The public outcry and India’s retaliatory moves following the unacceptable treatment meted out by the U.S. to our diplomat Devyani Khobragade, are justified (Dec.19). However, I fail to understand why there has been absolutely no word on the plight of the domestic help, who is also a victim of exploitation. There are many like her who suffer in silence yet have no one to speak up for them. Does any one think of Indian labour languishing in West Asia and the Far East? When there was a recent problem in Singapore, did the Indian government intervene?
The episode has all the ingredients necessary to endanger the prospects of Indian students going to the U.S. for higher studies and citizens travelling to the U.S on business and leisure. It is time India learnt to respect the labour laws of other countries. It is surprising that the Indian diplomat was not briefed about such things before she took up her U.S. assignment.
One recalls how diplomats of the erstwhile USSR and present-day Russia have always been treated with kid-gloves and given full diplomatic recognition even when they allegedly pursued activities like running espionage operations, forcibly deporting their citizens, poisoning and drugging others, etc., as detailed in former MI5 officer Peter Wright’s book, Spy Catcher and the FBI’s own annals. Had these diplomats been arrested and subjected to body checks, the retaliation by the KGB on U.S. diplomats would have been terrible. The U.S. understands and respects power. Hopefully, India should learn its lesson from the line: “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”
The diplomat has two charges against her — visa fraud and low wage payment. If she is actually found guilty, the episode would turn out to be more embarrassing for India than for the U.S. In that case, America’s law enforcement should be commended for upholding a labourer’s rights even against a diplomat. The issue that remains is one of mistreatment. If found true, India should demand an apology precisely for this part and not for “dropping all charges,” as is the demand now.
While it is not wrong to stand by our diplomat, the political class seems to be blowing the issue out of proportion, with a view to exploiting public sentiment before 2014. Ironically, it is this very political class that treats bureaucrats much worse back home!
Immunity or not, the treatment meted out to the diplomat — similar to that of a petty criminal — was certainly not dignified. On her part, Ms. Khobragade didn’t seem to be doing anything out of the way to make the life of her domestic help difficult. It may not have been affordable for her to disburse “the minimum wage” to her help, with the kind of salary she, the diplomat, gets from the Indian government. We also do not seem to be taking into account the facilities of free housing, food and clothing given to the woman. One also needs to investigate whether the issue of minimum wage can be used as a pretext to harass the employer into getting a long-term residency permit.