India reworking system of sending Indian domestic helps to missions

December 18, 2013 04:45 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 08:45 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Government is reworking the system of sending Indian domestic helps abroad to work with diplomats even as the controversy over the maltreatment of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade became murkier with India saying the US embassy had given visas to the husband and two children of the absconding maid despite being told that she was wanted by a Delhi court.

The family boarded an Air India flight for New York on December 10, just two days before Dr. Khobragade was arrested and strip searched.

New Delhi also sought to shift Dr. Khobragade to India’s Permanent Mission in UN where she will get full diplomatic immunity. The attempt to move her has been made against the backdrop of the US claiming that officials working in consulates get immunity only for acts done in their line of work. This has raised fear of the possibility of the diplomat being harassed again.

Ms. Richard's family was given US visas even though New Delhi had been regularly petitioning the Americans to trace her after she went missing in June. There was also a court case against the maid after the Khobragade family complained that she had absconded with her diplomatic passport. The court subsequently issued a warrant against her and this fact was also brought to the notice of the US authorities yet her family was given a visa.

In another twist to the tale, Ms. Richard’s husband had filed a case in July demanding the Government locate his wife but he withdrew the petition later. There was no confirmation of reports that her father works with the US Embassy.

India is demanding the diplomat be allowed to return home and all charges against her dropped. Unlike two previous cases, this was the first time the US Government had filed criminal charges.

Taking the cue from this case, the Government is now accelerating a proposal pending with the Union Finance Ministry to designate Indian domestic helps working abroad as government servants on contract in order not to fall foul of minimum wages laws in developed countries. The Ministry of External Affairs had moved the proposal after the case of another Indian diplomat hit the headlines in 2011.

Under the pool system, a fixed number of domestic helps are available and their services are called upon by diplomats according to need. If this is coupled with short-term Government contacts, most of the issues that bedevil Indian diplomats will be sorted out – they will not be held personally culpable in case of a contractual dispute and the contract system will take care of the minimum wages issue.

India has refuted the contention that security of the US Embassy had been compromised with the removal of concrete barricades. The police picket and the usual complement of the diplomatic security force still keeps tabs on the security around the embassy.

As for narrowed parking space around the embassy, this was a reciprocal gesture after the reserved parking slot opposite the Indian Embassy in Washington was converted into a general parking lot.

Meanwhile, the Indian Foreign Service Association asserted that the conduct of US authorities violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 1963 and accepted norms and practice between civilised States. To this end, the Association sought an assurance from the US authorities for the safety and well-being of its officer in keeping with the spirit of the Vienna Convention and demanded that all cases against her should be dropped unconditionally.

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