Protesters Show Disdain for Local Landlord

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More than two weeks after a Berkeley landlord was arrested for illegally importing Indian girls into the United States, several hundred protesters gathered outside Lakireddy Bali Reddy's Shattuck Avenue restaurant Saturday night for a candlelight vigil in support of girls whom authorities allege Reddy sexually molested.

Waving signs, some of which read "Reddy for Jail," the demonstrators sang and read poetry aloud to remember Sitha Vemireddy, a 17-year-old girl who died from carbon monoxide poisoning in November. Law enforcement officials have alleged Reddy molested the girl.

"Until the day I save my children from you, I will never rest again," one of the evening's speakers shouted. Throughout the peaceful event, protesters spoke of the importance of shedding light on other incidents of exploitation that often go unreported.

"I think exploitation of young South Asian women is not an anomaly," said Raj Jayader, a speaker and a member of Health Watch, an organization devoted to protecting immigrant workers. "This incident did raise a consciousness that's going to raise the public perspective. When people go into a restaurant and into an office, they're going to think twice about the working conditions for the people working there."

Local and federal officials began investigating Reddy after Vemireddy's death.

Earlier this month, Reddy was charged with two felonies after authorities learned he had created fictitious names and occupations for several Indian women to help them gain entry into the United States. Authorities also allege he had inappropriate sexual relationships with several of the young women.

In addition to being one of Berkeley's largest realtors, Reddy also owns two restaurants - the Pasand Lounge and Pasand Madras Cuisine. The protest was held on the sidewalk in front of Pasand Madras Cuisine.

One demonstrator said that while Reddy's vast wealth makes him immune to any financial repercussions for his actions, extensive protests might have some emotional effect on the landlord.

"We can't affect him financially, but we can affect him psychologically," said Keith Trader, a Berkeley resident. "We're not going to be able to affect his pocket, but we can re-evoke that spirit of Berkeley that has been dormant for so long now."

City Councilmember Dona Spring, whose district includes Pasand and many Reddy properties, said she was shocked by the ever-developing case against Reddy.

"It's practically a slave labor camp in Berkeley," Spring said. "It's agonizing really - all the human suffering that's been going on and that we've walked past it every day. It's been right under our noses."

One Oakland resident who attended the protest said she thought the investigation and subsequent demonstrations have some educational value.

"I think cases like this happen way too often," said Leslie Levy. "When one does come to the forefront, it's important to bring it to the forefront as just an example of the abuse and exploitation that surround us."

Levy added that the attention given to the Reddy case should not create a stereotype about Indian men in people's minds.

"It's important to remember that although this is a prominent case, the majority of people that exploit immigrants are white men," she said.

The event was sponsored by many different groups devoted to providing support to women and immigrants. Its principal organizer was the group Narika, which advocates for abused women.


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