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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- This is not about her caste, class or gender. She is a representative of India on official duty. Regardless of their class, caste, gender, religion, race everyone in India is raged of her arrest. At this point in time, Indians actually don't even give a damn about the accusation on her nor if she's guilty or not. The first thing which concerns us is the fact that she was arrested before the Indian embassy was informed. This is not only an insult but also a threat to Indian diplomats in the US.

How would Americans feel if India arrests their homosexual diplomats put them on trial which could give them a decade of prison sentence? (For the sake of argument)

Why is it that when the US intervene in the Pakistani murder case and save the US national (Who had zero immunity)  it is called, saving a fellow American, but when India tries to do the same people see all these Caste, Class issues? Why cant it be India trying to save her diplomat?

I seriously don't get why people can't understand the genuine reason behind India defending her diplomat. It's not class or caste or anything else. This is a matter of national interest for India.

Not only India but almost all 3rd world countries and many countries across the world in all continents have agreed with Indian reactions and demand. Even India's arch rival Pakistan 's media have praised India for standing up against the US hypocrisy. it must be mentioned that even Pakistan has never treated an Indian diplomat in such an atrocious way. This whole incident itself is seen as a great example of US hypocrisy and double standards in diplomacy, human rights, labor laws etc.

Like one Indian diplomat had mentioned, times have changed. You cannot bully everyone forever.

 

 

- This is not about her caste, class or gender. She is a representative of India on official duty. Regardless of their class, caste, gender, religion, race everyone in India is raged of her arrest. At this point in time, Indians actually don't even give a damn about the accusation on her nor if she's guilty or not. The first thing which concerns us is the fact that she was arrested before the Indian embassy was informed. This is not only an insult but also a threat to Indian diplomats in the US.

I never said it was about her caste, class, or gender, did I? Not all representatives of India on official duty can claim full diplomatic immunity and are thus expected to obey US laws just like Americans visiting or working in other countries are expected to obey their laws. It is alleged she also has full diplomatic immunity through a job in the UN. If this proves to be the case through documentation, a judge will lift the charges against her and she will likely be expelled to India. As for the prosecutor, he can only go on the information he has. It appears that if her work for the UN started before the arrest and wasn't fabricated ex post facto, she is immune from prosecution. Time will tell. She has an excellent lawyer.

How would Americans feel if India arrests their homosexual diplomats put them on trial which could give them a decade of prison sentence? (For the sake of argument)

Is homosexuality illegal in India? I didn't know that. FYI, Khobragade is unlikely even if convicted to serve a lengthy sentence because once the legal process is over, she can be pardoned. She would most likely be expelled in that case. Anyway, sure we'd be upset because we feel people ought to be allowed to be homosexual without persecution. Are you saying Indians feel that it's okay to pay other Indians substandard, illegally low wages in the US, just like they do back in India? That's asking a lot.

Why is it that when the US intervene in the Pakistani murder case and save the US national (Who had zero immunity) it is called, saving a fellow American, but when India tries to do the same people see all these Caste, Class issues? Why cant it be India trying to save her diplomat?

I never said it was about her class or caste. She isn't being prosecuted for her class. I did comment that the Indian middle class seems to think it's a birthright to exploit the country's desperately poor and treat them as virtual slave labor, probably arguing that the poor are lucky to be earning anything at all. However, the poverty in India can't be solved without a serious change in the distribution of wealth. India is a poor country because the middle and upper classes are a very small percent of the population and are loathe to let much of it trickle down to the poor.

Most Indians remain desperately poor, despite having more billionaires than all other countries other than the US, Russia, China, and Germany. One wonders, if the Indian diplomatic corps is so poor, where are all those billionaires? Don't they care?

I seriously don't get why people can't understand the genuine reason behind India defending her diplomat. It's not class or caste or anything else. This is a matter of national interest for India.

I'd buy that if I could find ANY sympathy for the nanny's situation. New York is an expensive city, and that's true for nannies as well as diplomats. If she was working 90 to 100 hours a week instead of 40, her pay amounted to somewhere between $1.30 and $2.00 per hour.

I realize Indians are sensitive about the whole caste/class thing, but those things are not at issue. If she lacks diplomatic immunity and is a lawbreaker, she gets the same treatment as an American lawbreaker.

