Local and Global Undivided
Transnational Exploitation and Violence
against South Asian Women
SUJATHA ANBUSELVI JESUDASON
The story of Lakireddy Bali Reddy, a Berkeley, California, landlord from India who was sentenced to eight years in prison for trafficking and immigration fraud, is resplendent in the filmi drama of more than a couple of Hindi movies combined. There is sex, money, death, fraud, fake parents, a dead fetus, smuggling, and a huge media scandal around a multimillionaire landlord and his two sons exploiting and sexually assaulting vulnerable, lower caste girls. And all this takes place in two exotic locales—Berkeley, California, U.S.A., and Velvadum, Andhra Pradesh, India. All the drama notwithstanding, this is a case of many stories rolled into one. There is the story of sex and labor trafficking between Berkeley and Velvadum, immigration fraud, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) and H-IB visas, caste exploitation, patriarchy, familial obligation, and sexism; the involvement of South Asian American activists, South Asian American domestic violence organizations, white American feminists, philanthropy in the Bay Area and Velvadum, and the Bay Area South Asian community; and a curiously contradictory tale told by the Velvadum community and Reddy's family.
For many people this was an easy case to resolve—Reddy did some bad things to some innocent young women and deserved to be punished. For others, this case raised many difficult and disturbing questions. The central characters in the legal case, the Reddy family and the nine victims that Reddy brought to the United States, were individuals embroiled in a transnationally dangerous situation. The exploitation and violence in the case crossed national and cultural boundaries of a small village in Andhra Pradesh in India and entered, from an American perspective, into our own backyard in Berkeley, California.
The violence occurred on many levels. There was the interpersonal violence and rape of young women and girls by older and more powerful men. But there was also violence at a structural level. Violence on a global scale, where the inequalities between two countries rendered even exploitation in Berkeley a better life