Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and why you went into social justice?
I always had and interest in social justice. Before I went into social justice, I found out my dad was doing that sort of stuff back in India. Life directed him to the United States but he would have gone into politics or public service if he stayed back home. Engineering was where the money was and he was the person that the family was going to rely on, so he went to America. That was interesting finding that out a lot later in life.
Growing up in Sterling Heights you got called Native American when you were Indian. It wasn’t judgy, it was just ignorant. Inevitably you would get to a social studies chapter on forced relocation and trail of tears, and they would ask what tribe. Not a big deal, emotionally, for me at least, but it was an infinity towards Native Americans.
Move forward to law school and we’re reading Thomas Jefferson’s private letters. We read the text of a speech to the Native Americans and it’s super cool. It’s all “welcome to the brotherhood of America. Don’t think of this as defeat, we’re welcoming you into our brotherhood of commerce and trade.” But then the private letters are basically “this is how we’re going to deal with the Indians. Get their pelts and raw materials and give them finished products. And that transaction will just end up with them getting less and less money over time and then we’ll buy their land. And if they act out or rebel we’ll just kill them”...essentially. That was the moment that solidified it for me. I’m not going to spend my time to make some money for that end of society. The work will still get done, someone else will get the money. It didn’t feel like I felt like I was making a big noble stand. It’s just that I wasn’t going to spend my time on that side. That’s how I got into social justice.
My end goal is to have judges who are affirmative fact finders, who are empowered to find the truth and are required to find out the truth by law. They can subpoena and are actively trying out to find out the truth in each particular case. They’re more of an investigator than a judge. Expand the number of judges by 10-fold so we can take the time to find out if someone has been wronged. It’s important.
I followed my wife for work and when we moved back I wanted to start my own non-profit to do the type of work that I think needs to happen which is this legal consulting “think-do thank.” I primarily focused on the process, which I don’t feel much legal aid entities are, unfortunately.
What motivates you to do what you do?
This is a good story. You know Van Jones, the CNN commentator? Back in the day he was working on police brutality. So he’s out there doing his thing and he’s only 3 or 4 years older than me. He came to speak at Georgetown for 15-20 public interest scholars who were committed to work in public interest. They wouldn’t let us in the room they were having dinner in, so we protested outside the room. It was a public interest event but it was being elitist. Van Jones walked by and let us go in with him. We were his entourage. It was the story he told that was a better way of saying what I felt.
He said, remember when you were a kid and you saw someone kicking a dog so you’re tugging on your mom’s shirt, “oh my god, mom! Mom! Mom! Someone is kicking this dog and it’s so horrible,” and your sense of outrage was justified because you have a childlike innocence of what the world was supposed to be. There should be a world where you don’t kick dogs. And you couldn’t contain your outrage at this injustice and then he says somehow overtime in your life, now, as an older person you keep your head down and keep walking. Now as a parent you’re like,” Come, come… keep walking. Look straight and don’t look at the bad thing.” We need to go back to the time where our outrage was righteous and our outrage was pure… You could say, “that’s wrong,” and say it out loud and be proud of it because it was. There’s not a lot of people that will point out that a dog is being kicked.