Not only India but almost all 3rd world countries and many countries across the world in all continents have agreed with Indian reactions and demand. Even India's arch rival Pakistan 's media have praised India for standing up against the US hypocrisy. it must be mentioned that even Pakistan has never treated an Indian diplomat in such an atrocious way. This whole incident itself is seen as a great example of US hypocrisy and double standards in diplomacy, human rights, labor laws etc.

But there you go again, treating this situation as though it's some sort of official US policy that Khobragade should be treated the way she has. It's not a policy, it's the work of a prosecutor and I can assure you that had Obama or Secretary Kerry been involved, it would have been handled differently. What happened to Khobragade isn't an act of a monolithic United States but just one prosecutor who, it appears, seems to be simply applying the law in a legal way.

Like one Indian diplomat had mentioned, times have changed. You cannot bully everyone forever.

That would be relevant if we were talking about official US policy. We are not. Like I said, Obama isn't Putin. He has to obey the law, too. Just like Ms. Khobragade. This is a legal mess not a international policy mess.

"I never said it was about her caste, class, or gender, did I? "

You asked about my opinion on the article you mentioned in your reply.

"Is homosexuality illegal in India?"

Yes, it is illegal.

"Are you saying Indians feel that it's okay to pay other Indians substandard, illegally low wages in the US, just like they do back in India? That's asking a lot."

No it is not OK.

At this moment in time, the issue the maid has raised is ignorable and can be later settled in the Indian judicial system (The maid already has an arrest warrant in India issued weeks before the diplomat's arrest) if she ever comes back to India, but she will never comeback to India as she almost has her US green card now.

If the diplomat has been paying low wages, then she must be punished, but not like this. First the US authorities should have informed the Indian embassy before making any arrests. They should have given Indians the opportunity to decide the fate of the diplomat. May be India would have allowed US officials to arrest her if they had shown enough evidence to the Indian embassy, or may be the embassy would have sent her back to India, you never know. The problem here is that, India's say was never considered. An insult. A threat to the safety of all Indian diplomats. This is like someone punishing their neighbor's child without informing the neighbor. 

I am not saying that the maid's side should be dismissed, what I am saying is that at this moment, in this crisis the diplomat has all our support as she's the one representing India. We trust her as she represents India. Further there is a huge cloud of mystery surrounding the maid and the secretive way the maid's family was flown out of India etc. So no we don't trust the maid ! Not Now !  

"I'd buy that if I could find ANY sympathy for the nanny's situation. New York is an expensive city, and that's true for nannies as well as diplomats. If she was working 90 to 100 hours a week instead of 40, her pay amounted to somewhere between $1.30 and $2.00 per hour."

Like I have said above, at this moment no one in India cares about the maid nor her side of the story, even the lowest paid laborers who are exploited by Indian elites, even they support India and the diplomat right now. The moment US authorities arrested the diplomat, they screwed it up for the maid and her side of the story. If the US had followed the norms (like every other country)  when arresting the diplomat, I think India would have heard the maid's side of the story.

" If she lacks diplomatic immunity and is a lawbreaker, she gets the same treatment as an American lawbreaker."

I agree with this, but then India should be doing the same with the US diplomats and according to the latest reports, Indian investigations have found some US diplomats on the wrong side of Indian laws.

"It's not a policy, it's the work of a prosecutor and I can assure you that had Obama or Secretary Kerry been involved, it would have been handled differently. What happened to Khobragade isn't an act of a monolithic United States but just one prosecutor who, it appears, seems to be simply applying the law in a legal way."

I get your point and agree, but from the Indian point of view, it doesn't matter where it is coming from or who. The action has offended India. As the most supreme entity in dealing with foreign relations, The US government must take full responsibility, it is irrelevant who, where or why they did this. A decade of excellent work done by US diplomats and the US government in, pulling India towards US and away from Russia might all go in vain due to unwise calls from Judicial system. This is why diplomacy is a very sensitive thing.

But unfortunately, I believe the damage has already been done. Even if this mess gets resolved quickly, I do not believe the relationship will be back on track. I don't think India will ever give back those privileges taken away from US diplomats, nor do I think India will soften the stance on US diplomats and their activities. The blunder made by US authorities have severely hurt Indian pride. India is on the rise and looking for recognition to become a global power. This is the worst time to insult a country and US has done that. Hence this tough stance. There is also the case of all those small countries who consider India as their leader. Everyone is watching.

