For years after his arrival in the U.S., the young man's conservative Muslim parents badgered the thirtysomething bachelor to settle down and marry. They even scoped out potential brides living in America, proffering their pictures.
When he told them the reason he wouldn't pursue their picks - that he is gay - they spat on him, called him "satanic," and promised that on his return to India they would force him into "reparative" shock therapy - the administration of electrical shocks to body parts while viewing homoerotic material.
With his work visa set to expire, the man contacted the World Organization for Human Rights, which put him in contact with Colleen O'Brien. An associate with the toxic tort group at Steptoe & Johnson in Los Angeles, she fought for his asylum on a pro bono basis.
O'Brien nixed the original idea of treating the matter as a forced marriage case - in which one party involuntarily marries - and instead argued that his persecution was based on being a gay man in India, she says. That strategy required explaining why a 2009 decision by the High Court of Delhi legalizing gay sex among consenting adults had not changed conditions there.
To do so, O'Brien immersed herself in the laws, customs, and reality of life in India. "There were times, when reading the Calcutta Law Journal, that I confess I wanted to throw in the towel," she says. She ultimately compiled an index of documentation eight inches thick to buffer the asylum application. She explained the conditions her client endured as a teen: He had been raped by the local head constable, who taunted him for being gay, then blackmailed him for hush money. She also provided evidence that her client's family members were powerful religious leaders in India with the ways and means to track him down.
The grant of asylum came just three months after the application was filed. O'Brien says her client took it in stride: "He simply believed he was in the right country and that the right thing happened."