Desi Lawyers Behaving Badly

To my fellow Desi wanna-be esquires:

Remember how in law school you had that “Litigation Basics” class the first semester of your first year? Think back. It was probably one of those half-semester pass/fail deals where you spent class time surfing the net instead of taking notes. (Or was that just me). At the beginning of the term, the professor passes out a little booklet that says “Rules of Professional Conduct.” It lays out the ethical duties of attorneys, basically what they can and cannot do while practicing in that state. It covers client confidentiality, conflict of interest issues, etc. If you haven’t read your copy lately, may I suggest a refresher may be in order? Especially that part about “conduct…which tends to…. bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute” a.k.a known as asking your employees to have sex with you as part of their duties of employment. You think I jest?

Take Samir Zia Chowhan of Chowhan Law, an attorney practicing in Chicago, Illinois. Allegedly, one fine day, Mr. Chowdan decided his firm needed a secretary/legal assistant and where better to advertise than on the ‘Adult Gigs’ section of Craigslist? He posted a somewhat typical help-wanted ad.

Loop law firm looking to hire am [sic] energetic woman for their open secretary/legal assistant position. Duties will include general secretarial work, some paralegal work and additional duties for two lawyers in the firm. No experience required, training will be provided… If interested, please send current resume and a few pictures along with a description of your physical features, including measurements.

Measurements, eh? That’s a warning flag. Or is it? According to news sources, Ms. Debbie Dickinson, assuming the ad to be innocuous (?!?!) submits her resume, photo and measurements only to receive this reply. Continue reading

iWatch you

Why I do I find this public service announcement by the City of Los Angeles so very very creepy? They use phrases like:

“…if you smell something suspicious”

“…let the experts decide”

It just seems to me like this type of appeal is much more suited for futuristic television set, say, in a movie like V for Vendetta or 1984 something. There is a good mix of minorities thrown in for good measure so that you know racial profiling won’t even be an issue. Well, if minority actors say it is ok then it must be.

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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. Continue reading

How about those of us who aren’t famous

Fame just isn’t what it used to be. On Friday, New Jersey Police stopped Bob Dhillon Dylan for suspicious activities, i.e. walking around in a minority neighborhood in the rain and looking at a house for sale, and refused to let him go until he produced identification.

Then today, as Phillygrrl reported, SRK was detained at Newark. But at least he got privileged treatment, they let him make a phone call after an hour, and the Indian government was able to step in. (This isn’t going to help suppress rumors that it was all a publicity stunt for his film)

But what happens to people who aren’t famous? Let’s say they’re Muslim, Brown, Pakistani and working for the US government? Then it seems you can be detained and not even the government agency you’re working for can get you out:

Rahman Bunairee is a Pakistani journalist who works as a contract reporter for VOA’s Deewa Radio and for a privately-owned Pakistani television station. The 33-year-old planned to join VOA [Voice of America] in Washington for one year, and arrived at Dulles Airport on Sunday with a visa issued by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. It is not clear why he was detained and why he is still being held in U.S. custody… The journalist, whose home was destroyed by the Taliban last month, was taken into custody on Sunday. [link]

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Mr. Policeman is your friend

When I was little, we were told that the policeman was our friend and that if we were ever lost or scared, we should go to a cop for help. And the NYPD makes an effort to look friendly by doing things like playing cricket to build bridges with desi muslim populations.

At the same time, I’d find their friendly face a bit more convincing if they didn’t throw arrest obviously wrong people, (allegedly) call them “sand nigger” and (allegedly) throw them in the clink without giving them the phone call they’re entitled to.

Recently, poet and professor Ravi Shankar was arrested and detained for 30 hours for a crime that had obviously been committed by somebody else:

I hadn’t been read my rights or granted a phone call. After an hour my arresting officer returned — but only to take me for a mug shot and digital fingerprinting. Eventually he showed me my arrest warrant. It was for a 5-foot-10, 140-pound white male. I happen to be a 6-foot-2, 200-pound, Indian man. I pointed out the discrepancy. “Tell it to the judge,” he said. [link]

The music world is lucky they didn’t pick up Norah Jones’ dad on that same warrant. I mean, we all look alike, even when some of us are white.

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Posted in Law

Hijras Officially Recognized in Pakistan; and a Thought about India’s “E” Gender Designation

Amidst all the high-level news about terrorism, the internal war in Swat Valley, and various military/foreign-policy questions, other topics in the news sometimes get overlooked.

