January 12, 2014

What next, Khobragade is here

In fact, the Khobragade episode must open, at least now, our eyes to the fact that every land has its laws, and practices. No, it doesn't, instead, we are exploiting it as an opportunity for domestic political advantage in an election year.
New Delhi: The Indian diplomat in New York, Devyani Khobragade, has returned to India after being at the centre of a month-long diplomatic drama of stand-off surrounding her much publicised arrest and strip-search there on charges of fraud in obtaining a visa for her maid, Sangeetha Richard, and of underpaying her after taking her to the US. A day before Khobragade left the US, the grand jury had filed the charges (See indictment: United States of America vs. Devyani Khobragade) against her in the court but by the time she had been sanctioned a G-1 visa, which accords the privilege of full immunity by virtue of her transfer - done to facilitate that only - to the Indian mission at the UN there.

Therefore, she did not have to apear before the court and was free to leave the US as well under the immunity available. Simultaneously, she was also transferred back to Delhi by the Indian Government.

But the case is pending. Her two kids are in the school there and her Indian-American husband is also working as a professor there. If she happens to land in the US anytime, she can be arrested and prosecuted since now she is no more enjoying the privilege of total immunity of a diplomat of the UN mission. So what next? May be an out-of-court settlement. Even then, Khobragade's career hangs in balance. That Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh will decide.

There were unconfirmed reports that she was handcuffed and humiliated in physical checking in the cell. And, there was a lot of diplomatic circus and much hullabaloo in India over such reports, but there was no confirmation coming forth from either side.

There was a lot of hype and demonstrations in India against the US, prompting some source in the office of Preet Bharara, a US citizen of Indian origin and New York Southern District Attorney sitting in Manhattan who has initiated the prosecution, remarking that the accused is being made out as the victim. Many people, meanwhile, say, had such a case come up in India, the maid servant would have received wide support and sympathy from the public, instead.

Apart from a reported conspiracy angle, people were also incited for political advantage in an election year, whipping up a hysteria, when we should have realised that every land has its law. And, the diplomatic grandstanding in New Delhi only played to the gallery.

The Americans say they follow the law. It was officially stated there that Khobragade did not enjoy immunity from arrest in the case and the search was conducted as routinely done in every case. It has not been denied. Else, what for she was transferred to the UN office. She had to be transferred to the UN mission so that she will get full immunity. Without appropriate explanation from the Indian side, facts became a matter of opinion and debate. The public was allowed to fray their tempers. The developments were mismanaged by a multitude of authorities displaying varying underlying interests.

America, one should know, is a country where the laws, especially relating to wages and labour exploitation, are very harsh and enforcement quick and merciless. People there live by the book! Say, a child cries at night, the cop may step in. They can charge you for child abuse and torture. That is, the law for protection of children too is as harsh, indeed! In India, informality supersedes all other things. May be it is to our credit that we are no robots. Two cultures, two poles!

(Also See: Sangeeta Richard's statement)

- RM Nair

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