An excerpt from “Humbling and Humility” – the prologue.
Education is the inculcation of the incomprehensible in the indifferent by the incompetent.
–John Maynard Keynes
Walking in, on a pleasant southwest December afternoon, to my court-ordered intervention program, I harbored much resentment for what was to come, and little hope of learning anything useful. This program was the remedy prescribed by a seemingly uncaring judicial system, the great American system of justice, which I fell afoul of by disorderly conduct. It was either this, paid for in addition to court fees and fines, or six months’ residence in a notorious correctional system of the state. That really wasn’t much of a choice. State hospitality in germ-infected facilities, tent camps in the hot desert with rattlesnakes and scorpions for company, and pink underwear designed to attract attention––this could be my lot under Wariduna Sheriff Waspoia’s eminently questionable rules of incarceration. A lose-lose situation, or so I thought, steeling myself to face the re-education mandated.
Being a forty-something first generation immigrant from enchanting India, the largest and most complex democracy by population, where culture and education are given high priority in one’s growth into adulthood, made this unsought inculcation all the more fun.
But that was almost five years ago. Though I’d decided then to document every aspect of that experience, my urge to write remained muted––until the recent arrest and prosecution of another, from my land of origin, by the American justice system. This event awoke buried memories; it also made all the news. The US secretary of state and the Indian prime minister commented on it. Ministers declared procedural war upon American embassy and consular officials in India. The Indian media was agog, with this event in America, and its public backlash at home.
The arrest and strip search, in New York, of an Indian consular officer, a young mother, for alleged offenses of providing false visa information and underpayment of her domestic employee, inflamed her family and countrymen. The event incurred immediate public retaliation, in large vociferous demonstrations, in her nation. Priyavani Cobraghatta’s modesty had been outraged, her consular status disrespected, and America had greatly overstepped its authority, or so claimed her supporters. There was indeed something deeply disturbing about events relating to her arrest; my memories could now no longer be denied expression.
I recall my own deplorable journey through the American justice system. An inexplicable arrest, at night, in my minimal house wear, a harrowing day in state holding, and a struggle to regain my freedom. This was followed by prosecution, by an adversarial district attorney’s office, and defense, of sorts, by Mindy Castle, a lump-sum-fee local lawyer. Priyavani, on the other hand, was prosecuted by a prominent man of the law, Veer Batata, an immigrant hailing from the same land as us, famous for prosecuting and jailing many a captain of industry here. She not only had representation from a New York lawyer, a good few ministers and politicians spoke for her through raucous Indian media, and communication channels between the two administrations. There could, surely, be no similarity in how she and I proceeded through our legal processes.
But did either of us learn something, anything, from all that transpired? There is one thing vividly common, nevertheless; all I wanted to do, when subjected to the system and its processes, was surrender my citizenship and leave, and I imagine all she wanted to do was to be relieved of her assignment, and official role here in America, and leave. But there ends any such parallel. Priyavani did leave in short order, free from prosecution or accountability for her actions in the land. I, on the other hand, continued with the process in this large and powerful democracy of the world.
It is harder yet to bring up memories of my crime that led to my encounter of the most unpleasant kind with the system here. I stood accused of assault and disorderly conduct with no specifics on what constituted assault on my part. But that is how this system works, as discovered in time in my prosecution and re-education. An unwanted contact, a pull of the arm, even a poke with a finger can be termed assault by honorable enforcers of the law, as officer Gormon Grigorevic of the town of Dilbut did with me. They will then search high and low for any evidence they can employ to buttress such a charge.
Does truth really matter to such enforcers in these strange circumstances? Do they pause to consider the devastating impact their actions may have on a person and family’s future? I hoped to discover empathy as I went through the process––and perhaps also comprehend some of my failings. A sense of outrage, much like that expressed by so many supporters of Priyavani, had welled up within me then.
My attempts to talk to those involved in the process seemed of no avail. I felt then, overwhelmingly, that this legal system condemned me as a criminal and only cared to dispose of me. I would only be another conviction the state won against undesirable elements falling into its grasp. It had been a most turbulent period in life for me. As I resigned myself to the system and its cursory resolution, I did accept that my actions expressed a disturbance within. And that I had indeed behaved in an ungentlemanly manner.
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