To wit, Basim Usmani has an informative column up at Comment is Free on a recent ruling by Pakistan’s recently re-constituted Supreme Court, regarding Hijras:

Pakistan’s supreme court recently ruled that all hijras, the Urdu catch-all term for its transvestite, transgender and eunuch community, will be registered by the government as part of a survey that aims to integrate them further into society. The ruling followed a petition by Islamic jurist Dr Mohammad Aslam Khaki, who said the purpose was to “save them from a life of shame”.

Khaki’s petition was prompted by a police raid on a hijra colony in Taxila, an ancient city filled with some of the oldest Buddhist ruins in Pakistan. Two of the three judges on the bench that ruled in favour if the hijra petition, chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry, were under house arrest for the better part of the past three years. This, coupled with the clobbering the police gave the lawyers during their demonstrations against the suspension of the judiciary in 2007, makes it easy to regard the hijra ruling as being directed against the police. (link)

The usual qualifications apply — this ruling is far from a panacea for the Hijra community. Still, one interesting side-note Basim mentions is the fact, new to me, that Hijras in India recently gained the right to officially note their gender as “E” on government forms and passports, and while running for public office:

The move to recognise hijras has perhaps been part of a spillover from India’s efforts to recognise its own hijras following a stunt last April when three hijras applied to run for office to raise awareness about the “third sex issue”. As a result, hijras can now give their gender as “E” for eunuch on their passports and government forms.

Again, the “E” designation (for “Eunuch”) only applies in India (see this for an explanation of how and why the designation emerged).

It’s intriguing to me that until just a couple of weeks ago, homosexuality was a crime under Section 377 in India; meanwhile transgendered individuals had, for at least a short while before that old law was overturned, a level of official recognition that few other countries could match. The disparity is of course understandable — Hijras are an endemic part of South Asian culture, while the concept of homosexuality is only recently gaining visibility. Still: does anyone know whether transgender or intergender individuals in any western countries have the equivalent of an “E” (or better, “T”) designation?

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Posted in Law

The Arc of Religious Freedom in France

capt.photo_1247495450439-1-0.jpg The Indian presence at yesterday’s Bastille Day events in Paris commemorated the sacrifices of Indian soldiers who fought and died in World War I and symbolized the current economic, military and political ties between the two nations. But the images of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as chief guest and the Indian troops who marched in the annual military parade, including a group pictured to the right led by a Sikh officer, also brought to mind the French law that continues to keep Sikhs out of public schools and prevents them from getting drivers licenses or serving in the military or public office.

Overlooked back in 2004 when France enacted the so-called French headscarf ban forbidding any conspicuous religious symbols in state schools or government offices, the tiny Sikh community of France has been fighting the law in and out of the courts since then (previous SM coverage). Continue reading

A Blip on No One’s Radar: Tanveer Ahmad

The New York Times has a story on Tanveer Ahmad, a blip on no one’s radar. Nothing terrible or violent happened to him — he died of a heart attack in a prison in New Jersey — but I was moved by the story, and thought it might be worth taking a moment to pay attention to it.

In 2005, a Pakistani man named Tanveer Ahmad died while being held for an immigration offense in Monmouth County Jail in New Jersey. He had been in the U.S. since the early 1990s, when he had come in on a visitor’s visa and stayed. He had married two American women, one in Texas, and another in the Bronx. He had also apparently married a woman back in Pakistan on a visit home in 1999, an event which led to the collapse of the first marriage (he remained legally married to the woman in Pakistan). While working at a frequently-robbed gas station in Texas, he had an incident that came back to haunt him later:

His only trouble with the law was a $200 fine for disorderly conduct in 1997: While working at a Houston gas station, he had displayed the business’s unlicensed gun to stop a robbery. (link)

I can understand the legality of this — possessing an unlicensed firearm can be big trouble (though it sounds like it wasn’t his firearm, but the one owned by the owner of the business). Still, there is definitely a tragic irony here: Tanveer Ahmad was punished for being robbed. As a result of that misdemeanor involving a handgun, Ahmad was classified a “violent” offender, eligible for immediate detention and deportation irrespective of any mitigating circumstances.

Tanveer Ahmad’s immigration status wasn’t simple. Like thousands of other people, he had tried various options to find a path to a Green Card, but failed. Until he was actually imprisoned in 2005, it didn’t seem like there was any particular pressure on him from the USCIS to return to Pakistan:

Like several million other residents of the United States, Mr. Ahmad occupied the complicated gray zone between illegal and legal immigration. Though he had overstayed his first visa, he had repeatedly been authorized to work while his applications for “adjustment of status” were pending. Twice before 9/11 he had been allowed back into the country after visits to Pakistan.

