Arguing with The Nine

President Obama hit the ground running today, his first acts designed to remove some of the moral stain on our nation:

In the first hours of his presidency, President Obama directed an immediate halt to the Bush administration’s military commissions system for prosecuting detainees at the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. [Link]

Not only that, but guess who the new lead prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay is? David “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH” Iglesias:

Fired New Mexico US Attorney David Iglesias will be a lead prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba when and terror trials resume there, he told a New Mexico television station this morning.

The move has doubly powerful symbolism: Iglesias is recently famous for being fired for refusing to compromise his political independence, but he knows Guantanamo Bay well: He was the Navy defense lawyer played by Tom Cruise in the film, “A Few Good Men,” one of three who defended marines at the naval base.

Iglesias, a Naval reservist, said he’d been activated as a Judge Advocate General “prosecuting terror cases out of Guantanamo.” [Link]

Shutting down Gitmo and appointing an attorney fired by Alberto Gonzales wasn’t enough though. Obama then asked Osama bin Laden’s driver’s lawyer (the oft-blogged about on SM, Neal Katyal), to serve as the Deputy Solicitor General of the United States:

It’s good to see that the grownups are back in charge at the Justice Department…

Neal Katyal, the Georgetown Law professor who successfully challenged the military trials in Guantanamo while representing Osama bin Laden’s driver, will be deputy solicitor general. He’ll join Elena Kagan, the dean of Harvard Law School, who has been nominated to be Solicitor General. [Link]

This puts Katyal one step closer (although it is doubtful it would happen in the next four years) to having a serious shot at becoming the first desi appointed to the SCOTUS. What is more likely is that Kagan will eventually be appointed to SCOTUS and Neal will take over as the main man. The thought of Nina Totenberg regularly quoting a Katyal argument (as he jousts with Roberts or Scalia) on NPR as I drive to and from work excites me to a level that is uncomfortable to admit.

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The knives come out for Gupta

Aasif Mandvi wasn’t the only person to allude to the fact that Sanjay Gupta’s coming nomination makes life harder for all of us non- attractive neurosurgeon journalists. Sandip Roy, writing at New American Media, also tries to prepare us all for how hard it is going to be for us regular desis to play keep up with the Guptas now:

…I fear it’s a mixed blessing for the rest of us much more run-of-the-mill South Asians. It’s exciting to see someone who comes from your stock make it big. But another neurosurgeon-makes-good story is going to make us look even more like underachievers.

“What’s the matter, beta? Why can’t you be more like that nice Sanjay Gupta? Not just a neurosurgeon but on CNN AND meeting Obama for three hours?”

Not only is he dashing and articulate. Not only did he do brain surgery on a 2 -year-old Iraqi boy while embedded during the Iraq war, now he might be the new Surgeon-general. Let me pause, and reel in the envy!

And his only qualm, according to the Washington Post is “is said to involve the financial impact on his pregnant wife and two children if he gives up his lucrative medical and journalistic careers.”

Golly. This is a South Asian parent’s dream. He’s 39 and he’s already followed the four stages of a good Hindu life – childhood, education, family and now a sort-of-renunciation-and-service… [Link]

I completely agree with Roy’s analysis. This is the reason I have been pretty bummed ever since the Gupta nomination even though I agree he is a good pick. In fact, there has been a sort of let down ever since Obama got elected. He promised that we could all “Be the change.” How can that be true though when 300,000 people submitted resumes for ~7000 “change” jobs? Its like musical chairs and I, like may of you, am left without a seat. I’m the wrong kind of doctor, just a blogger and not a journalist, and I’m not quite so…model-like. I can’t even complain that he had access to a better education at an elitist school since we went to the same school. In short, I’m rapidly turning into a bitter hater, much like conservative pundit Stephen Colbert who basically implies in the clip below that Gupta isn’t qualified since he is a “dick eater”:

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Having to think twice about reporting a burglary

About a week ago the Houston Chronicle ran a story about a burglary here in Houston. A Sikh family (the Tagores) came home one night to find that their master bedroom had been ransacked and that a window was broken. They did what anyone would have done: called the police to report the crime. Then the story becomes not so routine:

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is investigating allegations that deputies harassed a family of Sikhs whose home was burglarized last week.

Family members say the deputies handcuffed them, roughed them up and taunted them instead of taking a report on the break-in.

One deputy reportedly asked them if they’d “heard about the bombings in Bombay.” Another allegedly said he had been to Kuwait and “knew about Muslims…”

“The allegations, if they’re true, are certainly intolerable and inconsistent with our policies,” said sheriff’s spokesman John Legg.

