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Vasundhara Sirnate

Vasundhara Sirnate is Chief Coordinator of Research at The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy. She is also a Ph.D candidate in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley.

vasundhara.sirnate@thehinducentre.com

Musings

Privilege and the Power Elite

Vasundhara Sirnate
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  • Members of various student organisations protest against the treatment of Devyani Khobragade, outside the US Consulate in Chennai. Photo: PTI
    Members of various student organisations protest against the treatment of Devyani Khobragade, outside the US Consulate in Chennai. Photo: PTI
  • A group supporting domestic workers rights demonstrate across the street from the Indian Consulate General in light of the controversy surrounding Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade. Photo: AFP/Stan HONDA
    A group supporting domestic workers rights demonstrate across the street from the Indian Consulate General in light of the controversy surrounding Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade. Photo: AFP/Stan HONDA
  • Uttam Khobragade, Devyani Khobragade's father, at a press conference in Mumbai. Photo: PTI
    Uttam Khobragade, Devyani Khobragade's father, at a press conference in Mumbai. Photo: PTI
  • A group supporting domestic workers rights demonstrate in front of the Indian Consulate General in New York. Photo: AFP/Stan HONDA
    A group supporting domestic workers rights demonstrate in front of the Indian Consulate General in New York. Photo: AFP/Stan HONDA
  • Police detain students who were staging a protest against the treatment of Devyani Khobragade in the US, outside the American Consulate in Hyderabad. Photo: PTI
    Police detain students who were staging a protest against the treatment of Devyani Khobragade in the US, outside the American Consulate in Hyderabad. Photo: PTI

In this essay Vasundhara Sirnate situates the uproar over the arrest of former Indian Deputy Consul General in New York, Devyani Khobragade, in a matrix where sections of elite actors work to protect both Dr. Khobragade and their sources of privilege by selective disclosure of facts, including that consular immunity is much more limited than diplomatic immunity.

One of my first memories of living in Palo Alto, California, at the heart of Silicon Valley is that of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, routinely riding a bicycle to work down University Avenue and buying coffee like a regular person, standing in line behind a group of my friends. To an Indian the thought of a billionaire behaving like an aam aadmi (common man) was unique. I was struck by how he did not expect preferential treatment, had no bodyguards and wore trousers with one leg rolled up, as most bicyclists do, for braking purposes. I was also struck by how people responded to him with a “what’s up Mark”, or “hey Mr. Facebook” and how he acknowledged everyone in a non-superior fashion.

The world indeed seemed flat!

Contrast this behaviour with a comment made by Mani Shankar Aiyar, an Indian politician. He once stated, “Democracy in America apparently means the right of the lower orders to be rude to their social superiors.”1

Over the years in the US, I have found that as an Indian person there I have had more chances to interact with Indian political leaders, thinkers and high-ranking bureaucrats, than I would in India. In fact, on one occasion I was so surprised to see a Chief Minister of a South Indian state standing behind me waiting for a table with his family at an Italian restaurant, that I accidentally stepped on his toes. We both apologised to each other.

In India it is hard to meet and greet politicians if one possesses no social or economic standing. The point I want to make is a simple one. Indians venerate political and social power and we do this through various mechanisms – wealth,2 ritualised distance and the performance of obsequiousness. Elsewhere, I have argued that these systems that render Indian society uniquely hierarchical need to disappear if indeed a substantive democracy is to exist.3

The title of this piece is taken in part from C. Wright Mills’ influential work called The Power Elite, where he defines the “elite” as “those political, economic, and military circles, which are an intricate set of overlapping small but dominant groups [that] share decisions having at least national consequences. Insofar as national events are decided, the power elite are those who decide them." For Mills, the members of the power elite recognise each other through mutual “exalted positions”, stick up for each other, marry each other and share a common worldview about several matters. They not only work together but also play together by sending their children to the same prestigious institutions across the world. These attained pedigrees then become a sort of social currency – those who meet the requirements of the power elite without being born into that social class may be inducted into the elite and given a place amongst the privileged.

Recently, Devyani Khobragade’s arrest at the hands of the New York Police Department (NYPD) has caused uproar in India. The facts are rather simple. A functionary of the office of Manhattan District Attorney (DA), Preet Bharara, filed charges against Dr. Khobragade for two main reasons – she underpaid her maid, Sangeeta Richards, less than the US’s stipulated minimum wage for New York city, and, second, she submitted fraudulent visa documents to the US authorities. Now, the problem with Dr. Khobragade’s arrest was, as people have claimed, that as Deputy Consul General she had diplomatic immunity and so should not have been arrested.

To add insult to injury she was badly treated, the argument went, because she was strip-searched, the nation’s pride was assaulted because she was strip-searched, and, how dare America act in this manner with a Dalit woman from a friendly country. American authorities were dubbed racist, sexist, imperialist, etc. The criticisms keep rolling in.

However, apart from the non-mainstream internet media, there have been few voices that have dared to call a spade a spade – that Dr. Khobragade, if one reads the charges against her, allegedly did break the law in the US. Second, almost no one has chosen to focus on the fact that Ms. Richards, was in fact, underpaid below the legal limit.

This piece is meant to offer a couple of correctives and some perspective on the actions of both states.

First, I wish to point out that diplomatic immunity is not the same as consular immunity and that our leading voices on the Khobragade affair may have deliberately misled the Indian public on this matter.

Second, unlike a lot of the other pieces that have focused on losses of bureaucratic privilege with respect to the Devyani Khobragade affair, I posit that this system of bureaucratic privilege is taken from a society that is hierarchical and that most official and organisational structures in India recreate hierarchy as the most common form of organisation. In theory, hierarchies exist everywhere. But in many countries, India included, hierarchies also embody structural violence, where ambitions, career graphs, pay scales, types of work to be done, and everyday treatment are meted out, checked or curbed keeping in mind a person’s place in this hierarchy. People want to rise through hierarchies because it guarantees a better social standing and many yes men and minions that can support chosen lifestyles, which depend on the ordering about of others. Our political representatives, bureaucrats, army officials, judges and police personnel are all part of the perpetuation of these structural inequalities. Once confronted with a more socially flattening society like the US, which is definitely not economically flat, our politicians seem to react with statements like Mr. Aiyar’s.

Third, I argue that the perpetuation of hierarchies itself becomes a key function of the organisations and individuals within them. The hierarchies become self-sustaining, as has been seen in the Khobragade affair, where virtually not a single bureaucrat from India’s diplomatic corps has raised the issue of whether the aggrieved domestic help in question, Ms. Richards, has indeed been severed from a fair wage and that Dr. Khobragade is legally in the wrong as far as the US laws are concerned.

Finally, I will comment on the mistreatment of Dr. Khobragade’s person by the US Marshals Service (USMS).

