Devyani Khobragade row: A case of Aam Aadmi Vs babu-neta nexus

Other than how the middle and upper middle class Indians consider slave-waged domestic workers as their birthright, one more element of Indian life was thoroughly exposed in the Devyani Khobragade row over the last few days: how influence trumps merit and rights in India.

And how a family, or rather a father, with political and bureaucratic influence can take you places.

It also shows that if you don’t have such influence - if you are an aam aadmi - be extremely careful: you can be in serious trouble - you can lose your job, get discredited, can land up in jail or even lose your passport.

 Devyani Khobragade row: A case of Aam Aadmi Vs babu-neta nexus


It’s not just about shipping a maid to the US with two contracts - one obviously to fool the US authorities, which they consider visa fraud and even trafficking, and the other to keep her under control - but also about acquiring properties against the law and bypassing merit in government service.

On Sunday, the Times of India reported how the same Ministry of External Affairs, which is now batting for Devyani, had bent the rules and allowed her to choose her preferred foreign language, that obviously helped her to get a posting in Germany. According to the report, Devyani, who was placed two grades below another candidate, who also wanted to choose German, was given preference over him. If the MEA had followed procedures, she wouldn’t have been allotted German and consequently wouldn’t have landed the posting in Germany.

Not only was a more meritorious officer denied his rightful choice, he was also dismissed from service. He went to the Supreme Court and got a ruling in his favour. The paper quoted from the SC order, delivered by a bench which included justice Altmas Kabir: "From the facts as disclosed and the submissions made on behalf of the respective parties, there is little doubt in our minds that the order dated 13th June, 2002, by which Singhvi was discharged from service, was punitive in character and had been motivated by considerations which are not reflected in the said order.”

This was Khobragade’s version of justice, underwritten by the Ministry of External Affairs.

In the current maid-scandal too, it’s Khobragade’s version of justice that prevails. As in the past, the External Affairs ministry supports it without batting an eye-lid.

There is more to the antecedents of the influential father’s daughter.

According to the report of the judicial commission that probed Mumbai’s Adarsh housing scam, the same Devyani had illegally obtained a flat in the complex. Devyani had allegedly obtained the flat by submitting false information that she didn’t own any other government allotted property. Reportedly, she not only owned another property, but also sold it. In the judicial commission's report, her name prominently figures among the illegal beneficiaries.

Reportedly, in the German language case, the lawyer for the officer who got a raw deal had alleged that “great amount of political pressure was brought to bear upon the authorities concerned to ensure that Khobragade was allotted German as her language preference, as she happened to be daughter of a powerful IAS officer in Maharashtra.”

It’s the same man we have been watching on TV ever since his daughter was in the dock. He appeared combative and his words illogical, unless one understood them in the context of how influence works in India. A classic example of the rot brought upon India by the bureacrat-politician nexus.

Here are two examples of his great logic:

When a trade union leader speaks up for the rights of Sangeeta on NDTV, he asks: How much do you pay your maid? Obviously his argument is that everybody pays their maids low wages and therefore it’s alright if his daughter did so.

On the scandalous Adarsh flat, he asks another reporter on TV: It was not allotted by anybody, we bought it. What’s wrong with buying a flat? Don’t you do it?

Apparently, it doesn’t matter to him that what his daughter had done - in Adarsh -was is illegal as established by a commission of enquiry, and that her daughter ill-treated her maid according to American law. That he was in appropriate positions of power when the allotments of both the properties happened doesn’t matter to him. It also doesn’t matter to him that his daughter has broken the law in another country.

It’s a default right of a bureaucrat who has no qualms in wearing his influence on his sleeve.

There’s more to the influential ways of the father-daughter duo.

According to Outlook magazine, Sangeeta’s husband had filed a petition before the Delhi High Court in July in which he had said that she was treated “like a slave”, making her work from 6 am to 11 pm everyday, “often without breaks”. He also said that her passport was confiscated by Devyani. The petition also had details on how she got Sangeeta to sign the second contract two hours prior to their departure.

The Outlook report also quoted an email by Sangeeta’s daughter, apparently to a US government employee: “Uttam Khobragade forced police to come to our house at night around 11 pm. There were 5 policemen. From that day onwards police has started calling my father, my brother and me as well... He said to my father that he would destroy our future and not let my father continue with his job anymore.”

The charge of threats to her family was acknowledged by the US department of state spokesperson.

The Khobragades and the government of India keep citing an injunction by the Delhi HC against the maid. However, what they haven’t said, according to this IE report, is that “the injunction was issued without a lawyer for Sangeeta or her husband being present. While lawyers for the Ministry of External Affairs were present in court, they did not raise any objections or inform the court about the previous complaints and counter complaints between the diplomat and her employee.”

The IE report said: “In its September order, the court had said that while prima facie evidence indicated that the case was in Devyani's favour, since the contract of employment was signed in India, the details of the contract were not in the documents. The court observed that the contract placed on record was a "standard agreement prescribed by the Embassy of the United States in India for regulating the relationship between diplomatic agents and their domestic assistants.”

The report further added:

“However, the court also noted that the documents shown by Khobragade did not disclose the contract between her and Sangeeta on the terms of wages and accommodation for employment as an India-based domestic assistant (IBDA).

Yet again, the Khobragades’ old ways of falsifying facts are at play. While hiding the details from the public, the father goes about telling the nation that the Delhi high court had ordered an injunction against Sangeeta. If the two contracts were legally tenable, why didn’t he include them in his court filings?

So ultimately, it’s the word of a father-daughter duo who have been named in at least two instances of abuse of authority versus a voiceless maid, an aam aadmi! And it’s not surprising that the Indian government and the political parties are not with the aam aadmi, but with the powerful and the influential.

Now that he is retired, the father Khobragade also wanted to get into the Indian parliament! And one shouldn’t be surprised if he finally gets nominated to the Rajya Sabha.

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Updated Date: Dec 24, 2013 09:11:48 IST