The deputies could face anything from disciplinary action to termination, Legg said. He declined to release their names pending further investigation. [Houston Chronicle]

This incident occurred on November 26th. On November 27th, a film crew from San Antonio-based Sach Productions was already in Houston to interview the family.

The idea behind the birth of Sach Productions is the creation of an agency that uses the film media to further the Sikh cause. The intention of Sach Productions is to introduce Sikhs to the world and then bring forth issues that concern them.

The initial projects are short documentaries that introduce Sikhs to the Western world. The intention is to then bring issues relating to Punjab, Human Rights, Arts and Culture to the people. [Sach Productions]

By December 5th, as the local news began to pick up on the story, Sach Productions had already filmed and uploaded a documentary about the incident on to the web:

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Pro-Hindu group tackles random crime

Lately, when reading some Indian publications on the web, I often see America portrayed as a dangerous jungle where Indians (especially students) get slaughtered left and right (and the race of the suspected murderer is always stressed in the article). Over the past year Anna has written here on SM about some DBD students who were the unfortunate murder victims of what were probably robberies (see here and here). Also, just last week a silicon valley CEO was killed by a disgruntled employee fired earlier in the day. All of these are really tragic deaths. However, to make the absurd leap of logic that Indians around the U.S. are being targeted is just ignorant. If all the victims were turban-wearing Sikhs and a terrorist attack has just occurred, THEN there might be reason to worry about this being a trend. But random crime in a large country does not a trend make. Enter the Atlanta-based “United States Hindu Alliance” who want something done:

Expressing concern over killing of Indian students and professionals in the US, a Hindu group in New York has approached the top American intelligence agency asking it to take steps to prevent such incidents.

In a letter to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Hindu Alliance said it is “alarmed” by growing number of the killings, pointing out that there have been as many as five reported murders of Indian students and professionals in the past one year.

The letter, which was released by the alliance, also referred to the latest attack on 22-year-old MBA student in the University of Middle Tennessee Pulluri Shashank on November 16. He was shot but is reported to be out of danger.

The killings, it said, began at the Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge when two PhD students – Komma Chandrasekhar Reddy and Allam Kiran Kumar — were found dead in their apartment near the campus on December 14, 2007.

This was followed by the murder of Dr Akkaldelvi Srinivas, a second year medical student at Scranton University in Pennsylvania. Tummala Soumya Reddy, who was pursuing her master’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Southern Illinois University, was killed on September 22, 2008. Her cousin Vikram Reddy was also found dead near a lake in Chicago. [Link]

I can’t find a website for USHA but I did find a statement by one of its founders (Gokul Kunnath) that may help to explain the psychology behind this request:

Gokul Kunnath said that post 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US; Hindus became targets of racial hatred, violence, discrimination and abuse due to ignorance and misperceptions. There are one billion Indians, about 20% of the global population. The global Hindu diaspora is peace loving, and believes in pluralism and freedom of worship. Sadly it is being targeted for the wrong reasons. Hindus everywhere need to be proactive in safeguarding their interests. USHA will strive to empower Hindus everywhere through education, advocacy and activism. It will release an agenda of its concerns and problems and deliver it to the political representatives to resolve the issues in a bipartisan manner, he said. [Link]

I feel like this is tangentially related to Amardeep’s post from earlier in the week. I would be SHOCKED if the FBI decided to investigate any of these crimes. They are all local incidents and not part of some conspiracy. However, I can see how this “pro-Hindu” organization might be able to bring in donations from both here and abroad simply by writing this letter and convincing people that they are standing up for Indians/Hindus. I know that I risk coming across as overly cynical here. Maybe the folks in this organization truly are clueless and this letter is just an innocent token of concern. The alternative is that they are contributing to fear mongering and using the deaths of these students as a recruiting/fundraising tool for their organization (which is wrong no matter how innocuous the organization might be).

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It’s not a 10 gallon hat

To complete our trifecta of news from Texas, the county of Dallas finally settled a case concerning a judge who told a Sikh plaintiff that he had to choose between his right to free exercise of his religion or his right to go to court:

Amardeep Singh appeared in Judge Albert Cercone’s court to contest a minor a traffic citation. Mr. Singh was denied entrance into the court due to his turban. Unfortunately, Judge Cercone threatened that if Mr. Singh did not leave the courtroom and stayed with his “hat” on, he would be arrested. [Link]

Judge Cercone is probably just a crazy old coot of a judge whose “no-nonsense approach to the court” is full of bakwaas. (It’s not clear to me that Judge Cercone is even a lawyer by training, his website only lists experience as a businessman, but you’d think that judge training would cover something as basic as the Bill of Rights) And I know this isn’t a common occurrence – there are plenty of Sikhs in Dallas, and many of them are able to get their day in court.