 

"I never said it was about her caste, class, or gender, did I? "

You asked about my opinion on the article you mentioned in your reply.

Okay, then. I didn't say her case (the legalities of it) was about caste, class, or gender. I was interested in your opinion on the article, which is the only reason I brought it up.

"Are you saying Indians feel that it's okay to pay other Indians substandard, illegally low wages in the US, just like they do back in India? That's asking a lot."

No it is not OK.

At this moment in time, the issue the maid has raised is ignorable and can be later settled in the Indian judicial system (The maid already has an arrest warrant in India issued weeks before the diplomat's arrest) if she ever comes back to India, but she will never comeback to India as she almost has her US green card now.

There is an arrest warrant for the maid(?) but not Khobragade (though I think she has her own legal problems related to her real estate holdings). What is her alleged crime? I can understand that she may not go back if her "crime" is filing a wage/hours complaint in the United States.

If the diplomat has been paying low wages, then she must be punished, but not like this. First the US authorities should have informed the Indian embassy before making any arrests. They should have given Indians the opportunity to decide the fate of the diplomat. May be India would have allowed US officials to arrest her if they had shown enough evidence to the Indian embassy, or may be the embassy would have sent her back to India, you never know. The problem here is that, India's say was never considered. An insult. A threat to the safety of all Indian diplomats. This is like someone punishing their neighbor's child without informing the neighbor.

Once again, we are back to the fact that it's not a US policy we're discussing, but the independent actions of a Federal prosecutor. BTW, the diplomatic corps of all countries was warned fairly recently that below a certain level in their diplomatic corps, they were subject to American wage and hour regulations, with criminal penalties attached. It seems Khobragade has had the misfortune of being the one used as an example to the rest.

I am not saying that the maid's side should be dismissed, what I am saying is that at this moment, in this crisis the diplomat has all our support as she's the one representing India. We trust her as she represents India. Further there is a huge cloud of mystery surrounding the maid and the secretive way the maid's family was flown out of India etc. So no we don't trust the maid ! Not Now !

We actually know why the maid was ushered out of India. Khobragade's father—a wealthy and powerful man—decided to inject himself into the affair by making threats against Sangeeta's family ranging from ruining their reputation (which seems to be happening anyway) to threatening their physical safety if she didn't withdraw her complaint The prosecutor was protecting his case from witness tampering. Given the outcry in India, clearly her family's safety and insulation from undue influence was questionable. You can't deny that.

"I'd buy that if I could find ANY sympathy for the nanny's situation. New York is an expensive city, and that's true for nannies as well as diplomats. If she was working 90 to 100 hours a week instead of 40, her pay amounted to somewhere between $1.30 and $2.00 per hour."

Like I have said above, at this moment no one in India cares about the maid nor her side of the story, even the lowest paid laborers who are exploited by Indian elites, even they support India and the diplomat right now. The moment US authorities arrested the diplomat, they screwed it up for the maid and her side of the story. If the US had followed the norms (like every other country) when arresting the diplomat, I think India would have heard the maid's side of the story.

Back again to the fact that the US government isn't behind this. I don't know if you think I'm serious, but I am: this situation doesn't involve US policy toward India. You're probably going to tell me you don't care. If that is your answer, then you don't care about the facts.

"If she lacks diplomatic immunity and is a lawbreaker, she gets the same treatment as an American lawbreaker."

I agree with this, but then India should be doing the same with the US diplomats and according to the latest reports, Indian investigations have found some US diplomats on the wrong side of Indian laws.

In that case, there are likely to be some official pardons and a two-way exchanges of prisoners.

"It's not a policy, it's the work of a prosecutor and I can assure you that had Obama or Secretary Kerry been involved, it would have been handled differently. What happened to Khobragade isn't an act of a monolithic United States but just one prosecutor who, it appears, seems to be simply applying the law in a legal way."

I get your point and agree, but from the Indian point of view, it doesn't matter where it is coming from or who. The action has offended India. As the most supreme entity in dealing with foreign relations, The US government must take full responsibility, it is irrelevant who, where or why they did this. A decade of excellent work done by US diplomats and the US government in, pulling India towards US and away from Russia might all go in vain due to unwise calls from Judicial system. This is why diplomacy is a very sensitive thing.

