India-US relations have been making headlines lately for unfortunate reasons. Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade was arrested for criminal felony counts of visa fraud for paying her maid, Sangeeta Richard, less than the United States minimum wage, contrary to what she stated in the visa application. Khobragade was arrested based on a complaint from the maid. According to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, she was “accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens.” He added that she was arrested “in the most discreet way possible,” and that unlike most defendants, she “was not then handcuffed or restrained.” Bharara acknowledged that Khobragade was “fully searched” by a female deputy marshal clarifying that “this is standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not, in order to make sure that no prisoner keeps anything on his person that could harm anyone, including himself.”
Instead of allowing the law to take its course, the Indian government’s reaction, fanned by local media and politicians, was ballistic. India conveniently forgot that the aggrieved party, the maid, was also an Indian citizen, and called Khobragade the “victim” and pledged to “restore her dignity,” swiftly taking retaliatory measures against United States diplomats on Indian soil and removing police protection at U.S. consulates in India. The only defense that the Indian government offered was that Khobragade had “consular immunity” and sought “diplomatic immunity” with her assignment to the United Nations after the fact, absolving her of any obligation to follow the law and impunity to commit any crime with no fear of repercussions. Khobragade’s father went on to accuse the maid of being a “CIA agent.”
The Indian government’s discriminatory stance between two of its own citizens in this dispute should be no surprise. India unfortunately has had a long history of “elitism” when it comes to adherence to laws and contracts, and a callous disregard for the rights of lowly workers. Signs prohibiting “servants” the use of the elevator are common, just as the police in India will think twice about arresting a well heeled suspect, as is alleged in the recent car crash by Ambani’s son.
India would be better served by using the Khobragade incident as a “teachable” moment for its leaders and diplomats the lesson being that just as in the United States, all are equal under the law, regardless of wealth, power or societal status. And, that all workers, including domestic help, deserve protections and dignity afforded to them under labor laws. India’s response sadly exposed to the world that the nation bestows better citizenship benefits to aristocracy while dismissing the proletariat as not consequential.
Rameysh Ramdas, an S.F. Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.
Both countries are at fault
There are no heroes in this story unfortunately.
It is true that the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade executed a minimum wage agreement with her maid Sangeeta Richard, which, it would seem, was solely for the purpose of getting Richard entry into the United States. It is also true that Richard used the agreement to escalate the case to the State Department with allegations against her employer.
One would have to be naïve to think that Sangeeta Richard believed that she would get the prescribed United States minimum wage prior to making her trip to the United States.
Clearly the diplomat violated United States laws and was liable to be prosecuted. The question is should she have been prosecuted? Is lying on the visa application, which is illegal, the biggest immigration issue facing the United States? Or perhaps it is to make an example of this diplomat. Noble goal indeed!
But why not try it here at home first? In the case of Richard Allen Davis, a former United States Army soldier, and a Central Intelligence Agency operative, who was in Pakistani custody for killing three Pakistanis in 2011, the United States demanded his release on the grounds of diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
President Barack Obama asked Pakistan to recognize Allen as a diplomat, stating that there was a “broader principle at stake that I think we have to uphold.” In the latest diplomatic scuffle between India and the United States, India was merely reminding the United States that Khobragade was no killer and yet, she was prosecuted like a common criminal.
When it comes to Wall Street, there are double standards at play. When it came to JP Morgan’s involvement in the Bernie Madoff scam the best that the U.S. attorney could come up with was a fine with no admission of wrong doing. Whereas in the Galleon hedge fund instance, Rajaratnam received a 11-year sentence (“the longest sentence to be imposed for insider trading in history”) plus a fine.
While hypocrisy is obvious and blatant in the Indian system it is also evident in this country especially as it relates to white collar crime. The rich and powerful especially in the financial industry are technically not above the law. Yet large financial organizations are able to craft laws to benefit themselves and to get unfair advantages.
Both Khobragade and Richard had an axe to grind in this tawdry inconsequential affair. They both manipulated the United States system to try and benefit themselves.
I think too much has been made of this affair and I wish Bharara had excercised better prosecutorial discretion in this case and avoided the brouhaha with the Indian government.
Mani Subramani works in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.