Still, what has me steamed is the way Dallas compounded its mistake by refusing to admit fault. Unlike the state of Georgia, which backed down in a similar circumstance when the first amendment issues were explained, the county of Dallas persisted in its mistaken ways.

So Amardeep Singh (not our Amardeep), with the help of SALDEF and the Texas ACLU, sued under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act and won, a process that took 2 years.

The fact that the county dug in the heels of its cowboy boots rather than admitting that they had goofed is absurd. Both the constitution and state law are pretty clear about the need not to interfere with the free exercise of religion. And Texas is hardly a state which gives judges complete control over their courtrooms. For example, state law says that prosecutors may carry firearms into the courtroom, whether the judge wishes them to or not. Seeing as the First Amendment comes before the Second, you’d think this would have been a no-brainer.

Hey Texas! Don’t mess with me either. Continue reading

The Day the Music Died

First of all: thank you for the opportunity to blog. I’m so excited!

And now, my post:

The city of Bangalore has banned dancing and live music in places that serve alcohol, according to this Indian Express article here.

And according to this friend of mine here:


one Abhi M., who along with famed playwright Girish Karnad and 100 other people, protested the outmoded rule. Karnad spaketh thus:

“It is tyranny of the police. It is against every artiste. Instead of going after criminals the police are going after musicians.”

[Note: Karnad's first two lines rhyme. A true artiste, that one.]

Apparently Bangalore officials have decided to enforce a part of the decades-old Karnataka Excise Law that prohibits live music and dancing in places that sell alcohol. (Used to be, only the section barring women from dancing was enforced, which led critics to hire dancing eunuchs in bars across the city this past February. Too bad that wouldn’t even be clever this time around.)

Abhi tells me,

“it’s an outdated law that’s being dug up by immature and backward-thinking bureaucrats and cops.”

But those Bs and Cs have their defenses. Says Bangalore’s Police Commissioner in an NDTV article:

“There is no [dance] ban on discos. They have to obtain a license and they can function.”

The article goes on to say however, that not one such license has been granted in the past four years to the many places that have requested them, according to sources in the police department.

The law is being used to temper progress, and the upshot is that the city is confused. I saw it myself two years ago.

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Gay Rights in India — an Update

Nearly two years ago, we posted on a court case involving Section 377, India’s notorious law criminalizing homosexuality. A case had been filed in the Delhi High Court (in 2001!) by the Naz Foundation, and the High Court had initially turned down the case. Later, the Indian Supreme Court directed the Delhi High Court to consider the case after all.

Last week, the case finally came up for a hearing, and the proceedings are described here. The chief lawyer for the Naz Foundation, Anand Grover seemed to hit all the right points: the law is a colonial relic; the law is vague to the point of absurdity, opening itself to arbitrary interpretation and arrest of presumed homosexuals; the law insults the dignity of homosexuals; and the law runs counter to the interests of public health. All of these are strong arguments (read the article for the nitty-gritties, including a rather fine distinction made between “carnal intercourse” and “sexual intercourse”).

The government’s confused defense amused one of judges hearing the case, Justice Sikri:


blockquote>Counsel for the Union of India submitted that her client had filed two affidavits, one by the National Aids Control Organization (“NACO”) under the Ministry of Health and the other by the Ministry of Home Affairs. She admitted that NACO’s reply is supportive of the Petitioner. To this, Justice Sikri remarked that if that is the Union’s position, then why did it not amend the law itself?

The Counsel for the Union of India replied that the Ministry of Home Affairs has opposed the petition but that its counter was filed in 2003 prior to NACO’s reply (in 2006). She admitted that the client (i.e the Ministry of Home Affairs) had not given any new or additional instructions. It therefore appears that the Ministry of Home Affairs stands by its earlier stand of contesting the petition.

Amused by the fact that the Union was divided in its opinion, Justice Sikri remarked “It (homosexuality) is not a health hazard but is affecting the home”. (link)

In short, the government’s initial response (from the Ministry of Home Affairs) on Section 377 contradicts the National AIDS Control Organization’s response (the latter group actually agrees with the Naz Foundation). The government here can’t coordinate its own defense, making any attempt to actually defend the law seem a little schizophrenic. Continue reading

Posted in Law

I.C.E.D better than GTA-IV

I really wish I could have been playing the new video game Grand Theft Auto IV this week. Unfortunately I don’t own a gaming system. I used to be an obsessive gamer as a kid so its best that I don’t go near one now that I have real responsibilities (like blogging). I can however, get my fix online. I’ve been trying my hand at a game that looks similar to GTA-IV. Instead of smacking hos and jacking cars, I’ve been learning about “my” rights as an immigrant child. The game is I.C.E.D. (I Can End Deportation):

Breakthrough’s video game, ICED, puts you in the shoes of an immigrant to illustrate how unfair immigration laws deny due process and violate human rights. These laws affect all immigrants: legal residents, those fleeing persecution, students and undocumented people.