I understand, too. A lot of Americans don't care about facts, either.

There is no monolithic "US government." Each part of it has its role and its powers. Can you outline something that's within the realm of both possibility and legality?

BTW, if Khobragade does in fact have full diplomatic immunity, our courts are just as independent of the Justice Department as the prosecutor is of the Obama administration. All Ms. Khobragade has to do is go into court and demonstrate that she's working in the UN in a capacity with full diplomatic immunity and the judge will send the prosecutor packing. Not only that, but the prosecutor is likely to be in big trouble as well. I don't even think she needs to show that she had that job prior to her arrest. In that case, the situation is disposed of already.

But unfortunately, I believe the damage has already been done. Even if this mess gets resolved quickly, I do not believe the relationship will be back on track. I don't think India will ever give back those privileges taken away from US diplomats, nor do I think India will soften the stance on US diplomats and their activities. The blunder made by US authorities have severely hurt Indian pride. India is on the rise and looking for recognition to become a global power. This is the worst time to insult a country and US has done that. Hence this tough stance. There is also the case of all those small countries who consider India as their leader. Everyone is watching.

Once again, as so many times before, you mischaracterize this situation by using meaninglessly vague terminology like "US government" or "US authorities" when this situation in no way reflects the Obama administration's attitude toward India.

"Okay, then. I didn't say her case (the legalities of it) was about caste, class, or gender. I was interested in your opinion on the article, which is the only reason I brought it up."

Personally I am against caste, class etc., and in India it still plays a role, but the influence is slowly vanishing.

"There is an arrest warrant for the maid(?) but not Khobragade (though I think she has her own legal problems related to her real estate holdings). What is her alleged crime? I can understand that she may not go back if her "crime" is filing a wage/hours complaint in the United States."

The maid's accused of blackmailing the diplomat.

Yes, the diplomat seems to be having her own problems in India.

"Once again, we are back to the fact that it's not a US policy we're discussing, but the independent actions of a Federal prosecutor. BTW, the diplomatic corps of all countries was warned fairly recently that below a certain level in their diplomatic corps, they were subject to American wage and hour regulations, with criminal penalties attached. It seems Khobragade has had the misfortune of being the one used as an example to the rest."

The arresting authority whoever that is must have informed the Indian Embassy first. That's how usually such things happen. The Justice department being independent from the Government is not an excuse (when you view it as a foreigner) I think the government and the justice department should have communicated with each other before making the arrest. The lack of coordination is a huge danger and can create diplomatic mess such as this. The latest news says that the US Department of defense is not happy about the arrest, and none of the high ranking officials knew of the arrest, also it seems US is having some kinda inter agency review to see how this was handled. I am not 100% sure but some latest reports say that right now US is on the back foot.

We actually know why the maid was ushered out of India. Khobragade's father—a wealthy and powerful man—decided to inject himself into the affair by making threats against Sangeeta's family ranging from ruining their reputation (which seems to be happening anyway) to threatening their physical safety if she didn't withdraw her complaint The prosecutor was protecting his case from witness tampering. Given the outcry in India, clearly her family's safety and insulation from undue influence was questionable. You can't deny that.

I her family was flown 2 days before this whole mess. No one knew about the severity of the issue before the arrest. No one expected her to get arrested and no one knew that they were filing a case against her. I doubt if the diplomat's father had any reason to threaten the maid's family before this thing got nasty (If he actually did) Further, there is no proof of of him threatening the maid's family except for their word. At this moment honestly we don't know if he really threatened them.

But whatever it is, I think secretively taking the family of someone who has an arrest warrant, especially when there are diplomats and embassies are involved, it is just weird. Could she be an US spy?   is a question many people ask in India. This act is also considered an insult to the Indian Judicial system.

"Back again to the fact that the US government isn't behind this. I don't know if you think I'm serious, but I am: this situation doesn't involve US policy toward India. You're probably going to tell me you don't care. If that is your answer, then you don't care about the facts."

At the moment India has a much bigger thing to care, which the fate of the diplomat and someway to get assurance from the US that in the future such mess wouldn't be created. At the moment, I think people don't care about the maid, the bigger problem is the diplomat's fate  and the safety and dignity of all Indian diplomats in the US . But reports say India is taking measures to deal with the maids employed by other Indian diplomats. So hopefully this won't happen again. 