Diplomatic Versus Consular Immunity

A Deputy Consul General is technically a consular officer. A Deputy Consul General is covered under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963) and has consular immunity, not diplomatic immunity, unless the consular officer has been specially accredited that allows him/her to enjoy diplomatic immunity. The scope of consular immunity is considerably limited as compared to the scope of diplomatic immunity.

In recent debates in India surrounding the apprehension, handcuffing, strip-searching and detainment of Dr. Khobragade, there has been considerable sleight of hand in India by leading legal experts and members of the diplomatic corps and the media. She is technically a consular officer, who did not enjoy diplomatic immunity but had limited consular immunity, before her transfer to the UN Mission, which now grants her diplomatic immunity.

The charges against Ms. Khobragade as quoted by Manhattan US Attorney, Mr. Bharara:

“Ms. Khobragade was charged based on conduct, as is alleged in the Complaint, that shows she clearly tried to evade US law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers. Not only did she try to evade the law, but as further alleged, she caused the victim and her spouse to attest to false documents and be a part of her scheme to lie to US government officials. So it is alleged not merely that she sought to evade the law, but that she affirmatively created false documents and went ahead with lying to the US government about what she was doing.”

Mr. Bharara’s press release continues, “Ms. Khobragade, the Deputy General Consul for Political, Economic, Commercial and Women’s Affairs, is alleged to have treated this victim illegally in numerous ways by paying her far below minimum wage, despite her child care responsibilities and many household duties, such that it was not a legal wage. The victim is also alleged to have worked far more than the 40 hours per week she was contracted to work, and which exceeded the maximum hour limit set forth in the visa application. Ms. Khobragade, as the Complaint charges, created a second contract that was not to be revealed to the US government, that changed the amount to be paid to far below minimum wage, deleted the required language protecting the victim from other forms of exploitation and abuse, and also deleted language that stated that Ms. Khobragade agreed to “abide by all Federal, state, and local laws in the US”. As the Complaint states, these are only “in part” the facts, and there are other facts regarding the treatment of the victim – that were not consistent with the law or the representations made by Ms. Khobragade.”4

The charges are fairly serious at this point. What is most disconcerting is that no one in India actually disagrees with the charges brought against Ms. Khobragade. In fact, the twist that has been given to a clearly legal matter, which has also been clearly violated by a consular officer, is that of her treatment at the hands of the USMS. Now, granted, the treatment was unnecessary and disproportionate in relation to the alleged offence committed. I also agree that they needn’t have strip-searched her for an alleged civil crime, not a criminal act. It is quite clear that the USMS and the NYPD overplayed their hand rather enthusiastically for reasons that can only be asked to the officers deployed at the time who were handling her case. This type of arbitrary police behaviour is not unknown in the US. As a woman, I am also sure she felt humiliated by this process and I have deep empathy for her treatment.

However, let’s try to take a look at this from the American state’s point of view. Strip-searches are done mechanically and are routine in the US and many European countries at airports, which thousands of people have to go through on a regular basis. A female agent, who always has gloves on, does them for women of any and every ethnicity, although in my experience, people of colour are more likely to be searched more thoroughly. The process never lasts for more than a few minutes and is conducted in privacy and can be likened to a medical examination, so impersonal is it in nature. DA Preet Bharara has already pointed out that strip-searches are done for concealed weapons, bombs, drugs and other materials that could harm the person or the persons they share a cell with. We can argue about the necessity of strip-searching at all for the alleged crime committed by Dr. Khobragade. In my mind, strip-searching was unnecessary keeping in mind her consular status, and as an act of the US state, was a response disproportionate to the alleged legal violation committed. However, to couch the strip-searching as a violation of an Indian woman’s dignity and thereby the Indian nation is a trumped up issue simply because unlike in India, where stripping by the police is an act of humiliation, strip-searching in the US is standard operating procedure for someone in custody.

My purpose here is not to defend the strip-searching practices of any government in the world. I think with the introduction of body scanning technology this wouldn’t be required at all and shouldn’t be required simply because these are acts of domination by the state over the person of an individual. However, I would be lax if I did not point out that the difference in the intent of the act of stripping/strip-searching between the US and India is something that people in India have missed.

What would a non-jingoistic view of the Khobragade affair look like? Let me step back a bit to my first point about the difference between diplomatic and consular immunity. First, Ms. Khobragade has consular immunity, where she is not immune to civil/criminal proceedings against her. In fact Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations explicitly says “Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority”. Further, Article 43 titled “Immunity from jurisdiction” states:

“1.Consular officers and consular employees shall not be amenable to the jurisdiction of the judicial or administrative authorities of the receiving State in respect of acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.

2.The provisions of paragraph 1 of this article shall not, however, apply in respect of a civil action either:

(a) arising out of a contract concluded by a consular officer or a consular employee in which he did not contract expressly or impliedly as an agent of the sending State; or

(b) by a third party for damage arising from an accident in the receiving State caused by a vehicle, vessel or aircraft.”

It is quite clear from the above clauses that Ms. Khobragade’s second contract with her employee, Ms. Richards, was clearly outside of her official role as an Indian state agent and was done personally, without either authority (Indian or American) being aware of it, to the best of our knowledge.

The question to ask then is why is there such outrage in India about this? A second question is, what is the outrage about?

Leading diplomats, politicians and media personnel have deliberately and wilfully led the Indian public into a state of uber-jingoism masquerading as patriotism. This also explains why there has been a mad scramble to send Ms. Khobragade off to the UN, to retroactively introduce diplomatic immunity for her through a back channel.

The only thing that Indians can disagree about here is whether the alleged crimes committed by Devyani Khobragade are “grave”. Apparently, as far as the US State Dept. is concerned, the flouting of minimum wage legislation is indeed a grave matter. Most Indians, who have been supporting Ms. Khobragade do not seem to think so. In a classic move reminiscent of a pot calling the kettle black, media personnel like Arnab Goswami supported by a slew of well-spoken diplomats, called this a case of a violation of “diplomatic” immunity and have taken the view that an almost mechanical and routine strip-search of a woman is more jarring to our international prestige than the fact that this consular officer flouted the law of a friendly state, wilfully underpaid a national of her own state, allegedly used the Indian state’s machinery to put pressure on the family of her domestic help and actively forged documents designed to hoodwink a foreign government. Either way, as I am sure many would agree, it is hard not to chuckle when India self-righteously talks about human rights, equal pay for equal work and the dignity of women.

How the US has assaulted the privileges of the Indian ruling class

In many ways, what the US has done is to show that no one is above the law. It has repeatedly done this through arrests of prominent celebrities, children of politicians, and even international figures like Dominic Strauss Kahn, whose flight was detained while the NYPD marched in to arrest him for the alleged rape of a hotel employee in Manhattan.

