Devyani Khobragade was a mid-level consular official in NYC who was arrested at her child's school, handcuffed, and processed by authorities. She was subjected to a strip search and (it is alleged) a cavity search. 

The accusation: She cheated her Indian nanny by paying far less than the minimum wage. She allegedly paid her maid only about $3.50 figured on a 40 hour week. However, it's also alleged that the maid worked as many as 100 hours per week. She's also charged with preparing false VISA documents for the maid, which may technically be the more serious charge.

Last Sunday, Fareed Zakaria—a CNN commentator and Indian whose hour-long Sunday show I always try to catch—explained that in India, misrepresenting facts on official documents is a universal way of dealing with corrupt or overly-officious government officials. He called the situation a "culture clash."

Zakaria also argued that, despite its recent economic advances, which have given it an affluent middle class, India remains a poor country. The implication being that Khobragade couldn't really afford to pay her nanny anything like an American fair wage.

What Zakaria seems to have overlooked or ignored is the fact that Khobragade comes from a prominent, powerful, and monied family. She, in fact, co-owns two apartment blocks in India with her father, who seems to leave corruption allegations wherever he goes. 

It certainly seems that Khobragade could have afforded to pay the legal wage out of her own pocket, even if the consular service wouldn't pay it, 

The prosecutor behind the arrest is an Indian-American named Preet Bharara is viewed in India as an Uncle Tom who wants to prove how American he is due to his political ambitions.

As so often happens when some official on any level of government does something, overseas it is attributed to "the US government." So, many commentators portray this as something fomented by the Obama administration. In fact, US prosecutors, even on the Federal level, are insulated from interference from above. It is the same in India, so shame on them for not realizing this. Obama and the State Department have no more influence over the prosecutor than do you and I.

In case you are wondering, a mid-level consular official has only limited diplomatic immunity according to international agreements. The immunity extends only to deeds done in relation to Khobragade's official duties. I hinted in the first paragraph that she "was" a mid-level consular official. India solved her problem on their end by promoting Khobragade to a UN position with full immunity. 

Obama and Sec'y of State Kerry have expressed regret and, in the case of Kerry, an apology. In India, this is a very big thing which is stirring anti-Americanism. It may drive India away from India and into the arms of Russia or other countries we don't regard as allies (though not China, which is India's main economic competitor in Asia).

What is your opinion? Have I missed anything important? Does this situation mean anything for Indian-American relations? Should it ever have reached this level?

Tags: Devyani, India, Khobragade, diplomatic, immunity

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Why no concern in India for her mistreatment of the nanny?

I was wondering the same although in a bigger picture of class clash. Not knowing enough about India, my first assumption is that the middle class must be large enough to be influential, and traditionally stingy wrt paying for services from lower classes. I also assume their media is playing up political controversy before elections, and enabling a cultural backlash against recent, pro-woman (i.e. anti-rape) activism. Maybe an Indian version of Rush Limbaugh's anti-"feminazi" scripts?

After all, there are larger, shared issues at stake, right? Relationships with Pakistan, trade, intelligence wrt terrorism, maritime piracy and oil security? (Tell me if asking things about the bigger picture is too tangential, here.)

With the dissolution of the caste system, I think India took to the Western notion of economic classes. You may not know that Khobragade herself is a Dalit and a member of the former "untouchables" caste.

One of the perks of the caste system was a huge oversupply of poor exploitable poor who would work long hours for very little money as virtual slaves, and they'd be expected to be grateful for being exploited. Their happiness was not important because their condition was their lot in life.  

The lack of interest in India for the nanny Sangeeta would seem to be evidence of this.

Interesting, thanks.

A little like our 'Temp.' population....

"Federal prosecutors don't take their orders from President Obama and President Obama can't really intervene in a Federal prosecution. He doesn't have the autocratic power of a Vladimir Putin."

"About all Obama and Secretary Kerry can do is apologize. Doing a tit for tat with American diplomats and consular officials will just make a bad situation worse, since there isn't much anyone can do about the prosecution."

But why should this matter to India? Just because the US government cannot interfere in the judicial process I don't think India should be expected to abandon her diplomat, leaving her in the mercy of US law officials.

This matter shouldn't have gone to the Justice system in the first place, this should have been fixed in the diplomatic level itself. As I have said earlier, the intended or unintended failure of the US State department to inform their counterparts in the Indian embassy is the very reason for this whole mess. This is not just an error, if you look at it from a broader perspective this is a huge huge mistake. Because the next time a US diplomat breaks a law in India , I don't think Indian foreign services department will take the time to inform the US embassy etc.. etc.. Before they know it, the diplomat would end up in Indian prison and believe me, getting someone out of the Indian judicial system is as hard as getting someone out of the US judicial system.

