India's disproportionate Devyani Khobragade tantrum

India threw another national tantrum this week. It was in support of one of our daughters, a diplomat arrested in the United States for visa fraud. She took a domestic help along from India and employed her at a wage lower than the minimum in New York, but lied about it in the help's contract and visa application form.

The domestic help disappeared in America and the diplomat filed a case against her in India.

Devyani Khbragade.

Devyani Khbragade.

The US, probably to avoid their being victimised by India, smuggled the domestic help's family out of the country before the diplomat was arrested.

Angry stories, mostly made up, were then published which claimed the diplomat was arrested in front of her children and handcuffed (both false).

The man prosecuting the diplomat is Preet Bharara, with a formidable record and a near-100 percent conviction rate. Our defence has been based on outrage, not innocence.

In India, Foreign minister Salman Khurshid says he will not face parliament till he returns with the victimised girl (the officer, not the servant). We shall see.

And Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi refused to meet or talk to visiting American leaders, in an act Indians know as doing katti.

More dangerously, the government removed safety barriers from outside American facilities. Presumably they were there because a security threat was felt. If India is deliberately risking American lives in retaliation for an arrest, this is an act of great stupidity.

Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati claimed the government's already hysterical response wasn't hysterical enough, because the diplomat was from the scheduled caste.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, always willing to make a bad situation worse, did not disappoint. Former finance minister Yashwant Sinha said India should apply its awful law criminalising homosexuality to gay Americans in India. Why are we so willing to damage ourselves in defence of national honour? It is difficult to understand this for those able to distance themselves from the passion.

By all accounts, the diplomat seems guilty of a crime. The Hindu said of the Indian government's response that: "However, this narrative has avoided referencing the alleged visa fraud that the criminal complaint against Ms. Khobragade (the arrested diplomat) details, including the claim that she effectively paid Ms. Richard $3.31 per hour whereas the New York minimum wage is $7.25.

"Further it is economical in addressing the allegation by Mr. Bharara’s team that under the contract she signed with Ms. Richard (the servant) and submitted to the State Department to obtain an A-3 ‘domestic worker visa’ she had promised the equivalent of $9.75."

This, of course, the diplomat did not intend to pay and did not in fact pay.

Writing for Hindustan Times, former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said the Americans should have continued to let Indians abuse the law: "There is much chicanery involved here. Indian diplomats taking domestic staff to the US accept the minimum wage requirement when all concerned, including the US visa services and the State Department, know this is done pro-forma to have the paper work in order. To imagine that the US authorities are duped into believing that our diplomats will pay their domestic staff more than what they earn is absurd. The US authorities have been clearing such visas for years to practically resolve the contradiction between reality and the letter of the law."

Is the poor pay of Indians and their insistence on having domestic helps the problem of Americans? Why should any nation allow its laws to be violated by India?

There were of course saner voices in the media, particularly the Indian Express, which pointed to our hypocrisy: "Recall from the other side of the fence how unacceptable it is for Indians to countenance Italian requests for exceptional treatment of their marines while facing a murder trial. Contrast that with the absolute abandonment of sobriety, reason and responsibility in reacting to charges against Khobragade of visa fraud. To allow American pursuit of the rule of law on their territory to spiral into a diplomatic standoff speaks very poorly of India's foreign service and the politicians and officials in Delhi happy to play into notions of outraged national honour."


Published Date: Dec 23, 2013 07:15 am | Updated Date: Dec 23, 2013 07:18 am

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