I must point out however, that there is a double standard. The US is also quick to protect one’s own (like Raymond Davies), irrespective of the crime committed5. Actually, most countries do, as is evident in how even India is also reacting to this case.

The problem with the arrest of a consular officer is that it sets a precedent. It sends the signal that in the US no one is above the law and it points out clearly that diplomatic and consular immunity are both limited and that the power of the US state over the elites of foreign countries cannot easily be trumped. However, most commentators have also missed the fact that the US has done a remarkably good job of keeping its elite and their spawn well under the law. Yes, there are cases where affluent people get better deals legally, as is the case almost everywhere, but comparing the US’s track record of disciplining its elites with those of other elites of the global south, does show that the American state can strong-arm its own wealthy and privileged people.

The agents of this disciplining are people like Manhattan DA, Preet Bharara. Mr. Bharara is also the attorney responsible for the charging and arraignment of several highly prominent US government officials and representatives, that landed him on the cover of Time magazine in February 2012, with the accompanying title “This man is busting Wall Street”, for his regular busts on high profile speculators who thrived on insider trading. In his list on conquests, we find Senator Vincent Leibell, Senator Hiram Monserrate, NYC Councilman Larry Seabrook, and Yonkers City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi. He also helped convict NYPD policeman Gilberto Valle, who was plotting to rape, kill and eat women.6 He also exposed corruption charges around New York State Senator Malcolm Smith.

This is a man, as Shekhar Gupta notes in the Indian Express, that India should import as its first lokpal.7

Doubtless, Preet Bharara, with his dogged tracking of criminals and corrupt public servants, is someone who would have checked his facts before taking on the Indian diplomatic corp. However, the threat that people like Mr. Bharara present is shared by elites and ruling classes in both India and America. People like Mr. Bharara are people who are not swayed by power or the rituals of power that guarantee its perpetuation. They are backed by a scary single-mindedness of purpose, which in an anti-colonial movement, for instance, would be worthy of praise. In India, Mr. Bharara and Indian-commentators like him have been branded lackeys of white people, wannabe white people, and by BJP ideologue, Sheshadri Chari, as Indians trying to be American to impress their white masters.

In India people like Mr. Bharara are rare and even if they did exist, as they undoubtedly occasionally have, the political system has interfered in the functioning of local law enforcement agencies to ensure that nothing comes of corruption, rape, or criminal charges against someone from the power elite. The number of people in the Indian parliament with cases pending against them is rather alarming. If we begin to view Indian society where power and privilege is concentrated in a few hands, repeatedly shown in surveys that show how little people trust their representatives, we can begin to make more sense of the outrage surrounding Dr. Khobragade.

Let’s be realistic. The backlash about this is about protecting collective privileges. There is no other way to explain why leading members of our diplomatic core would repeatedly use the term diplomatic immunity when they are well aware she was entitled to limited consular immunity. There is no other way to explain why they would willingly overlook her violation of very well-known American laws and then deliberately shift the focus of the debate on her body and its alleged violation at the hands of the US state.

In point of fact, some such bureaucrats and diplomats have once again blamed the Indian government for not paying its overseas officials enough. If Dr. Khobragade, earned less than 5,000 USD per month, how could she possibly pay her maid 4,500 USD, goes the counterfactual argument. We are then made to feel rather sorry for a well-heeled, middle-class woman who is struggling just like anyone else to pay her bills and sustain her family. Almost everyone in the media today is unapologetic about the fact that Ms. Richards’ husband and family were allegedly threatened by Dr. Khobragade’s father, so much so that, they were flown out before the latter’s arrest. This itself has been seen as evidence of a conspiracy, when a cursory look at the immigration laws in the US will tell us that it is not unheard of for the US to fast track the evacuation of an alien’s family, under getting political asylum, if they are innocent people being threatened by their home country’s governments.

In many ways, this issue has snowballed into a diplomatic tussle with irresponsible commentators asking for US nationals and diplomats to be similarly treated. Yashwant Sinha even commented that same sex couples should be arrested under Indian law. Almost no one in India is arguing for the US Federal law to take its course, however.

The silence over minimum wages

Ms. Richards, who upon going to the US, may have learned much more about her rights. The public is still unaware about the cause of her leaving employment without warning, but from preliminary reports, it does not appear to be a case of physical abuse or any such thing. She was over worked, say the charges against Dr. Khobragade, and didn’t get leave as often as she may have wanted it. For most Indians, this is not alarming. I have now heard people argue that it was not as if Ms. Richards was being beaten up and locked up somewhere without food.

True, she wasn't. And I can also see how this would appear to be fair treatment for most Indians, given that in recent months we have heard of cases of maids being sexually assaulted, beaten to death, beaten and locked up without food in bathrooms, by respected denizens of middle class India. As we routinely convert dollars in rupees, the fact that she earned about 25,000 INR per month seems like a king’s ransom. So indeed, the questions go, what is Ms. Richards complaining about?

In response to this, I looked at local wages in India, where for most States minimum wage per day for five hours and not per hour (as in the US), is less than $2.8 Many middle class Indians are not even aware of their State’s minimum wage legislations. Honestly, even the highest minimum wage rule in any Indian State is insufficient to provide a decent quality of life for a month. It is no surprise then that domestic workers are often also deeply indebted to their employers through loans, mostly given interest free.

Having stated that, the employment of lower classes in the households of middle class Indians has offered a variety of conditions in which domestic helpers find themselves. In the worst case there is abuse and in the best case, the employer becomes a benefactor for successive generations of the house help’s family.

As Kartikeya Date, an architecture student from UC Berkeley concerned about labour rights in both America and India has commented, “A simple test for a ‘decent wage’ is to ask if you can imagine living your life on that wage. If a maid makes Rs. 1,500 a month working 2 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no benefits, no weekends, and no formal medical care, then that is not a decent wage. It comes to Rs. 4,285 per month for a 40-hour workweek. The world's largest middle class is also going to employ the world's largest underclass of underpaid, overworked domestic labour (drivers, cooks, maids etc.). The fact of the matter is, that a middle class income does not allow us to hire someone just to help us get through our basic, day-to-day lives, without exploiting other people. We are able to exploit them because our exploitation is slightly less bad and even relatively emancipatory compared to what some of these people will suffer in their own homes.”

It is this pyramidal exploitation, which is patterned in the economic interaction between Dr. Khobragade and Ms. Richards. The diplomat doesn't get a decent wage and this enables/forces her to give her house help less than decent wage. The problem has arisen when Ms. Richards realised that she ought to be earning more and that she would not benefit as much by staying on in India with an entire family in service to diplomats.