Diplomacy works on reciprocity. This is nothing about Tit for Tat. The withdrawal of priviledges enjoyed by US diplomats in India is based on reciprocity. What's unfair about this? India is giving the same priviledges to US diplomats whatever Indian diplomats get in the US. Nothing more and nothing less. Everything is in accordance with the Vienna convention.

So far Indian diplomats had to go through public lanes and body checks in US Airports while US diplomats and their families were given a seperate quick lane and were given no security checks in Indian Airports. Now the only change is that US diplomats and their families will have to take the same lanes Indian public takes, and have to go through the same security checks. I don't see anything unfair going on in this.

 

 

 

 

"I understand that you have similar laws in India (I'm assuming you are Indian), so it's puzzling that you persist in describing this incident as somehow a US government thing (by which you seem to mean the Obama administration and/or reflects an official top-level attitude toward India),."

Yes we do have laws in India. One such law states that homosexuality is a crime punishable by a heavy prison sentence. (I have nothing against homosexuals nor am I a fan of this law). Another fact is that there are a number of US homosexual diplomats and their partners stay in India. Under Indian law they will face years of prison sentence but India so far has given a blind eye.

Further it has come to light that US embassy, their staff were involved in a number of commercial activities which are illegal under Indian laws. Some of these are crimes punishable by prison sentence.

The reason why Indian police or judicial services haven't taken any steps so far (before this mess) was due to the fact that they were diplomats, friends from a foreign state. In India too, the judicial service is a separate entity and not part of the government. I would say, the judicial services and police in India are much matured compared to the judicial system and law enforcement agencies in the US, because unlike the latter, the Indian authorities, before taking decisions, have always considered the interest of all parties, the relationship status of the two countries etc., their view on the issue had a wide angle. Even though they were separate from the government their actions were based on national interest and the future of Indian relationship with the US. (I can tell you when it comes to aggressively going after law offenders Indian law enforcement and the judicial services are no less than their counterparts in the US.)

On the other hand the US judicial system and the law enforcement were acting in an immature way, as if they were kids reading instructions from a manual and acting upon it. (the irony is that they might have misread the manual according to the latest reports their could be flaws in the way they have acted, we need to wait for confirmation though) No human intelligence or reasoning were used, they were acting like machines or a predator going after a prey. I am not saying this to insult friends from US or not underestimating the authorities, but saying that their lack of maturity (may be this whole mess is deliberately created, I don't know) might have damaged a vital friendship with an ally.

The point is that, the lack of coordination between the State department and the Judicial services of US or the problem resulting from this, is not a concern for India. India deals in the diplomatic level, if their diplomatic counterparts cannot fix this issue for India, then I believe they cannot expect the same from India if / when it happens to one of them, further it would tell India, how much value US gives to this friendship and Indian stance on the US could/will change based on that. It is either that or somehow US should/will find a way to so solve this issue, dealing with their judicial system and considering national interest.

 

...why does it matter how Indians treat their servants? I am not saying all Indian servants are abused, but my point is, (for the sake of argument) even if every single indian domastic labourer is treated very badly, even if India is the worst country in terms of human rights violations, what does it have to do with Indians trying to fight for thier diplomat when they think she/he was mistreated? Why is it wrong for India to retaliate when India thinks, India is not given what it it supposed to get? Ad Hominem !

I don't criticize Indians for supporting Khobragade, I criticize them for not caring about an allegedly exploited nanny. But you ask, why does it mattery how Indians treat their servants? It does matter, but perhaps not to the Khobragade case. But it matters just the same. One thing holding back India's growth is the lack of spending power of the vast majority of Indians, who are desperately poor. They can't spend money until they get money. Simple economics.

Even if the diplomat has commited the said crime, How can the US arrest and detain a represantiative of India without informing the Indian embassy?

My understanding is that the consul WAS informed ahead of time that the arrest would happen. I don't know how far in advance. Probably not so far in advance that he could interfere in the arrest

Our problem is, we don't want US to judge or try to punish one of our represantative when she is in the US on official duty. No country wants their diplomat to stand trial or to be punished in a foreign country where she was offically on duty. US private contractor in Pakistan, the diplomat who killed someone in Kenya etc... were diplomatically cloaked by US and flown out of the countries where they were set to stand trial.

Here we are back to the question of how much immunity she had. In the case of Pakistan and Kenya you mentioned, I suspect that the problem was distrust of their particular justice systems and/or some evidence that the charges were being trumped up in order to create political pawns. You don't seem to recognize that there are Americans in jails in many foreign countries, from Canada to Bolivia to Thailand and assuredly in India as well. So, you are cherry picking particular anomalous cases and pretending they are standard operating procedure for the US government.

Women's rights groups and other human rights workers continue to ask, "Why is this all about Khobragade? Why no concern in India for her mistreatment of the nanny?"

If the nanny was mistreated then, poor her, India will try her best to seek justice for the nanny, but it will happen only in INDIA !

We'll see what happens when Khobragade is returned to India. She won't do any prison time in the US, I can assure you of that, even if convicted. The administration wants to get this behind them as soon as possible, I assure you. 

