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Dharun Ravi, Tyler Clementi and the Hard Work of Truly Stopping Bullies

A young immigrant man was convicted of bullying his gay roommate--who then committed suicide. But has justice been done?

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Prerna Lal, an activist in the LGBT and immigrant rights movements, writes, “Ideally I want Dharun and guys like him to spend their lives in service to the LGBT community.” No criminal court is going to mandate that. Mallika Dutt, the founder of the human rights organization  Breakthrough, which works on gender violence in India and immigrant rights in the U.S., has been ambivalent about criminalization as a strategy since her early days, working in the domestic violence movement.

“Our desire to make sure that men who abused women could be held to account led us to a criminalization strategy to the exclusion of almost anything else,” Dutt recalls. That strategy, Dutt argues, has had little effect on the scale and scope of violence against women.

Still, in a world with few other options, we might not be able to step away from criminalization altogether. Deepa Iyer, the director of  South Asian Americans Leading Together, supported federal hate crimes legislation as well as related state and local laws, but says the consequences have to be proportionate to the act. Iyer notes that the automatic deportation of people with convictions amounts to double punishment.

“When these incidents occur, it’s not just the individual that’s being assaulted, bullied or murdered, it’s the entire community that’s being victimized,” said Iyer. “At the same time, when it comes around to the court system, especially around sentencing, these cases and alleged perpetrators need to be assessed for whether the punishment fits the crime.” Deportation after a jail sentence—essentially exile for someone like Ravi, who was born in India but raised in the U.S.—constitutes double punishment in Iyer’s mind.

If we really want to stop bullying, though, we can’t just do it from the back end. We have to affirmatively, proactively expand the rights of LGBT people, immigrants, people of color and women. Victims need not just the right to get someone punished—to be  victims—but also the ability to earn the pay they deserve, to marry the people they love, to move around the world without giving up control of their own labor.

And we can’t do everything through institutions. We have to be able to talk to each other. Activists in these movements have to model cross-issue, cross-identity relationships so that everyone else can see the effects of greater understanding.

Such changes in both the rules and the way we think are harder to establish than harsh criminal consequences are to win. But that is the challenge ahead of us. Real liberation for all gives us the best chance to protect the humanity of victims and perpetrators alike.

Rinku Sen is the President and Executive Director of the Applied Research Center (ARC) and Publisher of

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