ICED has been featured in overwhelming amounts of press including: MTV News, Game Daily and has been covered on popular blogs including, Gothamist and The Huffington Post. To get a full list of media, please look at the left-hand tool bar.

How do you play?


Game Play:
As an immigrant teen you are avoiding ICE officers, choosing right from wrong and answering questions on immigration. But if you answer questions incorrectly, or make poor decisions, you will be detained with no respect for your human rights. [Link]

Is your knee jerk reaction that you think this game might exaggerate the plight of immigrant kids, especially those brought over by undocumented parents? Think again. More about that later, after the fold. Continue reading

Pascagoula: Scene of a Mutiny (updated)

The plight of South Asian (mostly Malayalee) indentured servants workers employed by Signal International at shipyards in Pascagoula, Mississippi started gaining notice in more of the mainstream media late last week, and this week should see the sad story gain even greater visibility…and a stronger reaction on behalf of the workers. First, a quick background on the situation, in which these workers, among many other immigrant laborers, were brought over to help clean up the mess left behind by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita work at the shipyards (but many others to do hurricane recovery work):

About 100 Indian workers walked off their jobs at Signal International, a Pascagoula shipyard Thursday.

They talk of broken promises and shattered dreams. The Indian workers came to America for job opportunity. They now face the risk of being deported after quitting their jobs at Signal and accusing the company of illegal “human trafficking…”

I slit my wrists to kill myself. There was no other option for me. I didn’t know what I was doing. The situation forced me to do so. I was in a horrible situation. Signal was retaliating against me for organizing my people for our rights,” he told the group of fellow workers and visiting media.

They talk of living “like pigs in a cage” in a company-run “work camp.”

“I’ve been a guest worker all my life. I’ve never seen these kinds of conditions,” said the interpreter, “We lived 24 people to a room. And for this, the company deducted $1,050 a month from our paychecks…” [Link]

This sounds more like Dubai than Pascagoula! Although ~100 workers picketed, there are actually 4-6 times that many who are stuck in the same situation but didn’t want to expose themselves in such a high profile manner, or have their families worry about them. For additional background I point you to SAJA’s coverage and also to Maitri’s blog. This ABC news article has a link to an inspiring slideshow wherein the workers are photographed ceremonially casting off their hard hats, the symbols of their servitude, as if they were shackles. In response, Signal issued this press release saying that the accusations are “baseless.” Uh huh.

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Crown vs. Turban: Unravelling the truth

I am often amazed at the claims that so-called experts make, even in a court of law. For example, the government of Ontario recently defended its policy that Sikhs riding motorcycles should wear helmets (not a requirement in BC or Manitoba) by claming that turbans would unravel in the breeze, thus posing a risk to other motorists.

Born to be wild

… the Crown declared that an expert it had hired proved that turbans unravel rapidly in 100 km/h winds. The Crown’s test had been carried out by a professional engineer who purchased a mannequin head, mounted it on a stick and then placed the assemblage in a wind tunnel. [Link]

Say what? Turbans unravel at 60 mph? Have they ever seen a Sardar riding a motorcycle? Or riding a roller coaster? Or even sticking his head out of a moving vehicle? The paag stays on tight my friend.

To test this claim, the plaintiff, Baljinder Badesha of Brampton (can you say that 10 times fast?), tried to replicate the study. He drove down the Cayuga Speedway at … gasp, 110 kmh. Did his turban unravel and flutter into the wind like a wayward plastic bag? Ummm … no. It was fit to be tied.

Mr. Hutchison [Baljinder Singh's lawyer] was unable to find a documented case anywhere in the world where a Sikh motorcyclist’s turban had unravelled. Skeptical, he persuaded the OHRC to authorize its own test. After he confronted the Crown with the dramatically different test result, prosecutors conceded that their engineer had grossly miscalculated the force of the wind he had generated to batter the imitation head, Mr. Hutchison said.

In fact, the device had been subjected to a 300 km/h wind. [Link]

That’s right – they used 180 mph winds in their test, more of a gale than the stiff breeze you get at 60mph. And even so, I’m not entirely convinced. I’ll bet if they used a real person with a real turban going 180 mph, it might still stay on. But in any case, given that driving at 300 kmh is illegal, the point is moot. Continue reading