Indian Americans Finding American Justice Is Not Colorblind


By Dr. Sawraj Singh

Finally, the Indian community in America is waking up to the fact that the justice system in America is not colorblind. Hundreds of Dharun Ravi’s supporters rallied in front of the New Jersey State House in Trenton against his conviction. He is facing up to 10 years in prison. Krittika Biswas is suing the City of New York for wrongful arrest. Krittika Biswas is the daughter of Debashish Biswas, who is the Vice consul (administration) at the Indian Consulate General in New York.  Ms. Biswas has also brought to light the horrible conditions in the American prison system. The question to ask ourselves is if Dharun Ravi and Krittika Biswas were white American students, would they still have received the same treatment and punishment by the law-enforcing agencies?

I have been trying for the last many years to educate our community about the fact that racial prejudice and racial discrimination are integral parts of the American system, and they permeate every aspect of life. However, there has not been a very enthusiastic response from the community. Many of our people feel that by talking about these problems, they are risking their position and existence. Therefore, they choose to remain silent until they themselves become victims of racism.

There are hundreds and thousands of other Indians who have become victims in one way or the other. If we would have rallied like this before, perhaps many people would not have become victims. Some people also feel that talking about racial prejudice and discrimination is anti-American, and we should be grateful to America for the things it has given to us and only talk about how good America is. Nothing can be further from the truth than this mistaken belief. Making America more transparent, just, and equal will make America strong, and becoming silent witnesses to discrimination, inequality, and injustice will only weaken America.

Even though we have suffered individually from the effects of racial prejudice and discrimination, yet it can serve a very useful purpose to share our experiences. This will help to bring into the lime light a problem that is very rampant in American society. I and my family have suffered tremendously from the effects of racism in medicine and the justice system.

There are several studies available that demonstrate consistency with the assertion that disparities and inequality in medicine are based upon race. There are also studies available that demonstrate consistency with the assertion that white doctors do not give the same quality of care to non-white patients which they give to white patients. A famous study was done in which actors pretended to be patients and they received different advice for the same condition depending upon their race. However, there are no studies, to my knowledge, which demonstrate consistency with the assertion that many white doctors hold a deep prejudice against minority doctors. This has been my experience and is shared by many minority doctors that generally, white doctors do not believe that minority doctors are as capable as white doctors. This can be proven by their referral patterns as well as by their actions when asked to evaluate the work of their colleagues. In general, they are more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to white doctors and exaggerate the shortcomings of non-white doctors.

There are also no studies available, to my knowledge, which demonstrate consistency with my impression that the licensing boards, such as the Washington State Licensing Board, and state agencies such as the Washington Department of Health and Human Services (Welfare) thoroughly discriminate against minority doctors. I feel the same is true of the fact that even in the court systems, minority doctors are at a relative disadvantage, compared to their white colleagues.

Some of my personal experiences may help people to understand these problems.

I put a chest tube in a patient and the white radiologist, after discussing with the other white surgeon, behind my back, reported that this tube might be in the abdomen. When I confronted him, the report was immediately changed and apologies were forthcoming.

A patient developed liver damage after surgery and was managed by white several doctors. The patient died. The autopsy showed that there was no relationship between the death and the surgery. Even then, I was the only physician sued. None of the other doctors or the hospital was sued.

A white doctor told a patient who had hemorrhoid surgery by me that she had become too narrow and she would end up with a colostomy bag. That led to a lawsuit. An independent surgeon examined the patient and reported that there was no abnormality in the anus. The patient then claimed that because of the severe stress related to the situation, she developed breathing problems. We saw the patient riding her bike comfortably in a jovial mood. However, when she appeared before the judge, she was hooked up to an oxygen tank and acted as if she had great difficulty breathing.

The white doctors and a white attorney started a racist whispering campaign against me and my family and incited patients to file lawsuits and complaints against me. When the white attorney finished his job, he was suddenly found dead in his own backyard. I strongly suspect foul play.

The insurance companies want to settle cases rather than fight them in the court. Their concern is that a white jury will be more sympathetic to a white patient rather than a minority doctor.

When the cases are settled, that starts a vicious cycle. The word spreads that this is an easy way to make some quick money. Patients started coming to my office and asking for money, and threatened that if I will not pay them, then they will file a lawsuit and complaint against me to the Quality Assurance. I called the local Police Department several times and complained that this is an extortion and black mail. However, the local Police Department did absolutely nothing to stop it.

It is a very sad fact that whites and non-whites are not subjected to the same standards. The Asian Americans, in some of the prestigious colleges, have been told by the Admissions committees that they should share their seats with other minorities because they have too many seats as compared to their population. However, the Jews have many more seats in these colleges than the Asian Americans, even though their population is only half of the Asian population in America. No one has ever asked the Jews to share their seats.

One of the glaring examples of partiality of the justice system is the racial breakdown of the prison populations. The minorities greatly outnumber the whites. Blacks and Latinos are represented many times more in the prisons compared to the percentage of their populations:

According to The Sentencing Project:

•         More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities.

According to data released by the United States Census Bureau, out of the nation’s 2 million prison and jail inmates in 2006:

•         Blacks made up 41 percent.

•         Non-Hispanic whites made up 37 percent.

•         Hispanics made up 19 percent.

The prison conditions in America are probably the worst amongst all of the industrialized countries. Many new prisoners are welcomed by gang rape.

It is extremely rare to get reformed in the American prison system. The recidivism rate is more than 90% (released prisoners returning to prison due to repeat offences).

It is high time that the Indian community should rise and try to make the American system fairer and more equal. This will not only help to end the suffering of many Indian people who unfortunately become victims, but it will also help to make America stronger.

Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at [email protected].