Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Devyani Khobragade Affair" What should be Indian's response

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The Americans seem to have overreached themselves. In a relatively minor matter in which there are conflicting interpretations of the Vienna Convention, USA chose to behave in a most disgusting and barbaric manner. A young woman diplomat of India, posted as the Deputy Consul General at New York was arrested while she was dropping her  daughter at school, handcuffed, taken to a police station where a cavity search was carried out, the young woman stripped and longed in prison along with drug addicts and hookers. The way in which USA treated this woman diplomat even by American standards is appalling and this scandal has escalated into  a full blown diplomatic row between the two countries.

Let us get the facts first. The Indian Government has a policy of allowing its diplomats to engage a "housemaid" or help from India and the person so engages is given a passport and usually a part of the wage is credited into an Indian account so that the family back in India can be supported. The earlier generation of Indian diplomats used to take their sisters, mothers and other relatives as :servants: and their was no problem, However, in recent years there has been a decline in the practice of relatives doubling as "servants" and diplomats engage domestic help from India and the Government allows some semi official recognition to this practice which I agree is open to abuse. The young diplomat in question Dr Devyani Khobragade engaged a woman, Sangeeta Richards and took her to USA as a domestic help in 2012. In November 2012 this woman Sangeetsa disappeared and has remained an illegal alien in the USA ever since. The diplomat reported the matter to her Government and a case was registered by the Government of India and the Metropolitan Magistrate of Delhi issued a non bailable warrant against Sangeeta Richard. There is a valid extradition treaty between India and USa and hence this country expected USA to trace Sangeeta and return her to face Indian law.

When matters were at this stage, USA acted unilaterally. Instead of locating the illegal alien on US soil, Dr Devyani Khobragade was picked up ans subjected to the barbaric treatment, thai I have described in my first paragraph.   What are the charges against the diplomat. She is accuse of not payin her domestic help the minimum American wage. This is a surprising and disingenuous   charge because the American Embassy in New Delhi which issued the visa to Sangeeta knew that the Indian diplomat cannot afford to pay the wage required as that would exceed the salary of the diplomat. Moreover there is also the payment of a ceratin percntage of the salary in India to support the child and husband of Sangeeta. The matter came to light when the woman applied for the notorious Green Card.

Has Dr Devyani Khobragade broken any law. The terms and condition of the contract between her and Sangeeta is set out in detail in the visa application and so no rule was broken. Even if there was a minor infraction certainly srtip searching a young Indian woman and cavity search are certainly egregious instances of calculated barbarism. What is particularly galling is the role of two NRIs (Non Resident Indians), preet Brar and Nisha Desai. The first has made it his business to prosecute Indians icons in the USA and by doing so is trying to establish his credentials in the USA that he is loyal. A loyalty test that requires such obnoxious practices like what was done to the young lady is cheap and vulgar to say the least, but Indians like Preet Brar are expected to comply. The other individual is the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia appointed by Hussein Obama. And as an Indian woman at least in terms of origins she has to prove to her master that she does not give any favor to Indians. In fact no special favor is expected or required. India expects the Geneva Convention on Consular Ofocers to be followed. The inverse racism of these two Indians aggravated the situation and India is outraged. I strongly condemn the USA for the humiliation it imposed on our diplomat, a mother, a woman and an Indian.

Now I will come to the other side of the story. India has not been sending representatives who can project India's culture and interests in a meaningful way. The reason why India got all exited over this affair is not outrage over the way an Indian woman diplomat was treated but the underlying identity politics involved. Meira Kumar, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Sunil Shinde the Police Minister of India refused to meet a visting Congressional Delegation citing the treatment meted out to the woman. The victim happens to be a "dalit" and dalit identity politics came into play. Not just that the way in which the husband and child of Sangeeta were treated in India does not do credit to Indian claim that there is rule of law just as the US behvious discredits the notion that USA has rule of law. India has retaliated by withdrawing all facilities granted to the US diplomats and there is every reason to believe that homosexual American diplomats who brought a live in companion on diplomatic visa will be expelled, The woman happened to be a dalit and so politically can play the dalit card. However there have been sevral instances of US misbehaviour with visiting Indian dignitaries" George Fernades and A P J Abdul Kalam were stip searched and both these men found the expreince so humiliating that they kept quiet. Strobe Tablott brought out the facts in his book. I am one of those who believes that there is no need for the special relationship with USA.

And to make matters worse the father of this diplomat, Uttam Khobragade got a flat for himself in the Adarsh Society which was sret up to build houses for Kargil soldiers and martyrs. So karmic justice finally works its miracles.

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