Desi Talk - page 10

– that’s all you need to know
10
May 8, 2015
SPECIAL REPORT
n March 30, a judge in
Indiana’s St. Joseph
County court sen-
tenced a young
Indian-American
woman, Purvi Patel, to
41 years for the crimes of feticide
and neglect of a dependent. She
will serve 20 of the 41 years in
prison. Throughout the trial, Patel
maintained that she had a mis-
carriage. Prosecutors however,
claimed she attempted to termi-
nate her pregnancy but gave birth
to a baby who she then neglected
leading to its death. On April 24, a
group of crack attorneys who
have taken up Patel’s case
because it throws up important
legal questions, filed a notice of
appeal and intend to fight the
conviction.
This was not the first time in
the U.S. that a woman has been
arrested and charged with a
crime for terminating her preg-
nancy, but it is the first time any
woman has been convicted of it.
Patel’s audacious sentence
appears to have energized some
Indian-American women’s sup-
port groups and activists. They
began to raise funds for the Patel
family, and to express their sup-
port for her. Mainstream groups
have been lobbying for dismiss-
ing the case and have been
behind Patel from the beginning.
Patel’s state of mind at this stage
is hard to fathom.
Fateful Night
On one fateful night in July
2013, Patel, 33, arrived at the
Mashakawa, Indiana hospital
bleeding from the vagina. She
told doctors she had a miscar-
riage and had disposed of the still
born child in a dumpster. She
estimated she was two months
pregnant. She also said she had
tried to revive the baby which was
not moving, after miscarrying in
the bathroom. “I assumed
because the baby was dead there
was nothing to do,” court papers
quoted her saying. She also told
the healthcare personnel and
police that she had not told her
parents she was pregnant and
because she did not want them to
know she had gotten rid of the
child. The police went to the site
of the incident and retrieved the
fetus, which after examination
was pronounced by forensics to
have been born alive. That made
it a criminal case and police went
over Patel’s cell phone where they
found messages pertaining to her
attempts to secure abortion pills
from abroad and text messages to
her friend. According to the left-
leaning radio station Democracy
Now, Patel’s sentencing came in
the midst of a growing conserva-
tive opposition to reproductive
rights nationwide with at least
235 bills introduced by lawmakers
to restrict abortion this year
alone.
Day of Judgment
Patel was “stoic” as the devas-
tating sentence was read out
March 30. It took the audience in
the court, many of them support-
ers, several minutes to figure out
the total number of years. But she
knew immediately, according to
Sue Ellen Braunlin, co-president
of the Indiana Religious Coalition
for Reproductive Choice, a
women’s rights group that has
stood solidly behind Patel and
attended court proceedings. “She
was stoic.
She turned around and told
her parents she loved them and
then put her hands behind her
back to be escorted,” in hand-
cuffs, Braunlin said. “It was so
sad.We were all devastated.We
had to go over the sentencing
many times to reach the count in
years – we were all in shock.”
During the pre-trial period and
during the trial, Patel was offered
counseling by an interfaith chap-
lain from the IRCRJ.
The Indian-American woman
from Indiana has had the support
of select mainstreamwomen’s
groups like National Advocates
for PregnantWomen and IRCRJ.
The NAPW submitted an amicus
brief during the trial demanding
dismissal of the feticide charge
but the judge denied that. Lynn
Paltrow, executive director of
NAPW expressed frustration with
the March 30 sentence calling it
“extreme” and the whole trial an
“unprecedented violation” in an
interview with Desi Talk. “I can’t
imagine that anybody sentenced
to 41 years will not be devastat-
ed,” Paltrow said. “What hasn’t
been talked about is she provided
support to her grandparents and
parents.”
Cultural Bias?
This being the first conviction
for feticide, it is ironic that this
dubious distinction should be
bestowed on a woman with an
Indian heritage in light of the his-
tory of feticide in India and
rumors over use of sex-determi-
nation in this country as well.
Activists believe that stereo-
type about India played into this
case.Which is why some activists
like Braunlin contend cultural
bias had a lot to do with how the
case was handled.
It was because of this bias,
activists contend, that the sex of
the child was not revealed for
months after the trial began
because prosecutors wanted the
stereotype to be attached to Patel
to sway public opinion. The fact
that the fetus was finally revealed
as being male only strengthens
their belief. “I can think of no
other reason than to drum up
anti-Purvi Patel sentiment, raise
questions about her and her val-
ues, and her motives,” asserts
Braunlin about the delay in
revealing the sex of the child.
“It was very, very contrived,
unethical, and intentional.” That
Patel had an affair with a married
man, that she got pregnant, that
she did not want her parents to
know about not just the pregnan-
cy but the fact of the affair, may
be culturally specific issues, even
if not specific to Indians or
Hindus as prosecutors or the
media have wrongly portrayed.
More surprising is that the case
was being fought in an American
court, not in India, and the sci-
ence used to determine the alle-
gations of feticide and child aban-
donment was out of date accord-
ing to some experts.
Concrete Facts
However, the fact is, there are
no concrete facts to support the
activist position on cultural bias.
But the first study to document
the arrests of women based on
their pregnancy, drug use, condi-
tions and behaviors was pub-
lished in 1992 by NAPW.
Continued on page 12
O
Activists say
cultural bias
determined the
tough trial and
harsh sentence
meted out in
Indiana to Purvi
Patel, 34, in what is
the nation’s first
ever conviction for
feticide and child
abandonment,
charges that some
experts contend,
rest on flimsy
science,
Ela Dutt
reports
Villain or Victim?
Purvi Patel is led out of the courtroom in handcuffs after being found guilty of felony neglect and feticide on Feb. 3, in South Bend, Indiana.
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