"Once again, as so many times before, you mischaracterize this situation by using meaninglessly vague terminology like "US government" or "US authorities" when this situation in no way reflects the Obama administration's attitude toward India."

When we look from the outside, we only see the government as the main entity. We don't know much in detail about how the system works, because we are foreigners. I agree, this might not the attitude of Obama Administration, but someone has done the damage, and to the outside world it will look like, it is the attitude of Obama Administration. The sooner they resolve this, the better for all

The maid's accused of blackmailing the diplomat.

That's a crime in the US, too. It there's evidence for it, she can be prosecuted right here. If there's no evidence for it, there's no need for her to be returned to India. Besides, the crime, if it happened, happened here in American jurisdiction. Being a witness in one legal process doesn't grant one immunity in terms of another one.

Yes, the diplomat seems to be having her own problems in India.

So, she's probably on the horns of a legal dilemma. 

"Once again, we are back to the fact that it's not a US policy we're discussing, but the independent actions of a Federal prosecutor. BTW, the diplomatic corps of all countries was warned fairly recently that below a certain level in their diplomatic corps, they were subject to American wage and hour regulations, with criminal penalties attached. It seems Khobragade has had the misfortune of being the one used as an example to the rest."

The arresting authority whoever that is must have informed the Indian Embassy first. That's how usually such things happen. The Justice department being independent from the Government is not an excuse (when you view it as a foreigner)

You mean, "when you view it as someone with no basic understanding," in other words, as someone who wants to react before understanding..

I think the government and the justice department should have communicated with each other before making the arrest. The lack of coordination is a huge danger and can create diplomatic mess such as this. The latest news says that the US Department of defense is not happy about the arrest, and none of the high ranking officials knew of the arrest, also it seems US is having some kinda inter agency review to see how this was handled. I am not 100% sure but some latest reports say that right now US is on the back foot.

I can't disagree with the idea that the lack of communication might have obviated this mess. However, the prosecutor has no obligation to do so and might not have done so in the fear that had he consulted with the State Department and the Obama administration, and had he gone ahead with what he did, they would appear to be parties to it. You see, he could have warned them (actual consultation would probably have been legally improper) but deciding to prosecute or not isn't part of either the President's or the State Department's mandate. They simply don't belong in the operations of the Justice Department. This isn't Russia where everybody kowtow's to Putin (your hero) for fear of being sent to a gulag.

But whatever it is, I think secretively taking the family of someone who has an arrest warrant, especially when there are diplomats and embassies are involved, it is just weird. Could she be an US spy? is a question many people ask in India. This act is also considered an insult to the Indian Judicial system.

Could be a spy? Don't know how to deal with that. You could be a Argentinian secret service agent and I could be secretly working for the UK SAS. Maybe Sangeeta is a space alien. What's secret is secret. Yeah, I know what the rumors are. India has a very active rumor mill. I've been reading Indian news sites lately.

"Back again to the fact that the US government isn't behind this. I don't know if you think I'm serious, but I am: this situation doesn't involve US policy toward India. You're probably going to tell me you don't care. If that is your answer, then you don't care about the facts."

At the moment India has a much bigger thing to care, which the fate of the diplomat and someway to get assurance from the US that in the future such mess wouldn't be created. At the moment, I think people don't care about the maid, the bigger problem is the diplomat's fate and the safety and dignity of all Indian diplomats in the US . But reports say India is taking measures to deal with the maids employed by other Indian diplomats. So hopefully this won't happen again.

I think the prosecutor is probably regretting the mess he's created, though he is likely to be too stubborn and proud to backtrack. I think future such incidents are EXTREMELY unlikely, at least for a very long time, until the memory of this one is long gone.

"Once again, as so many times before, you mischaracterize this situation by using meaninglessly vague terminology like "US government" or "US authorities" when this situation in no way reflects the Obama administration's attitude toward India."

When we look from the outside, we only see the government as the main entity. We don't know much in detail about how the system works, because we are foreigners. I agree, this might not the attitude of Obama Administration, but someone has done the damage, and to the outside world it will look like, it is the attitude of Obama Administration. The sooner they resolve this, the better for all.

On that we agree.

I think we are talked out. How about you? Let's wait for someone else to chime in and we can comment on their talking points.

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