US media and people fail to understand that in so many instances in the past for crimes/accusations far worse than this, US has done the same, what India is trying to do now. 

Well, actually, the last time I can remember the US public caring much about the treatment of US diplomats by other governments was way way back when Iran under Ayatolla Khomeini kidnapped and held almost the entire American delegation as prisoners for over a year.

"Now, I recently  read this article. You might want to do so as well. I give you the first two paragraphs. Your comments appreciated:"

If you want my comment on the said article I can give you my honest comment which will be very long. My agreement on the article is mixed, positive and negative.

But my friend, why does it matter how Indians treat their servants? I am not saying all Indian servants are abused, but my point is, (for the sake of argument) even if every single indian domastic labourer is treated very badly, even if India is the worst country in terms of human rights violations, what does it have to do with Indians trying to fight for thier diplomat when they think she/he was mistreated? Why is it wrong for India to retaliate when India thinks, India is not given what it it supposed to get?  Ad Hominem !

Even if the diplomat has commited the said crime, How can the US arrest and detain a represantiative of India without informing the Indian embassy?Our problem is, we don't want US to judge or try to punish one of our represantative when she is in the US on official duty. No country wants their diplomat to stand trial or to be punished in a foreign country where she was offically on duty. US private contractor in Pakistan, the diplomat who killed someone in Kenya etc... were diplomatically cloaked by US and flown out of the countries where they were set to stand trial.

Women's rights groups and other human rights workers continue to ask, "Why is this all about Khobragade? Why no concern in India for her mistreatment of the nanny?"

 

Becaue that's how diplomacy works! India is no exception, every country on the planet will do the same regardless of the nature of the accusation of their diplomat.

If the nanny was mistreated then, poor her, India will try her best to seek justice for the nanny, but it will happen only in INDIA !.

US media and people fail to understand that in so many instances in the past for crimes/accusations far worse than this, US has done the same, what India is trying to do now. Do you think Americans and American media supports the killing of inncoent civilians, just because the US flew the private contractor and the diplomat out of Pakistan and Kenya? (There are a number of other instances as well). I remember Americans and the US media giving all their support to bring back these guys who had violated laws in foreign country.

At the end of the day it all comes down to,

how much value this friendship between India and US has. How much committed the two countries are. A relationship without mutual respect and trust will not last long. Perhaps this new relationship between the two countries was never meant to last long. This incidence is seen by Indians as a lack of commitment and respect by the US.

The events happening in the world for the past decade and the change in US foreign policies were the reasons what brough US, India closer. In a way US was forced to get closer to India (because of common interests such as anti terrorism, anti china etc) and India happily accepted. But the culture difference between the two countries was huge. Further India is a natural ally of Russia, the relationship goes back to Soviet era. Indians and Russians are culturally very close, when it comes to respect, honour, hospitality. So as you've said in your article, India might stregnten her relationship with Russia, Iran (Iran is a close friend India too).

May be it is better that way for both US and India

 

 

 

At the end of the day it all comes down to,

how much value this friendship between India and US has. How much committed the two countries are. A relationship without mutual respect and trust will not last long. Perhaps this new relationship between the two countries was never meant to last long. This incidence is seen by Indians as a lack of commitment and respect by the US.

Yeah, well, as is your habit, you continue to view this mess as somehow reflective of US policy. Until you realize that this has nothing to do with US policy or attitudes toward India, you can't really understand the situation. India is a valuable ally, but unfortunately it's impossible, not to mention illegal, for Obama or The State Department to interfere with a prosecution.

You don't seriously believe Obama wanted this to happen, do you? What motive could there be?

The events happening in the world for the past decade and the change in US foreign policies were the reasons what brough US, India closer. In a way US was forced to get closer to India (because of common interests such as anti terrorism, anti china etc) and India happily accepted. But the culture difference between the two countries was huge. Further India is a natural ally of Russia, the relationship goes back to Soviet era. Indians and Russians are culturally very close, when it comes to respect, honour, hospitality. So as you've said in your article, India might stregnten her relationship with Russia, Iran (Iran is a close friend India too).

You've just wonderfully outlined why this situation with Khobragade didn't come down from the top and in no way reflects US policy. Why can't you get that through your head?

I missed Fareed's show last week <-- audio link. His India segment starts 21 minutes in.

(Here's the FeedBurner link to all his audio podcasts.)

Btw, tomorrow (CNN tv channel, Sunday, Dec 29, 10am & 1pm ET) Fareed's show will be "India at a Crossroads".

I saw Fareed's show last Sunday. He made two points about the case: 1) that despite its economic progress, it is still a poor country (yeah, but Khobragade isn't poor) and 2) that in India lying on forms is a way of dealing with corrupt and overly officious bureaucrats (a big problem in India), so part of Khobragade's problem is a culture clash.

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