Sunday, December 22, 2013

Curious Case of Devyani Khobragade



Arrest and humiliation of diplomat from a friendly nation, diplomatic row, overzealous public prosecutor, allegation of human rights violation, evacuation from a friendly nation, conspiracy theory, these are what plot of a crime thriller is made of. Exactly that is what is being played out following arrest of an Indian diplomat in USA and events unfolding thereafter.

Indian Deputy Consul General in New York, Dr. Devyani Khobragade, was arrested while she went to drop her daughter to school. Upon arrest, Devyani was strip searched, cavity searched and put behind bars with hardened criminals. Charge against Devyani was visa fraud and exploitation of her house maid by not paying minimum wage.

The incidence has predictably created a furore in India. Political parties cutting across their divide have criticized the incidence. Government of India has demanded an apology from US government and dropping of all charges against her. External affairs minister Salman Khurshid vowed to restore dignity of Indian diplomat, else he will not come to parliament. Indian government has also initiated retaliatory measures like taking away from diplomatic privileges from many officials in American embassy, like diplomatic passes, import of alcohol without paying duty among other things. A security barrier infront of American embassy in Delhi was also removed.

On part of US, there has been incredulity at Indian reaction. Americans have indicated that Devyani had only limited diplomatic immunity. Thus, she cannot be prevented from getting arrested. American State Department has refused to take back charges against Devyani, claiming that judicial process has been initiated and cannot be reversed. It is logical to assume that State Department cannot interfere with the functioning of justice department. State Department has refused to apologise, but Secretary of State has expressed regret and suggested we move on. District Attorney's office of lower Manhattan claimed, it is a standard practice to handcuff and body search an arrested person. So nothing unusual was done with Devyani. Rather, Devyani was extended courtesy like a cup of coffee and use of her cell phone.


District Attorney for lower Manhattan, Preet Bharara, and Indian Deputy Consul General, Devyani Khobragade

Americans were surprised that why so much outrage for Devyani while none for the housemaid – Sangeeta Richard, who also happened to be Indian citizen. According to Americans, real victim was Sangeeta who was exploited by Devyani.


As we try to look at the issue, it emerges that both side has over-reacted, both side have lied and both side have made mistakes. A few questions come to mind:

1.    Was US right in treating Devyani Khobragade the way they did?
2.    Was Indian reaction exaggerated?
3.    Was Devyani guilty of the charge of visa fraud and what was the role of Sangeeta?

I think, main Indian anger is public humiliation of her acting consul general in New York. The argument that she did not have full immunity is not cutting ice. If US was not happy with Devyani, they could have declared her persona non grata, and asked Indian government to take her back. However, US chose to arrest her, stripped her naked and searched her body cavities. Even if Devyani was not a diplomat, she was still a woman. True, it can be argued that in India women are treated much worse in their daily lives. But in a place like US, a country that is taking moral high ground on human rights, how such a thing can be allowed to happen?

Secondly, an agreement was entered between Devyani and Sangeeta. Both of them were Indian citizens. In New York, Devyani and Sangeeta were working in Indian mission, that is a sovereign Indian territory. How is happenings in Indian consulate is America's business? Helping hand was not hired in US, she is not American citizen, she was not criminally assaulted, how her case becomes so important for American law enforcement to merit Devyani’s arrest? Do American diplomats pay American wage to their employees in India, that work in their embassy? American embassy is American soil, so American wage rule should apply there, not Indian minimum wage!

Sangeeta was not a child. She knew what she was getting into, yet she agreed to accompany Devyani to US. If Sangeeta was uncertain with her salary, why did she agree to go to US with Devyani? Why was Visa of Sangeeta Richard approved by US immigration office, knowing full well Sangeeta's salary was more than what Devyani was going to get from Government of India? If Sangeeta had signed another agreement of Rs. 30,000 a month salary to her family in India by Khobragade family, and on top of it Sangeeta was to receive around 3 dollar per hour in US, how is exploitation? We do not know, if Sangeeta is telling the complete truth. So let us not spend tears for Sangeeta. From the looks of it, Sangeeta has come out a winner in this case at the expense of Devyani.  

It also appears that there was a method to the madness that happened. Devyani’s family was evacuated from India. This is humiliating because India is a soverign county, a friendly country to US, yet Americans are evacuating our citizens from our country! It is also important to know how did the outside world know about second contract of Devyani with her maid? Obviously someone well informed with American legal system has connected maid with a lawyer. Once the ball started rolling, family of maid was evacuated and Devyani arrested. So there is a well planned and executed method being played out. According to reports, maid wanted an ordinary passport, in place of her diplomatic passport, monetary compensation and help of embassay to get her a green card. All these were reported to State Department and police, yet nothing happened. May be Sangeeta had a plan and Americans were party to this plan! Devyani was a pawn in this game!

Tags: Devyani Khobragade, Sangeeta Richard, Deputy Consul General, Indian Consulate, New York, State Department, District Attorney, Immigration Office, Diplomat, Immunity, Arrest, Strip Search, Cavity Search
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