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Millennium Post

Matter of pride, prejudice as well

The severe diplomatic row that has broken out between India and the US over the arrest of Devyani Khobragade in New York last week is an unfortunate development. While allegations against the India consul include causing a materially false and fraudulent document to be presented and false statements to be mad to the US Department of State in support of a visa application for a Indian national employed as a babysitter and domestic help at her NYC residence, there was no need for America to indulge in ‘strip-search’ and lodge the high-ranking diplomat with hard-boiled criminals in the jail. Such treatment, definitely undeserved, does not speak highly of the authorities in charge of the investigation into the Khobragade case, and if they are just following the protocol, as claimed by a US State Department spokesperson, then they probably need to reassess these unduly harsh and unjust standard operating procedures because they are downright racist. Of course, the US is not wrong in holding Khobragade responsible for the unfair treatment of her domestic help, since she’s charged with visa fraud and had no immunity under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR). But the fact that she was subjected to unwarranted humiliation and as pointed out by the ministry of external affairs (MEA), was also a target of violation of her personal integrity, as per the Article 41 (Section 3) of VCCR, since she wasn’t given the minimum due that is expected for a consular officer, is indication enough of something going gravely wrong in the handling of the matter by the US authorities. Naturally, what India is contesting is not the allegations against the consul, which obviously need to be proven in the court of law, but the fact that the arrest and subsequent custodial harassment of Devyani Khobragade belies the still pervasive systemic bias against coloured people in America, irrespective of all the strides taken in achieving sociopolitical equality.

Because the allegations against Khobragade include grossly underpaying her domestic help Sangeeta Richard, this is also a pointer towards the deeply unsettling and deplorable practice of exploiting cheap labour by Indian nationals in foreign lands. The abuse of domestic helps is a problem rampant in not just the affluent Indians in the developed countries, such the US and Europe, but also in much of Saudi Arabia, UAE and other parts of West Asia with a sizeable South Asian population. Certainly, Khobragade isn’t the only IFS officer who has been involved in such unscrupulous and downright inhumane tendency to deny the basic rights to a domestic employee, who are often economic migrants struggling very hard indeed to make ends meet. Not just limited to Indian nationals abroad, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi nationals employed as domestic helps in residences of well-heeled Euro-Americans of South Asian have also faced the brunt of a deep-rooted bigotry on the part of their more affluent brethren, who refuse to acknowledge the shared cultural and historical bonds. Hence, despite the pan-Indian indignation over the Khobragade row, we need to approach this matter carefully and categorically condemn, if they are proven in the court of law, the treatment meted out to Sangeeta Richard by her employer. However, we must also take a tough stand on the issue and protect the legal and diplomatic rights of our consular representatives since it is equally a matter of pride as much as of prejudice.
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