Privilege and the Power Elite

In many ways, Ms. Richards’ rebellion against being in a perpetual position of gratitude to the middle classes for employing them is a wake-up call to middle class employers. And this, in my mind, is the crux of the public problem with her – that she seems thankless to Dr. Khobragade for her pay. Any way we look at it, none of this can provide an excuse for Dr. Khobragade’s actions. Ms. Richards acted to protect herself, as she has a right to, and reported a felony committed against the US state by an Indian citizen. The stature and personality of the person being charged has no bearing on her actions under the law.

The public expectation of better treatment may have some value given that the strip-search was unnecessary. However, we have to keep in mind that in the US this is standard procedure. We don't have to like it, but we have to deal with it! People of all ethnicities and all levels of class go through the prison system in the US and are treated in exactly the same way – from the Paris Hiltons to Bharara’s Wall Street honchos. Dr. Khobragade has herself said that she had “broken down” several times during the arrest, which may have caused the arresting officials to see her as a suicide risk, hence precipitating the search to divest her of any concealed item with which she could harm herself or others. We can broadly agree that we don’t like strip-searching, as a practice, and that it should be phased out with the introduction of body-scanning technology.

Essentially then, the Khobragade affair is not only at the intersection of international diplomacy, but is also rooted in a fundamental tussle between the middle class in India and their need to maintain privilege at the cost of keeping labour cheap either at home or overseas.

REFERENCES:

1. See Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “American Diary in Outlook, July 30, 2012. This piece can be found online at http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?281668.

2. The veneration of political power through wealth has been articulated by Amit Ahuja, Jasjeet Sekhon and Pradeep Chhibber in “Speaking Cash to Power”, Outlook, March 25, 2012. The article can be found online at http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?264856

3. See “The Politics of Exoneration”, available online at http://www.thehinducentre.com/the-arena/article5363909.ece

4. See full text at http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/December13/KhobragadeStatement.php.

5. See Pawan Verma’s “Stop Running on Faith”, available online at http://www.asianage.com/columnists/stop-running-faith-653

6. See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/nyregion/gilberto-valle-is-found-guilty-in-cannibal-case.html?_r=0

7. See http://www.indianexpress.com/news/our-indian-feudal-service/1210149/0

8. For a look at local minimum wage rates consult http://m.paycheck.in/main/salary/minimumwages

(Vasundhara Sirnate is Chief Coordinator of Research at The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy. She is also a Ph.D candidate in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley.)

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There are several learning points for me in this article: Vasundhara Sirnate is just biased; starts well - almost as if she is writing a college admission essay! but her analysis is incomplete, glorifying a few and denigrating others. What is the role of the US citizen Mr. Aakash Singh Rathore in the entire episode? Is he not equally liable for the actions in the household? and why is Ms. Vasundhara blissfully ignoring this aspect even when it is claimed to be a complete analysis! Why is there nearly no mention of the US committing a civil crime by buying 'tax-free' air tickets meant for US consulate staff enjoying diplomatic/consular immunity for the Indian citizen Mr. Richard and his child? How often, and how many of the officers of US Foreign service are committing similar and more heinous crimes in India and no action is taken.

from:  Padmin
Posted on: Jan 4, 2014 at 22:37 IST

The author is not fully aware of the issues. In USA and EU, country diplomats do not jump the line either in the shops or in the airport. They have to behave like you and me. For use of VIP room, they have to pay an amount of 160 euros. Only in third world countries all the diplomats, including the EU countries and the US, are given special passes. India also gives the same to all diplomats. So if you think Indian diplomats are given special privileges you are wrong. Mrs Richard was given an official passport for working as a support staff of the officer. She is de-facto a Government of India employee like the security staff posted in the Embassy in Washington. They are also issued official passport valid for the duration of their assignment. The security Guards are also not paid the US minimum wage. You can check this, I have checked it and it is a fact. Mrs Richard used Devyani to migrate to USA, cleverly misusing the the US law. USA has no right to arrest a Indian Officer. They will regret it.

from:  Mani
Posted on: Jan 4, 2014 at 09:43 IST

This article misses the point that diplomatic immunity is based on reciprocity and is pragmatic in nature. The Americans don't believe the Indians will retaliate. They are wrong. This is a case where a High Caste Khatri, Preet Bharara, has targeted a Dalit woman to humiliate her and cut her down to size. The strip searching has a cultural connotation - Draupadi vastraharanam - in the Indian context. With elections in the offing, Indian politicians can't afford to bend the knee to America. Furthermore, by arresting American consular officials, the American State Department will, in future, be quick to issue immunity certificates in cases involving Indians, including Sonia Gandhi. This is because certification of immunity is a pragmatic, not a legal matter, and American Supreme Court has recognized this. The Indian position should be that Preet Bhrarara and officials of the New Delhi Consulate conspired to defeat the jurisdiction of the Indian Supreme Court.

from:  Vivek Iyer
Posted on: Jan 4, 2014 at 05:16 IST

One would have hoped for better prosecutorial discretion for the New York attorney. The author is misguided in picking this episode as an example of the the middle class' arrogance. This episode is also a poor choice to highlight a country's cultural practices between the privileged and the poor. Plenty of other examples abound. Pitiful comments from Yashwant Sinha or removing security barricades near the US embassy in Delhi doesn't detract that this perhaps can be considered as a transgression and a major violation that perhaps is a bit common among consular officials of many countries. I don't disagree that a law was broken. Weeks have passed since the arrest and there haven't been any stories of systemic abuse of the maid. I do agree that had this been an official from Israel, Europe or perhaps Saudi Arabia, this would have been handled behind close doors. That should have applied even here.

from:  Srivatsan
Posted on: Jan 4, 2014 at 00:11 IST

The article is not balanced, especially Sangeeta Richards' story. I don't believe it is a simple case of maid exploitation. I don't believe the US would go to the extent of issuing special visas to her family in India and whisk her away to the US(for maid exploitation) and I demand an answer from the author as to how is it ok to have a foreign country bypass our sovereignty in the garb of misplaced justice (Khobragade is accused, not proven guilty). Khobragade and Sangeeta Richards are both Indian citizens and they should both be brought to trial here in India, not in the US. Preet Bharara may be the author's dark knight,but it is anyone's guess as to what would have happened if the diplomat in question were to be a Chinese or Russian or from European Union. The notion of privileged class exploiting the weaker sections is 100% true in India, but it is debatable under this context as the whole issue might be a proxy war for something much bigger.

