Devyani Khobradade’s case: Indian pride and hypocrisy – and lack of respect for the rule of law

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STORY 2 ITEM 1

 

Devyani Khobradade

THIS week, a report in The Tribune newspaper of Chandigarh on the humiliating arrest of Devyani Khobragade, 39, who was deputy consul general for political, economic, commercial and women’s affairs at the Consulate General of India in New York, brought out a nasty fact about Indian diplomats abroad that is actually an open secret.

It said: “Indian diplomats often pay their employees salaries that are well below the minimum wage in the US, according to multiple sources.

““Most of us pay less than declared,” an Indian diplomat, who served in New York and knew the community well, said on condition of anonymity.

“The problem is when the domestic assistant is not treated well, they seek advice of people and then the trouble starts,” the diplomat said.”

In fact, an employee of a former Indian consul general in Vancouver some years ago also alleged that she had been stiffed by her boss and that caused quite a stir in the South Asian community.

Khobragade was arrested on charges that she allegedly caused a materially false and fraudulent document to be presented, and materially false and fraudulent  statements to be made, to the United States Department of State in support of a visa application for an Indian national employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her home in New York, according to Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

It is REALLY HARD for most Indians to understand the RULE OF LAW concept because those with connections are so used to getting away with all kinds of crimes and unethical methods. That is a fact of life in India – one which many Indians pointed out in their reactions on websites of Indian newspapers.

But they should realize that when they are in countries like the U.S., Canada, Australia and Britain, your connections won’t help you (though there are some corrupt politicians and cops in those countries also).

As Bharara said in a statement: “One wonders whether any government would not take action regarding false documents being submitted to it in order to bring immigrants into the country. One wonders even more pointedly whether any government would not take action regarding that alleged conduct where the purpose of the scheme was to unfairly treat a domestic worker in ways that violate the law. And one wonders 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?”

 

HOWEVER, it was REALLY STUPID of the Americans to have subjected Khobragade to a degrading strip-search.

Indian outrage forced the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to finally call India’s national security adviser Shivshankar Menon on Wednesday to express regret about the incident.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a written statement: “As a father of two daughters about the same age as Devyani Khobragade, the secretary empathizes with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded after Ms Khobragade’s arrest. In his conversation with Menon, he expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India.”

The statement said that while Kerry “expects that laws will be followed by everyone here in our country,” it’s important to him that diplomats “are accorded respect and dignity just as we expect our own diplomats should receive overseas.”

Khobragade was not handcuffed until she arrived at the courthouse and a U.S. law enforcement source familiar with the case told CNN that was “a courtesy not afforded to most people,” including alleged white-collar criminals.

On Monday, Harf had noted: “Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Indian Deputy Consul General enjoys immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.”

On the other hand, it was REALLY STUPID for India and the Indian media to conjure up all kind of conspiracy theories. They wondered why the U.S. authorities did not take action against Khobragade’s housekeeper Sangeeta Richard when she was reported missing some months ago.

DUH!

Obviously, Khobragade and the Indians wanted her arrested so that she would not reveal the facts about the false documents concerning Richard’s employment. The U.S. authorities were investigating that case and to make sure that there would be no retaliation against her husband and kids, they gave them visas to travel to the U.S. just before Khobragade’s arrest.

It’s as simple as that!

Also, because Khobradade’s employee was a Christian, fanatical Hindus used that as an excuse to spread all sorts of rumours. They have always been shameless about this – in fact, as a Christian, I experienced such malicious treatment myself in India.

WITH a national election due next year, both the leading parties – the ruling Congress Party and the Hindu nationalist party BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) – had no option but to express outrage at the arrest.

And because Khobradade happens to be a Dalit (Dalits are so-called “untouchables” and make up nearly one quarter of India’s population), the matter was even more sensitive. The leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Mayawati, used the incident to launch an attack on the government, calling it “anti-Dalit” and accusing it of dragging its feet in the case only because Khobradade belonged to a Scheduled Caste.

Indian media reported that she was appointed to the UN Permanent Mission in the New York to accord her full diplomatic immunity.

But U.S. State Department’s Harf said that the immunity sought for Khobragade after her transfer there is not retroactive.

All parties demanded robust retaliation by India – and the government readily obliged.

According to a Hindustan Times newspaper report on Wednesday:

* All U.S. consulates in India have been told their consular identity cards may be withdrawn for review no later than December 23.

* All U.S. consular diplomats and their families have been asked to surrender airports passes by December 19.

* A list of all Indian nationals working with U.S. consulates, including domestic servants, has been sought by December 23 as well as copies of their contracts, bank accounts, salaries and so on.

* Requests by US missions for privileges such as exemption certificates for duty free import of liquor may be withdrawn.

A particularly stupid, petty retaliatory measure was the removal of barricades that had been erected as a safety measure outside the main entrance of U.S Embassy in New Delhi.

The more balanced Indians themselves mocked India’s overreaction and hypocrisy.

One Indian commented on a newspaper website: “Hmm so finally it took the political turn as I had expected. So many rape cases on the daily basis but we don’t talk about national honor that time and one lady got strip searched …suddenly we found the lost national honor.”