Pattel, Surendran: The former Indian cigarette maker who was a US judge

Surendran K. Pattel, an Indian-American lawyer, made national headlines last week when he took the oath to become a district judge in a US court. The story of a man who went from making hand-rolled cigarettes in India to being a judge is told by BBC Hindi’s Imran Qureshi.

Mr. Pattel, 51, a native of Kerala in southern India, has been appointed a judge in Fort Bend County, Texas,’s 240th Judicial District Court.

His journey, according to Mr. Pattel, was all about “hard work, determination, and a lot of struggle.” He was sworn in on January 1, five years after becoming a citizen of the United States.

He adds, “But there were also a lot of people who supported and helped me at every stage of my life,” naming his mother as “a symbol of sacrifice” at the top of the list.

Mr. Pattel was brought up in abject poverty. His parents were laborers who fed their six children on their meager daily wages.

“So that we could have three meals a day,” Mr. Pattel would roll beedis, traditional cigarettes made by wrapping raw tobacco in leaves, when he was a child.

He says, “My older sister and I used to sit here all night doing this.”

He dropped out of school when he was a teenager because he didn’t do well on his tests. When his eldest sister passed away, leaving behind a 15-month-old daughter, he had almost accepted his circumstances.

Although it was determined that the case was a suicide, I felt like justice had not been served. He told the BBC, “It still haunts me,” without going into further detail about the incident.

He returned to school and diligently studied after the tragedy inspired him to rethink his future. Mr. Pattel frequently had to skip classes during a two-year pre-college course because he also had to work.

He had to plead with his teachers in his first year after they asked him not to take the final exams because of his low attendance.

He states, “I didn’t want to tell them that I wasn’t going to class because of my financial situation because I wanted to get sympathy.”

His teachers gave him a second chance, only to find out from his friends that he had to work.

Mr. Pattel surprised everyone by placing second in his class when the results came out.

Additionally, he determined that his future lay in law. I could never imagine doing anything else. He declares, “I’m so passionate about it.”

Mr. Pattel’s financial situation remained difficult, but the kindness of those he met along the way helped.

Mr. Uttupp, who owned a hotel in Kerala, was one of them.

“I told him that if he didn’t hire me, I would have to stop learning. Mr. Pattel claims, “He hired me as part of the hotel’s housekeeping staff.”

Mr. Uttupp’s death did not end the relationship.

Mr. Pattel claims, “His brother Manuel even called me after the news broke that I had become a judge.”

Before pursuing a career in law, Mr. Pattel earned a degree in political science in 1992.

He got a job with lawyer P Appukuttan four years later and started working in the town of Hosdurg in the Kasaragod district of Kerala.

“I trusted him because he was so enthusiastic. “Because he was capable of doing it, I entrusted him with all kinds of civil matters,” Mr. Appukuttan told the BBC.

Mr. Pattel spent a decade there before his wife, Subha, got a job at a hospital in Delhi, the capital of India.

He “never wanted to come in the way of her career” and decided to follow her.

He worked for a few months with a Supreme Court lawyer in Delhi before his wife had to move again, this time to the United States.

“I followed her even though I wasn’t happy to leave my profession. I would not be where I am today without her, Mr. Pattel asserts.

In 2007, the couple moved to Texas, where Mr. Pattel worked for a while in a grocery store before discovering that he could take the Bar exam there. After that, he earned a degree in international law.

Mr. Pattel says he had some unpleasant experiences when he decided to run for judge with the Democratic Party. For example, he says he was made fun of for his Indian accent while campaigning.

“However, it did not harm me. Campaigns can sometimes be nasty. “I think what matters is how long you have served the community, not how long you have lived here,” he adds.

He claims that the journey to the United States has been worthwhile: I only became a citizen in 2017 and have won an election in 2022. This cannot, in my opinion, occur in any other nation.”

In addition, there is a personal significance to his victory.

Mr. Pattel became very close to Glenden B. Adams, a senior lawyer, while he practiced law in Texas.

Rosalie Adams, Mr. Adams’ wife, asked Mr. Pattel to be a pallbearer when he passed away.

“it was Rosalie Adams who put the robes on me at my private investiture in my courtroom,” he said on Wednesday as he began his new role.

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