from:  RaviKiran
Posted on: Jan 3, 2014 at 12:53 IST

This opinion piece (and it is that) started off on a good note, but lost me the moment the author went on a "I love you Bharara" dance. At that very moment, all objectivity ceased to exist

from:  Gautham
Posted on: Jan 3, 2014 at 11:52 IST

Article covers most of the facts but ignores bureaucratic personalities of Indian-born Americanized American bureaucrats and Indian national bureaucrats. The modern day communication methods have allowed both sides of bureaucrats create their own 'Public Relations'. The Indian citizens who are poor household servants are pawns in these bureaucrats brinkmanship. Hopefully both countries politically appoint highest level of foreign secretary/minister, who will be able to see through and correct the situation for all parties (in the national interest for both nations) including “Richards” family.

from:  Arvind
Posted on: Jan 3, 2014 at 11:09 IST

Good analysis, had to agree to the most. As an Indian-American I want to add this. We, US need to be sensitive to other countries and their cultures. If US does not do that, then US is slowly becoming an enemy to the rest of the world. Why do 9-11 scenarios happen? How do we avoid that to protect US? We have to be sensitive and not taking the law to the extreme always. So, by overdoing it US has made a mistake and hence has to pay a penalty. Apologies are not going to be good enough. Assuming the US does not want to drop charges, then monetary damages had to be paid to the diplomat. The diplomat and her family had played a bad part in the maid's case. Diplomat had to pay the damages to the maid to under paying. Then, for Visa fraud charges, US and India had to come together to work out things. It is not a complete fault of the diplomat; the Indian government had to take the fault for it and work with US to work out for future. Hence, the US government, the Indian government, and the diplomat are all at fault here equally.

from:  Chandra Gopal
Posted on: Jan 3, 2014 at 09:32 IST

Indian officials are on a shaky ground regarding this case and by the way they behave, they portray themselves as amateurs rather than confident professionals. They are becoming a mockery in the world stage.

from:  Venkat Bakthavachalam
Posted on: Jan 3, 2014 at 06:39 IST

Regarding the comment about Miss America, we should note that 3 or 4 people made the racist comments while millions of people supported and cheered her. Look how many people in US commented that President Obama is a Muslim and claim he is a terrorist. Same happens in India too. Many people are ignorant or sick enough to make inappropriate comments, whatever the situation may be. There were so many inappropriate comment made about Mother Teresa in India when she was alive. The article is well researched and written, bit a bit lengthy. I am not sure how our political leaders supporting the common working man or woman have stuck their head in the sand and ignored the plight of Ms Richards.

from:  rSrinivasan
Posted on: Jan 3, 2014 at 04:53 IST

1. Good analysis to state the obvious. 2. Would have been good if real analysis based on monetizing benefits of food, shelter and medical care given to Ms. Richards are taken into account. 3. The author forgets that in the Palo Alto area, most technology and high end professionals do not follow the 40-hour regime and do not get paid for the excess hours, do not get leave other than 9 days in a year, especially in the first five years, and get proportionate increases only after long service. 4. Most of the author's observations would be true right in Chennai, in the backyard of 'The Hindu', whether it is T. Nagar or Saidapet. 5. The author also forgets that Mr. Bharara was prevailed upon not to pursue equally grave charges against the Russians. 6. Agree that there is a "fundamental tussle between the middle class in India and their need to maintain privilege at the cost of keeping labour cheap either at home or abroad", but needs lot more cleaning up beginning with, say, Panagal Park.

from:  Blum
Posted on: Jan 3, 2014 at 02:56 IST

After reading your article, beheading and chopping of body parts in Saudi Arabia seems justified. US seems to question many countries of the world for human rights abuse, but have no problems in killing thousands of civilians in Pakistan with drone attacks. The brought down a country to doldrums by stating that they produced "weapons of mass destruction" but couldn't come up with a decent fire cracker and nobody questions this. The question here is not about applicability of US laws, but the purpose. Stripping a lady and feeling all over her including vital organs is simply barbaric for a civil crime. They should simply ban such laws applicability on Indians or any human being.

from:  Harikrishnan P.K
Posted on: Jan 2, 2014 at 18:15 IST

Good analysis but a bit lengthy/long winded. Indian society needs to come out of its middle-ages mindset and the exploited majority needs to wake up and overthrow the idiots that demand their privileges.

from:  Bonkim
Posted on: Jan 2, 2014 at 16:02 IST

The Power Elite of India are the birds of the same feather though they all take shelter behind the popular image of the `dirty politician’. I have been in the government and have seen how the non-elite working in the government offices most of the time are treated by the senior or the middle-range bureaucrats with heightened arrogance, rudeness and ruthless gall. Chutzpah of self-righteousness by a petty or middle-range bureaucrat in his/her office is seen on a daily basis. I am witness to hundreds of such instances in my 30 years of service where the insult and inefficiency is so common that one wonders what it is that lets the government run, or let it run in the manner it does. There are some good people too who can know the civil from the uncivil, but the standard operating practice in the Indian bureaucracy is that more inefficient or illiterate a bureaucrat is; more abusive, rude and self-destructive he becomes. It is the time people start speaking about it, and that hurts.

from:  Rohan K Anand
Posted on: Jan 2, 2014 at 13:32 IST

The crimes committed by Khobragade might be true, but the treatment by US Marshals Service is highly objectionable. There are many cases of US employers under paying foreign employees. Are all of them being treated and brought to court like this case? The article despite quoting the facts is more backing up misdeeds of US. There have been many accounts in which US has been clearly exposed as being racist. Miss America 2013 has also encountered racist comments and remarks. America cannot pretend about its supremacy with such irresponsible behaviour. Will it agree if its officials are treated the same way on a foreign soil? America on the first hand should apologise for the course of events which happened in this case and then can proceed with prosecution.

from:  Kalyan Guru Butte
Posted on: Jan 2, 2014 at 10:44 IST

It appears that this is a story of two individuals who desperately want to be in USA at any cost. The diplomat with two young children could have opted to stay back home and get all the cheap help she could get to take care of them. Instead she chose to go around the law to get the relatively cheap Indian labour. Richards on the other hand greedily signed the papers just to go to USA and find a way to permanently settle down there. By Indian standards she was very handsomely paid. It is very difficult for her to explain why she was accepting the so called unacceptable wages for a such a long time. She could have always thrown the towel and gone back to India. Instead she posed herself as a victim of a criminal act to get a permanent green card. Shame on these people. It should be known there are millions in India who would gladly do her job a fraction of what she was paid. If minimal age act for nearly $8 an hour is strictly enforced in India, there will be more joblessness.

from:  kumar
Posted on: Jan 2, 2014 at 07:37 IST

Excellent article that looks at bare facts rather than the emotions hyped around the situation.

from:  Prabhu
Posted on: Jan 2, 2014 at 03:41 IST

It is quite true that you have put light on other side of the coin, but going through your whole article as an essay on the issue, I could not make out what you are advocating? Your article sounds a contradiction of every point that you have tried to highlight. Your whole article was a conundrum to me. My only question to you would be (it's a hypothetical question but it says it all i have to convey here) is what could have been the US stance if the situation was vice-versa?

