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'Indians in America don't fight for their community'

Sheela Bhatt and George Joseph | July 08, 2008

"Those were difficult times, but I am a tough guy," says Rajnikant Parikh. "I used to read the Quran, Bible and Hanuman [Images] Chalisa in prison. After living in jail for eight months, any chicken-hearted person would break � but I knew I was not wrong, so I have survived."

While America celebrated Independence Day, Parikh is living in a little village in Gujarat, attempting to recover from the scars of his months in an American prison, and musing on the events of July 4, two years ago.

It all began when someone illegally set off fireworks at the Hilltop apartment complex in New Jersey. Police investigated, but could not find the person responsible. Officer Michael Dotro began issuing parking violation tickets to cars parked on nearby lanes. As he wrote out a violation, Parikh noticed that the car in question was legally parked, and questioned Dotro's act.

Parikh claims the officer attacked him without provocation, while Dotro claimed that Parikh hit him, and incited others to join in the attack.

"They [Dotro, and other police officers he summoned] were beating me in front of my wife. I'm not sure how many, as my face was down, and I was dizzy," Parikh recalled. Parikh's wife Julie is a medical student and an American citizen.

Police arrested and charged Parikh, a cashier in a liquor store, with aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, rioting and failure to disperse. He was released after posting 10 percent of the $50,000 bond.

Peter Kothari, president of the Indo American Cultural Society in Iselin, and other activists organised a protest during which white American women in the area allegedly abused the Indians, calling them 'cockroaches'.

Immigration authorities arrested Parikh during the protest rally, claiming that his fingerprints matched those of one Amit Sheth, who had entered the US illegally via Mexico some ten years ago. Parikh was kept in jail for nearly 9 months, before being deported. Immigration authorities also gave a 24-page charge sheet against Parikh to the Indian police in New Delhi, who arrested him on arrival.

Two years down the line, Parikh still sizzles with the sense of injustice meted out to him. "In my place, if any Spanish or black had been tortured by Michael Dotro, he would have been suspended long back. Indians in America are ever ready to pose for photographs with people in power but they will not stand up and fight against them even if injustice is done to us," he said.

When rediff.com contacted him as part of a larger story on immigration and deportations, Parikh said that was not the point at this time. "You should understand the main issue," he argued. "The story of illegal immigrants is not the issue here. The focus should not be on my life, or how am I managing or mismanaging it. The issue is that we should not forget that even the illegal immigrants enjoy human rights. We should know that a guy who is an illegal migrant has the full right to fight his case in a court of law."

He is angry at how the US justice system handled his case. "How can a police officer hit me so badly without my being at fault? If he had a problem with my immigrant status, he could have dragged me to court. Why hit me so ruthlessly, just because I am an Indian? How can he be allowed to go scot-free with his racist act?"

Parikh says he is not trying to deflect attention from his own past. "Yes, I entered the US via Mexico in 1994. But the second time, I came to the US with a proper visa," he argues. "Why was I kept in jail for a full eight months without trial? Why was I discriminated against? Officer Dotro connived with his brother Sam Dotro in the immigration department to keep me in jail."

Parikh, who was held in Middlesex and Hudson county jails, says that on occasion, he was held in solitary confinement for up to 18 hours at a time, and only allowed out for 15 minutes for a bath.

"That is your story, the story of violation of human rights of immigrant Indians," he says, on the eve of the second anniversary of his tryst with personal tragedy. "How can anybody get away even after abusing Indians as cockroaches?"

Image: Rajnikant Parikh (left) and Pradip 'Peter' Kothari

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