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January 28, 2000


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Candlelight vigil planned at Reddy restaurants

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J M Shenoy

With half-a-dozen groups set ready to hold vigil on Saturday at the restaurants owned by Lakireddy Bali Reddy, community activists are asking Indians to demonstrate their solidarity with the women, particularly the pre-teen girls who were allegedly exploited by the multimillionaire businessman for his sexual pleasure.

Reddy was set free on a $ 10 million bail on Tuesday in what the prosecutors say is a case of sexual deception and visa fraud that has national significance. His son surrendered to the authorities after he was charged with misusing H1-B visas.

Women's group will protest his release.

Protests will be held outside both of Reddy's Pasand Madras Cuisine restaurants in Berkeley and Santa Clara.

A candlelight vigil will be held in Berkeley from 6 to 8 pm, while the Santa Clara rally will be from noon to 2 pm.

"This case highlights many issues, including the oppression of children, women and the disenfranchised, the exploitation of poverty and the privileges of people who use women and girls for sex, labor and profit," said Firoza Chic Dabby, executive-director of Narika, one of the organizations that will lead the protest. (1-800-215-7308). Narika is also asking women who might have been abused by Reddy to contact it.

"We could offer them psychological and other kinds of counseling," Dabby said.

Maitri, another South Asian organization for battered and abused women, is also offering help and guidance (408-730-4049).

Both organizations have been getting many calls from lawyers who are prepared to lodge civil cases against Reddy.

Meanwhile, Berkeley City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque, who is also from India, said she has written to the Indian consulate in San Francisco, requesting that India investigates Lakireddy Bali Reddy's activities in his home state, Andhra Pradesh.

"We are asking them to investigate all these allegations," she said, particularly referring to charges that Reddy "purchased" girls for sex.

Albuquerque has requested Indian officials to contact the girls' families "so that they could be protected from possible harm from those who support Reddy."

Earlier Albuquerque had opposed releasing Reddy on bail.

Many women activists said they were pleased there was outrage in the Indian community over the alleged misdeeds of Reddy and some of his family members.

"But there are some who say we should not publicize such things and are unhappy with the mainstream media for running many stories on Reddy," said one woman lawyer. Reddy's lawyer has condemned the media for running "salacious" and false stories.

The woman lawyer said the Reddy case is indeed shameful. "But it would be more shameful not to accept the situation." The community has the social responsibility to condemn when something goes wrong in the community, she said.

A reporter told the lawyer that Reddy and his son Vijayakumar Lakireddy, who is charged with bringing in unqualified workers under the H1-B visa meant for highly-skilled workers, have not been tried in a court of law.

"The overwhelming facts leave us in no doubt that girls and women have been exploited," she said.

Meanwhile, many more sordid stories about the Reddys are coming out.

A front-page story in San Francisco Examiner said, quoting court papers, that after helping his father in an alleged scheme to smuggle three teenage girls from India, his 30-year-old son sought his fathers permission to have sex with one of them.

But his father said no -- and continued to have sex with the girls himself, the federal court records stated.

One of the three girls, Sitha, died due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in the last week of November. She was 17 and had come to America a few months before her death. Her 15-year-old sister, who was allegedly sexually molested by the 62-year-old Reddy, is under protective custody of officials in Berkeley.

An affidavit opened by a federal judge this week says Reddy "bought" the girls in India from their parents several years ago. One of the girls told authorities that Reddy had arranged a fake marriage about four years ago so she could come to the United States.

The other two girls, ages 15 and 17, were smuggled by Reddy in August with son Lakireddy's help, the affidavit said.

Court records also said Reddy allegedly arranged for the girls to come to the United States by persuading a brother and sister from his home state in India to pose as them for immigration purposes.

The fake husband, who was identified in court records as Venkateswara Vemireddy, was sponsored by Lakireddy, to work at his company, Active Tech Solutions.

Reddy met Vemireddy, his sister and their two "daughters" when they arrived at San Francisco International Airport, court records say. He then set up the girls in one of the 1,000 flats owned by him in Berkeley. The sisters lived with an older girl. It is alleged Reddy shared the flat with them while the "parents" lived in another building owned by Reddy.

The "parents" are in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The father and son are charged with one count of illegally importing workers into the United States.

Reddy also is accused of importing immigrants for prostitution and other immoral purposes.

He has been charged with having sex with one girl.

Both men have vehemently denied any wrong-doing.

"God and truth are on my side," Lakireddy, father of two-year old twins, said outside federal court in Oakland on Tuesday. "These false charges are damaging to my family. We want the facts to come out. ... We welcome a full investigation."

The arrest warrant says Lakireddy has filed for 21 H1-B visa applications to bring high-tech workers from India.

Albuquerque has said in the court and in interviews with reporters that eight young Indian women who worked as cleaners at Reddy's businesses had not shown up for work since January 14, the day he was arrested.

"Our information has it that the women have been sent back to India," she said. "We are very concerned about their safety."

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