from:  abhishek
Posted on: Jan 2, 2014 at 00:27 IST

Excellent Article. I fully agree with the author. Ms. Khobragade seems to have the character of producing false documents (as in Adarsh Scam) and then asks for immunity!

from:  Sam Sen
Posted on: Jan 1, 2014 at 22:15 IST

Indians are outraged because of the frills provided to US consular officers in India. Let there be equal treatment and application of the rule of law. The author does not dwell much on the double standards of US authorities when protecting its consular officers employees deputed abroad, it's a known fact that they double time as spies acting with absolute impunity. The author seems to be an 'Alice in US land', confused and verbose.

from:  Yuvi
Posted on: Jan 1, 2014 at 16:39 IST

"If Dr. Khobragade, earned less than 5,000 USD per month, how could she possibly pay her maid 4,500 USD, goes the counter-factual argument." There are lots of people in US and other western countries earning less than 5,000 USD per month. They pay tax on this income and look after their families with young kids without any house maids. Dr. Khobragade's salary should not be a factor to sympathise with her. I have travelled through US airports several times recently as a transit passenger and gone through these searches.These searches are very common after 9/11. I always wonder whether these so called random searches produce any benefit at all to US. Why people like Dr. Khobragade make big fuss about these searches rather than fighting the accusations in the court? Is it because they think that they deserve better than an ordinary fellow? I feel the Indian public should demand apologies from the parliamentarians/ministers for their stand and comments made in this issue.

from:  S.R.Sivasubramaniam
Posted on: Jan 1, 2014 at 10:47 IST

Excellent insights. There have been a few positive fall-outs of these events. Bringing these inherent structural inequities in India to fore; bringing into focus the politics of power and privilege regardless of whether one is a Dalit or not; forcing our spineless government and bureaucracy to stand up to US on a quid pro quo basis. Wonder how long this will resolve last! From one angle, I am rather happy that a consular officer/ diplomat is being treated like a common person. As being an Indian living aboard, I have had fairly disagreeable experiences with this breed. You feel so unwelcome in your own embassy in a foreign land. But that's another story.

from:  Lala
Posted on: Jan 1, 2014 at 02:58 IST

I am against overwork and house abuse(house abuse isn't the case here) but not in support of current USA's minimum wage to be applied to maids in embassies from developing countries. Also, perhaps they can meet the current USA's minimum wage benchmark with calculating expense of other allowances given to the diplomats or to their maids. I heard someone saying that they have fixed direct salary to be of USA's minimum wage for a reason along with other allowances(without any allowance, they would be considered slaves). But here I think more allowances are provided and in THIS type of case, a new minimum wage should be fixed along with a number of allowances, or expenses of allowances should be considered. There should be no question of exploitation as the maid comes in agreement with unanimous amount of salary and allowances.

from:  Kshitish
Posted on: Dec 31, 2013 at 21:56 IST

Good article! 1) I wonder how many of your local politicians have you met in Berkeley? Have you seen the mayor of Berkeley or the Governor of California standing in line (behind you)? Sure you saw Mark Zuckerberg "being ordinary". However, where does he live? Does he not isolate himself by where he lives? He is literally buying his neighborhood for his privacy. 2) Also, Devyani obviously likes the US, otherwise why would she be a permanent resident, and as such she should have the decency to live by the laws of the country she wants to be a resident of (apart from being a diplomat). The US should revoke her residency, drop her charges and make her leave never to return.

from:  Hari das
Posted on: Dec 31, 2013 at 20:54 IST

To paint a picture that US is flat in terms of social diversity is simply not true. Economically, USA most definitely isn't flat.Reason being wealth accumulating corporations and high classes without sufficient wealth redistribution. This being the result of the author's limited American experience. USA has tougher labour & other laws. It doesn't mean all are treated equally or all USA laws arecorrect/superior/righteous than it can be. It also doesn't mean USA laws can always be uni-applicable. I doubt if it's really correct to apply the USA law(in it's present form) in this(Khobragade's) case. Many diplomats from developing countries(India included) work in their embassies in USA at less than the so called USA's minimum wage. Should we say that these diplomats are being exploited? We can't.

from:  Kshitish
Posted on: Dec 31, 2013 at 20:46 IST

You can't expect Obama to stand in a queue ,can you? It's the same thing with chief ministers here.

from:  roy
Posted on: Dec 31, 2013 at 18:43 IST

The author of this article has given a factual position of this whole episode and, really, the maid is the victim. US authorities may have acted in this way for the fear of her taking a serious action as she broke down many times. Sad. Women's rights should be protected even if she is poor. Politics spoils everything in the east.

from:  dr mushtaq
Posted on: Dec 31, 2013 at 18:20 IST

I think its very easy to justify through facts and figures that india has highest no. of labour exploitation cases. But I have seen many real life incidents on SAVDHAN INDIA, a TV show, about how some maids employed at houses of affluent people create a trap by falsely complaining of harassment, underpaid or overworked, etc. So, you need to be pragmatic and practical, taking both sides equally, it's not that if someone is a labourer, he/she is very innocent and the most honest person to be born on this earth . So, I feel more than a researcher or a historian, a lawyer would do a better job in ensuring justice. But let's not forget labour can also take undue advantage of the labour laws. In the end, I would just want to ask, how do you justify the strip search of Devyani Khobragade in this case?

from:  PARUL KUDAWLA
Posted on: Dec 31, 2013 at 14:44 IST

Ms.Vasundhara, While I agree with many social aspects of Indian society which you have mentioned and explained meticulously, you have completely missed the cowboy and arrogant culture of Americans in this case. It is humility that Indians did not question the charges as the case is in the court, whereas Preet Bharara has issued arrest order when a case is pending against Ms.Sangeetha in an Indian High court for blackmail and harassment since June. You have missed the important aspect that Ms.Sangeeta has stuck a deal with Preet for green card and flight tickets to her family in exchange of prosecuting Devyani. Since her entire family was working for various embassies in New Delhi and telling that she realized her rights while in USA is completely off mark and premature, you could have done more research on Sangeeta's backgound. And please don't glorify Preet Bharara and the American justice system; American system is heavily retribution driven.

from:  Prashant Yadav
Posted on: Dec 31, 2013 at 10:57 IST

This is the ultimate analysis of the episode. Deserves much publicity in India where the common man is misled.

