as the slave trade, cultural revolution, holocaust, ukrainian famine demonstrate). But all societies treat some people poorly, as the underlying characteristics that lead to the aforementioned atrocities are human universals. but that still doesn’t mean all cultures are equal, just that they are essentially similar in that they are human societies. i think we agree here.

    now to the specific question as to whether south asisn societies are worse than America in the treatment of maids, i don’t suppose i can convince you until i have some data, which i don’t. but if you agree on the general philosophical point then i’ll just declare victory and go home.

  33. but if you agree on the general philosophical point then i’ll just declare victory and go home. I won’t agree, but you should still go home. :)

  34. What I said was to be taken more with humor, but all sarcastic comments come from some truth.

    Im not going to point to stats or any powerful source for my opinion, but all I got is experience with the matter.

    To be fair, I am sure that being that controlling is more of a psychological issue than a cultural issue.

  35. ut all I got is experience with the matter.

    how many maids did you mistreat? or was it your parents who did that?

  36. I wish I was in a position to have the option of being nice or a total dick to a maid.

    I would love to have that decision on my mind but the current finanaces prevent me from making that decision.

    But in the future who knows? I am leaning towards being not nice, but not mean. Just never smiling at them or frowning at them. Just straight business. Maybe I could give them a Christmas card with no money in it(because I already paid them for work why give more), but a nice poem about the holidays and family.

    A man can dream, cant he?