The Khobragade controversy – A foolish exposure

Very often lately, I find myself in this unique situation — India and the United States have a face-off and I’ve got friends within both borders asking for my reaction.

This is the diplomat who caused such a ruckus between the two nations, a Ms. Devyani Khobragade, a woman who was allegedly handcuffed and strip-searched after her household help, Sangeeta Richards, also an Indian, filed a charge against her citing below minimum wage payment.

Indian officials reacted to the strip-search and the humiliation of Khobragade’s arrest with churlish comments and actions including removal of security barriers at the U.S. High Commission and rescinding identity cards to American diplomats in India.

At first glance, the outrage seemed justified. The Indian media had managed to leave out any mention of Richards and her husband. The Indian public was made to believe that the arrest was a whim, an intentional move to dishonor all Indians and the fact that Khobragade had to spend a night with drug addicts was abominable! Why should a diplomat not be treated with respect just because she’s brown, seemed to the general tone of the tirade against the American government. After the FDI bills and massive neo-colonization of India, I’m surprised that this is the issue that pissed the people off, nevertheless, it did.

Then, United States’ Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, known for his resolute loyalty to honesty, justified the arrest, denied all allegations that the diplomat was humiliated or treated differently due to her nationality, and tossed the story the other way.

“And one wonders,” Mr. Bharara added, “why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?”quotes The New York Times in its reporting on Dec. 19.

And, here lies the crux of the issue.

In India, Indians get away with a lot. We pay below minimum wages, our domestic helpers don’t have any sanctioned days off, we hardly have an organized labor union that champions the rights of the female household help. But then, our labor laws hardly ask us to do more.

So when Khobragade decided to pay her household help way below the minimum wages, she figured she’d have to submit false documents to be able to head out to the States.

“The U.S. is right that Ms. Khobragade falsely stated when she applied for her domestic help’s visa that the woman would be paid over the minimum U.S. wage of $7.25 an hour,” said Satyabrata Pal, a former diplomat to the High Commission in Pakistan and a member of India’s National human Rights Commission in an opinion in The Hindu. “Every Indian diplomat in the U.S. has told the same lie, because none of them can afford to pay the local minimum wage when their own pay, even with the foreign allowance, is barely more than that.”

And so, instead of choosing to go without a domestic helper like the millions living in the U.S. she chose to commit fraud and expected that she would get away with it, just like she did in India, because she belongs to our colonial heritage of a bureaucracy.

Nobody cares that Richards is Indian, or that Khobragade’s lawyer filed a lawsuit against Richards’ husband in Delhi. The outcry, the ridiculous demands that India ought to retaliate in a situation where the United States is clearly justified, is embarrassing.

Instead of upholding the honesty and the strength of the American judicial system, Indians, like buffoons, have been bleating for a lost cause. We should, as a nation, be ashamed of the dishonest bureaucrats, of ourselves for the household help we exploit everyday because of our pathetic labor laws, and of the fact that even today, 67 years post-independence, we as a nation, are stuck in a class system that chooses to recognize a well-to-do diplomat as an Indian worthy of international outrage over a domestic help with no economic means to speak for herself, although she, Richards, is justified in her demands.

Posted in Uncategorized

2 thoughts

  1. I read the ^ cited article. Thanks for the perspective. However, diplomatic immunity is a separate issue altogether. The crime on the other hand, that Khobragade engaged in, is not to be condoned, and I have said as much. The nation cares very little for whether a certain low-profile diplomat, also involved in the Adarsh scam, was worth all this troubl, when all the spying charges revealed by Snowden were not enough to enrage our media or our government, or our absolutely vocal bureaucracy.


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