from:  Rangarajan
Posted on: Dec 31, 2013 at 06:50 IST

Department of Labor has clearly differentiated wages based on different job positions held for the domestic and foreign workers. For example, the HR policy of targetting Walmart stores. Similarly, the HR Policy on Abuses were exhibited by the Motorola Case, the Nike Case with overseas workers living in the slums of Mumbai, and child labourers in Indonesia respectively. However, the Employers in USA circumvent it. For example, violations of H1B speciality workers. Study: The baby sitters are qualified and certified, they have few privileges such as recommendations for the speech therapy, the cognitive development, the emotional, the physical activity, the musical. The chain of work force and value addition is just cascading for the child and it is funded by US federal, it is absolutely free. It is initiated by the social worker or baby sitter, and they add to their resume of high profile baby sitting. Whenever the value chain is broken, we can see these kind of indirect or direct disturbances.

from:  Krishna
Posted on: Dec 30, 2013 at 12:49 IST

I feel the article is biased to an extent where the author tries to portray Preet Bharara as a hero, which he is not as he was not able to convict Russian diplomats who had committed the same crime as Devyani, and the US had even hushed it up by granting them diplomatic immunity. The whole uproar is not about Devyani getting arrested, it is about the double standards US employs in treating other country's diplomats. I completely concur with the author when she says that Devyani should be prosecuted, but I simply can't understand how the author missed how US bypassed Indian judicial system and whisked Sangeeta's family away by granting them privileged visas and how the US had made light of the complaint that Sangeeta was missing and their unwillingness to track her. The notion that US society is more equal when compared to its Indian counterparts citing an example of Zuckerberg mingling with the crowd is laughable!! Even a reputed Indian CEO can do that!!

from:  RaviKiran
Posted on: Dec 30, 2013 at 12:25 IST

I do agree with some of the points made in the article. But the author is very much biased in portraying US as the saviour of human rights in the world. What US has done in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Iran, Gitmo and now Syria is very well known. Where was US's human rights activism in these cases? Are only US citizens humans? US is the biggest violator of human rights in the world. It is part of their foreign policy. Yes, India is not the one to talk about human rights. But the same applies for US too. US does all the manipulation and arm-twisting and takes advantages over other countries' human rights situation. Their businessmen make windfall profits in countries with cheap labour. But when it comes their citizens, it's all different. Coming to the article, what Ms. Khobragade did was wrong, and she did break the law in the country where she is residing. And she needs to be punished for that. But the judgmental writings of this author about the Indian-middle class as a whole is unacceptable.

from:  Karthikaeyan C.M.
Posted on: Dec 30, 2013 at 09:57 IST

It seems that Devyani took the "path of least resistance" when filing for her maid's visa application. Apparently Devyani and the IFS lobby is aware of the wage laws of the USA, but instead of negotiating the domestic help wage deal through the administrative channel with USA, the IFS servants chose to "tweak" the papers and made it a "norm". Devyani is one of the followers of this shrewd practice. As for whether Devyani would be able to pay the US minimum wage, the answer is, maybe. Besides her salary, she has income from "other sources", some of which are cited in her own tax returns. In industry, employer reimburses the authorized baseline expenses. Should the employee choose to spend above the baseline, the employee pays the difference.

from:  Jodu
Posted on: Dec 29, 2013 at 21:40 IST

The article tries to give a balanced view, but misses the point that US diplomats around the world seek to be above law, case in point is the special cards for diplomats in India to clear airport security, special import permissions etc. How can we forget the incident in Pakistan in which US citizens allegedly working for CIA without full diplomatic immunity were not allowed to face the law of the land, a deal was brokered (though claimed to be with in law) to fly him out. Why isn't there any additional detail on the criminal case filed against Sageeta Richards and her family in India. Why isn't anyone questioning Ministry of External Affairs about this to come clean? Sangeetha is going to find it difficult to live in the US if she is gunning for $9.75/hr minimum wage. She will be dependent on the government provided medical and other benefits adding burden to tax payers in the US.

from:  Vee Mani
Posted on: Dec 29, 2013 at 21:34 IST

This article is too long, and confuses the readers. I see the following points. The US prosecutor has acted unfairly by charging the diplomat with false statements on visa application instead of charging her with underpayment and overworking a maid. The maid could have returned home, but her goal was to migrate to the US, which by itself is not criminal. Her charges of being overworked and underpaid sounds mostly correct based on how Indians treat household servants - even good families. The diplomat used her father's connections to issue a non-bailable warrant on the maid. Why? The maid has not killed anyone. India has not promised a fair treatment for the maid and her family. Indian government has not promised to make inquiries into the working conditions of maids employed by diplomats. So a little more pressure on the Indian diplomat and the Indian Government by the US is appropriate since the Indian government has not shown any inclination to play fair except fight for its privileged.

from:  Ramu
Posted on: Dec 29, 2013 at 21:08 IST

Ms. Sirnate writes: The world's largest middle class is also going to employ the world's largest underclass of underpaid, overworked domestic labour (drivers, cooks, maids etc.). The fact of the matter is that a middle class income does not allow us to hire someone just to help us get through our basic, day-to-day lives, without exploiting other people. Perhaps her position at the Hindu Centre makes her resort to euphemisms when describing the fate of most of the Indian working class, marked as they are by all kinds of medieval-isms like caste, age, gender, region, colour, etc. The reality is much more prosaic - a society permanently condemned to reproducing the deeply rooted mindsets, practices and institutions of slavery, accompanied by limitless doses of inhumanity, violence and sadism . No wonder we do so well in the Global Slavery Index. The US businessman she mentions in her opening lines, has a sordid track record and we know that he mints billions selling people's privacy.

from:  Cyrus P
Posted on: Dec 29, 2013 at 17:08 IST

The anger of the Indian public seems to have been fanned by inaccurate media accounts of the circumstances surrounding her arrest. Indian politicians expectedly jumped on this opportunity to garner sympathy by portraying this as another example of US arrogance and poor treatment of minorities and women. Suddenly, not condemning Devyani's arrest is seen as unpatriotic, sexist or even racist (Devyani belongs to the Dalit caste, a traditionally lower caste). Everyone has conveniently forgotten that both parties in this unfortunate incident are Indian women. Emotions aside, the arrest and strip search that followed were probably unwarranted. This was a routine civil matter with no immediate threat to either party. The deputy counsel of the embassy of an important US ally should have been handled with more tact and the detention in New York courthouse cell, which was the cause of the strip search, could have been avoided given her passport had already been confiscated.

from:  otherminority
Posted on: Dec 29, 2013 at 12:19 IST

Kudos to the writer for her unbiased and authentic analysis of Dr. Devyani episode in the US. She could correct many distorted facts played up by sections of Indian media, diplomats and politicians interpreting the entire episode as an attack against Indian ethos, patriotism and culture. As rightly commented by the writer, US has once again proved that nobody is above law in US jurisprudence, despite the dominating role of elites in the country's affairs. It is quite astonishing as why there was so much hue and cry in India on this issue when the Vienna Convention and other protocols specifically enunciate the 'consular immunity'. Why does the media and political class misconstrue the episode under the canons of''diplomatic immunity' and keep silence on crucial issues like denial of minimum wages to domestic hands abroad? Why do they make mountain out of molehill on 'strip searches' when we have any number of sad incidents of 'encounter killings' or 'custodial deaths?

