Some of you may remember the case of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who committed suicide last fall after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, broadcast Clementi’s same-sex activities via webcam. The latest news in Ravi’s trial is that a fellow student testified that Ravi was “uncomfortable” with having a gay roommate; some commenting on the case have pointed out that Ravi’s Indian background might have played a role in his homophobia.
Is what happened a case of a foreign man being unable to handle another man’s sexual orientation, or the type of situation that the It Gets Better project is trying to eradicate?
Much of Indian culture centers around filial ties. There is a reason why Indian weddings are the well-known, large, colorful productions that they are; weddings are an important symbol of what’s important in Indian society: family. People who live as openly LGBT are seen as betraying their families as well as the tradition of continuing families.
Furthermore, despite the idea that the existence of the Kama Sutra must mean that Indians are sex-positive, Indian society as a whole is quite sex-negative. Adolescents and young adults might be told what is forbidden to them if necessary, but conversations about sex are verboten for young children and frowned upon for older ones. Indeed, talking about sex and sexuality is considered bad for straight, married folk, so those who do not fit into those norms are considered even more shameful for discussing such matters.
Upon immigration, such attitudes change little, if at all. Most children of immigrants retain their parents’ attitudes at least before adulthood. Even those of us whose attitudes do not match our parents’ tend to keep it to ourselves in deference to the pain it would cause our parents to feel. To give a personal example, even though I am out to my parents as an atheist, they have no idea that I voted no on Proposition 8, let alone that I worked on the NoH8 Campaign. It simply does not seem worth it to be honest lest I cause more in the way of family rifts.
On the other hand, if talking about sex is forbidden, then the idea of videocasting another person’s private sexual activities is not exactly Indian. If Ravi had been displaying more typical Indian attitudes, he would not have Tweeted or attempted to broadcast sexual content of any kind.
Additionally, Ravi was very young when his family immigrated to the United States, so his situation is far more analogous to that of the child of immigrants than to that of an immigrant. He was raised in America; deeply-held homophobic views from “back home” cannot explain his actions.
Ravi’s obsession with spying on and Tweeting about his roommate calls into question the idea that he was “uncomfortable” with the situation; if he was so uncomfortable, why not request a room transfer? In the end, it was Clementi who requested that he be placed with another roommate, not Ravi, due to Ravi’s obnoxious behavior.
Ravi’s reprehensible behavior is not in question, but his motivations for them definitely are. Their connection with his Indian background seems tenuous as best — let us not forget that his actions are the same as those of many other American cyber-bulliers in recent years. This isn’t an instance of a student’s actions reflecting his background, it’s a case of a student who likely failed to reflect on the possible repercussions of his actions.