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'I will fight to the finish'
It would have been easy for Krittika Biswas to lie low and bury the memories of a humiliating public arrest. But she chose instead to fight back. The fiesty teenager refuses to be an anonymous victim of racial bias...
Sentence first, verdict afterwards, " bellowed the Queen in that wonderfully absurd children's classic, Alice in Wonderland. The whimsical diktat appears to have played out in real life as well in the case of Krittika Biswas. Like the fictional Alice, the 18-year-old daughter of an Indian diplomat in New York had recently found herself tumbling down through a rabbit hole right into a perfect storm that was not of her making.
It has been over a week since she announced her intention to fight back against her wrong arrest by New York Police with a $1. 5-million lawsuit against the city and her school authorities. But she still cannot get over the shock of being charged, handcuffed and marched out of school. The allegation was that she had sent obscene mails to a high school teacher. The clinching 'evidence' against her was the fact that she spoke French - a natural enough skill in a child of a well-travelled diplomat - and that a few words of the language were used in the offending mails.
From the charmed life of a diplomat's child to the humiliation of a public arrest, it was a life-altering experience for Krittika. "I would have never imagined this could happen to me, someone who is innocent, " she says, back home from attending school.
Going back to school feels different now, she says. Even in a country where political correctness and free speech are held sacred, everyone is a little afraid of speaking up when it comes to racial discrimination, she says. "My friends have been supportive, but my teachers have not said anything to me openly - they don't wish to be part of all this. A few have said to me in private that they are happy for me, " she says.
A diplomatic war of words continues between the Indian government and US state department officials on whether Krittika should have been allowed diplomatic immunity given that her father is the Vice-Consul at the Consulate General of India in New York. Even as this storm rages around her, Krittika has stayed the course.
"I know most other kids in my place would have just gone with it, silently allowed themselves to be controlled by others. I will not do that. I am innocent, that is why I took legal action, " she says. "I will fight to the finish. "
Actually Krittika did exactly what well-meaning aunties and uncles tell you not to do when you are a desi student in a faraway country - stay anonymous, keep your head low, don't question the authorities and shut the hell up in the face of injustice. It happens to every minority, it will pass, they say. Krittika chose to speak up, and be heard, and have her day in court. Her lawyer Ravi Batra ensured that her name was expunged from the records. "There was no probable cause to arrest her in the first place, " he says.
You will find no easy answers in a Google search to why Krittika was wrongly accused. The authorities collected random facts to back their suspicions and create a bogeyman out of an 18-year-old girl.
Her school teacher got two obscene emails, which had been traced to a general area in New York. Krittika was among many other John Bowne High School students who lived in that area. Since the emails contained French words, the authorities pointed towards Krittika, an honors student who is fluent in the language. "Anyone can Google a few French or even Latin words online. That's ridiculous, " says Krittika, a polyglot who has travelled around Poland, Bangladesh and Morocco.
When the police came to arrest her, she says, she didn't quite fathom what was happening to her. "It just didn't make any sense, " she says recalling her numbness.
The teenager was marched out of school in handcuffs and taken to a holding cell where she was held overnight. "I saw those metal bars and the freedom that the people had on the other side and then it sank in. I felt so helpless. I knew I had to stay focused and not panic. I was absolutely innocent. I knew I had to stay strong to face it, " she recalls. She was eventually released the next day, and suspended from school.
The strangest twist in the story came when it was found that the cyber expert had made a crucial error - the real culprit, another student from the same school, confessed to sending the obscene emails. But the teacher and the school decided not to press charges against him. He was let off with a suspension, but for some reason the school did not apologise to Krittika for the wrongful arrest.
"I don't understand why the school treated me and the culprit differently. The principal pushed for my arrest even before checking the facts. I was arrested on suspicion while the real culprit was forgiven. What sense does that make?" she asks repeatedly, still bewildered at the turn of events.
She knows she is in a tight spot, the centre of debates in diplomatic circles as well as on Facebook, which has sprouted community pages like 'Justice For Krittika Biswas', 'Support for Krittika Biswas' and the rather specifically titled 'Krittika Biswas - the Price of Every Tear will be Paid'. Her kid brother doesn't know what the fuss is all about and why his big sister is suddenly on the news. "I have to tell him, you really don't want to be in my place, " she says.
In her difficult hours, she misses her friends back in India, especially Kolkata. "Some of my best friends are from Kolkata, I miss them, I miss the vibe of Kolkata, " she says.
The distressing events of the last few months have not changed Krittika's perception of New York. "Everyone comes here with dreams. I cannot judge this city on the basis of the actions of a few people, " she says.
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