from:  K V Thomas
Posted on: Dec 28, 2013 at 22:58 IST

Dr.Vasundhara is silent about the fact that the US diplomats decided to bring the domestic's family to the USA without taking government of India into confidence. It is silent about reciprocal rights - why should US diplomats in India be treated any differently from Indian diplomats in US. Is a strip search of a lady really necessary? Indian immigrants and permanent residents are poor choices to comment on their issue. And the silence of the Indian community in US on this issue itself makes statement. Let's call a spade a spade - strip searching a lady is not required and should not be done - whether it is done by Americans or non-Americans, legal or not.

from:  rajan
Posted on: Dec 28, 2013 at 22:12 IST

The writer has explicitly brought out different aspect of the case. However, she has missed the point that Ms. Khobragade was not merely a deputy consul general in NYC , but also a temporary advisor to India's UN Mission which accords her diplomatic immunity. However, I cannot really confirm the veracity of information in the letter's spirit, as it may be a stealth legal move by Indian elites to safeguard her completely. The whole sequence emerges as Power game of relativity. A nation(the US) has chosen to arrest a powerful person(Power Elite) of a Foreign land (India), that too for a crime which would not even entail a registration of FIR in almost all police stations in India. However, the US has very often set examples by following the law in letter & spirit and has a track record for upholding law of land and not budging even an inch, even if the accused were so called Power Elites. Will India react similarly if the accused in question was an employee of an Indian multi-national corporation??

from:  Gaurav
Posted on: Dec 28, 2013 at 19:49 IST

I fear all of those who support Sangeeta will eventually be made to eat humble pie as it seems she and her family connived with the US. Wait till the actual truth comes out.

from:  Rathish
Posted on: Dec 28, 2013 at 19:21 IST

Many points are well understood. Minimum wage for domestic helper in New York is $9 per hour. So 9*8*25=$1800 per month. This will be very much appreciated if the author as American resident could state the minimum decent wage prescribed for diplomats and consulate officers in New York. If so, how much? Who has to pay them? Are there any criminal cases by the NY laws to the employer of diplomats? Are their salaries anywhere near to teens of silicon valleys?

from:  ganguly
Posted on: Dec 28, 2013 at 17:19 IST

Nice post. Just that there should be some way for us to stop the pics from moving automatically so it can be seen closely.

from:  Debasish Ray Chawdhuri
Posted on: Dec 28, 2013 at 17:19 IST

Ms.Vasundara Sirnate seems to miss the point here by extolling the virtues of Preet Bharara in a long winding narrative aimed at explaining "standard procedure". The technical points of consular or diplomatic immunity and felony used by Americans and quoted by authors like Ms. Sirnate are just to defend the indefensible actions of the New York marshals strip searching an Indian foreign service officer. The unwritten and the written clearly indicates that foreign service officers should not be touched by the host country unless the crime is grave like mass murder. Why I say mass murder is because US nationals have got away with murder under the cover of diplomatic immunity and the author should know who they are. The only Indians who support the American action are the dollar crazy software professionals, US crazy students and dollar fattened NRIs who fear that their visa/green card prospects will be affected by reciprocal retaliatory action. I hope the author is not one among them.

from:  C Balachander
Posted on: Dec 28, 2013 at 15:15 IST

It is not a "fundamental tussle between the middle class in India and their need to maintain privilege at the cost of keeping labour cheap" It is being made out to be so to distract from the actual fundamental issue, that of Indo-US relations and US high-handedness.

from:  Tarun Khanna
Posted on: Dec 28, 2013 at 02:10 IST

This is not about the law but about Indo-US relations and geopolitics.

from:  Tarun Khanna
Posted on: Dec 28, 2013 at 01:55 IST


A really good article looking at bare facts. But I do not agree with the author as far as how the United States is portrayed as such a fair nation. The Power Elite rule in the US as well. India is far better in social setting. We have our slums, our middle class and the elite that co-exist in an agreeable fashion, not necessarily a fair one. Due the US, slums exist in Mexico, middle classes exist in India and China, etc. To paint a picture that US is flat in terms of socio-economic diversity is simply not true.

from:  Aravind
Posted on: Dec 27, 2013 at 21:47 IST

Vasundhara has put the issue in the right perspective. There was an avoidable uproar when the Indian diplomat is clearly in the wrong. There was yet another case, Adarsh scam in Mumbai, where also this diplomat provided a false certificate to acquire a flat when she already had one elsewhere in Mumbai! Instead of wasting time in defending wrong-doers, diplomats or officers or politicians, the Government would do well to provide domestic helps for diplomats with young children and subsidise their wages while recovering a part of the expenditure from the employers. Wisdom lies in recognising the problem and solving it rather than evading it or defending the wrong-doer on some ground or the other!

from:  anjaneya reddy
Posted on: Dec 27, 2013 at 06:30 IST

This is an excellent analysis of the facts and probable causes for the outcomes, and I am inclined to agree with the author's assertions, particularly her conclusion. The global slavery index for 2013 places India as the country with the highest number of slaves, at a mind-boggling 14 million. Consider too that there are thousands of Indian workers in middle-eastern countries who are bonded labourers. I haven't seen outrage directed at these numbers and the plight of these millions. I haven't even seen outrage for allegedly equal treatment to be meted out to all Indian nationals abroad, in every country, not just the USA. How wrong would it be to ask if Khobragade is guilty of human trafficking and to use her case to highlight the issue? How ironic that she is a deputy consul general for Economic and Women's affairs? Mass hysteria has been whipped up among the masses to preserve the status quo of inequality which ultimately protects only the few who have cause for concern over her arrest.

from:  Antony
Posted on: Dec 27, 2013 at 02:45 IST

3000 words to argue loosely that minimum wages are Iow, really? The author assumes that only the upper class exploit the lower class - how very unreal! She quotes Mani Shankar without giving any attention to the fact that the US is a very hierarchical society - probably for the same reasons Mani Shankar alludes to. Perhaps the only place where this does not exist are universities - the limit of the author's American experience. She goes on about the perception on strip searches in different cultures. Does she really expect Indian to feel the same way as the pygmies or as the Americans do about strip searches let alone reason it out.
when one is going through a rather public arrest? Culture set aside, stripping people is degrading no matter
what the reason.....I expected more on this rather delicate matter!!
Finally, min wage is a bench mark. Eventually the market decides the wage and with suitable paperwork and
records the arrangement can be legal and binding.

from:  Amitav
Posted on: Dec 27, 2013 at 01:20 IST
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