The Shame of Dharun Ravi: The Boy Who Can't Say Sorry

Dharun Ravi finally wept.

But it had nothing to do with Tyler Clementi, his former roommate who jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

Ravi's tears came when his mother told the court how the last couple of years had been a living hell for him.

His smile and bright eyes are gone, lamented his mother. For the past 20 months, Ravi, she said, had not gone anywhere to "even grab a sandwich." "He literally eats only one meal a day as he suppresses his hunger. He has lost more than 25 pounds going through his ordeal," she said tearfully.

One mother is mourning a dead son. The other mother ended her statement to the judge with this line:

I am hoping and waiting to see Dharun eat as any 20-year-old would.

What kind of misbegotten family values is that?

The benchmark of a good son is not just one who relishes his mother's home cooking or was in the Gifted and Talented program in kindergarten or started computer programming at the age of 15.

The benchmark of a good human being is also about being able to say sorry. And that is where Dharun Ravi and his family have fallen grievously short. "I heard this jury say, 'guilty' 288 times -- 24 questions, 12 jurors," Judge Berman told Ravi. "I haven't heard you apologize once."

Berman gave Ravi a second chance to make good. He sentenced him to only 30 days in prison along with a fine and community service. It also means he probably will not get deported. While many were appalled at the slap-on-the-wrist sentence, the judge went out on a limb because he obviously believed that this was more a callous prank gone horribly wrong than a full-fledged hate crime for which the law was intended.

When the jurors found Dharun Ravi guilty on all charges, I was shocked. I had always had mixed feelings about the case. I could imagine myself in both Ravi and Clementi's shoes. At that time I had written that it's too easy to cry hate crime. I saw the real culprit as the casual cruelty of the online world where privacy is just another Facebook option.

But I felt equally queasy when the desi community rallied around Dharun Ravi chanting "No jail time for Dharun Ravi" and "Free Dharun Ravi." "If this kid ends up in jail on Monday my faith will be shaken in this country," said Sandeep Sharma, Ravi's father's business associate.

"It is ironical that the bias law, which was passed by the New Jersey legislature after the infamous 'dot buster hate crime' in which an Indian's life was lost, should be applied to another Indian, who was not charged with causing death to his roommate, Clementi, who committed suicide after Ravi's spying episode," community activist Peter Kothari told the media. It was as if bias can only go one way and Indians can only be its victims.

Perhaps that is why, even now, Ravi cannot find the words to apologize. However, he somehow found the words to explain why he did not apologize. "Anything I say now would sound rehearsed and empty and nothing I say is going to make people hate me any less," he told the Star Ledger newspaper. ""Whatever I say will never change the Clementis' mind about me, or how people see me."

But Dharun Ravi, it's not about you. You don't apologize to change people's minds or how people see you. You apologize because something you did caused terrible damage, even if unintended, in someone else's life. You apologize for what you have done, for what has happened. A true apology comes without strings attached. And it has nothing to do with whether the Clementis were as supportive of their son as they should have been.

In her emotional recounting of the amazing immigrant story of Dharun Ravi from the five-year-old who barely spoke any English to the "well mannered and self-content" student who entered Rutgers, his mother had this to say about the death of Tyler Clementi:

It is so sad that he chose to end his life early. My heart goes out to the family.

I am sorry but that is just not enough. A public apology matters because it will show that this terrible tragedy actually carried a lesson for him, a lesson that has nothing to do with his grades, his social life or his weight. Perhaps in his heart, Dharun Ravi is sorry. But until he says it we can never be sure whether he is only sorry for himself.

A version of this blog post originally appeared on

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