But the green card application sponsored by his Bronx-born wife, Shanise Farrar, had been officially denied in March 2005, leaving him without a valid visa. Although the couple could have reapplied, by the time he was arrested they had not spoken in more than a year, and Ms. Farrar, who had received a letter threatening a marriage fraud investigation, was unaware of his detention. (link)

So yes, for at least a few months in 2005 he seems to have reached an endpoint in his immigration quest. But Tanveer Ahmad wasn’t a criminal, and he wasn’t taking jobs away from ordinary Americans. He was driving cabs and working the night shift at gas stations in rough neighborhoods. The latter at least is dangerous and undesirable work — work most Americans aren’t willing to do.

It’s also worth mentioning that, once he was detained, Tanveer Ahmad was ready to be deported, and had told his lawyer that he would waive any right to contest his deportation: he had no desire to remain in detention. Continue reading

Posted in Law

Will Amrit give her autograph back?

A few weeks ago, when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in town, it was reported that he asked President Obama for his autograph…for his daughter Amrit Singh who works for the ACLU (see our previous posts):

How big an international star is President Obama? Even other world leaders want his autograph.

When Obama met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this afternoon, the soft-spoken leader noted that his daughter wanted his American counterpart to autograph something for her. [Politico]

Amrit is the ACLU lawyer that has been leading the suit to obtain yet-to-be-released pictures that reportedly show the abuse of terror suspects in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration reversed its stance that previously agreed to allow the release of these damning pictures. Now Obama says “I changed my mind.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which argued for the photos’ release, expressed outrage and said the decision “makes a mockery” of Obama’s campaign promise of transparency.

“It’s absolutely essential that these photos be released so the public can examine for itself the torture and abuse that was conducted in its name, and so that high-level officials who authorized or permitted that abuse can be held accountable,” ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said.

The human rights group Amnesty International said it was disappointed. [Link]
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Oklahoma, this is not OK

Last week, the Oklahoma House passed H.B. 1645 which states that you can’t cover your head in your driver’s license photo for any reason:

Hats, head scarves, head garments, bandanas, prescription … glasses … are strictly prohibited and shall not be worn by the licensee or cardholder when being photographed for a license or identification card.

It means that religious Sikhs, Jews, Muslims and others who wear religious head covering will have to choose between their faith and their ability to travel.

The legislation was proposed in a fit of pique, after the Oklahoma Department of Transportation reversed itself and allowed a young hijabi woman to have her license photo taken with her head scarf on and her face clearly visible, but without her hair showing.


p>Represenative Rex Duncan was so incensed by this that he took over a different bill, with a different purpose, and “hijacked it” to create requirements that the bureaucracy says it doesn’t need, that it will have to defend in court, and that don’t really make a lot of practical sense.

Why don’t I think the bill makes sense? Imagine that I actually did what the law wanted (which I wouldn’t, I would leave the state) and got my photo taken with a naked head. Do you think that a cop would find it easier to recognize me with my glasses and turban from a photograph of me with my hair down and my beard unfurled, man on the cross ishtyle? How about the TSA person at the gate at Tulsa airport?

The bill is also inconsistent. If the legislature seriously believes that hair is a critical part of identification, this is what they would have to do:

  • Mandate no toupees or hairplugs or extensions — sorry, Represenative, but you have to go baldy now
  • Mandate no changes to facial hair
  • Mandate no changes in hair color or style — sorry Represenative, but your wife can’t color that grey out, and your daughter who had long brown hair can’t drive now that she has short pink hair unless she had the photo taken with the short pink hair, in which case you have to live with it from now on
  • Mandate that any time somebody does change hair color or style they have to have their photo retaken
  • Apply the bill retroactively, so that everybody whose appearance has changed at all since their photo was taken has to get a new ID

Can you imagine? The hairdresser’s lobby would kill that bill deader than a combover on a red carpet!

Here’s a petition in opposition to the bill. Right now, the bill is in limbo, since the Senate sponsor has backed down after talking to the transportation bureaucracy and finding out that they don’t actually want these changes. I’m hoping the pressure keeps it that way, and that they recognize that they will face opposition if they proceed with their hair-brained (sic) scheme.

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