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Preetam Kaushik

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Indian Diplomat Row: A Case of Biting More Than What You can Chew?

Posted: 18/12/2013 11:19

For NRIs living in the US, the name Devyani Khobragade has turned into a rather scary reminder of the 'law of the land' that's more like an iron fist. The otherwise nondescript name, Devyani has turned into a popular keyword for search engines on the net, following her arrest that has nearly soured the bilateral ties between countries. She is the new name for 'international insult'.

However, what is rather surprising is the incident of Indian Deputy Consul General bringing a heightened sense of insult to India, after the media reported that she was 'strip searched' following her arrest recently, and was held in captivity for six hours before being released on a quarter of a million dollar bond. Reports said she was strip searched, put in jail with drug addicts and the likes. Her fault: having produced fake documents to bring in her baby sitter Sangeeta Richard into the US, and paying her domestic help only one third of what's approved as labor charges in that country.

It's a point apart that Indian metropolitan court had issued an arrest warrant against Sangeeta, who is deemed absconding from June this year. Was it a matter of coincidence that the United States of America didn't take this into consideration before proceeding to arrest the diplomat while she went to the school to drop her child for the day?

What got the Indian leaders and diaspora all flared up was not any one part of the indignation, but ALL of it. And, as far as the US is concerned, this 'uniform' treatment meted out to those at fault, has been so since ages and across diplomats from world over. Or so, the country claims.

Interestingly, all the charges that have been leveled against Devyani, are also partly charges against Sangeeta who has provided the so called 'false' documents to the diplomat. That the documents were fake is something for America to decide after holding discussions or investigating into those records bolstered with evidence. Wait, the whole thing looks cagey here.

Did America have information about the impending arrest of Devyani? In that case, why didn't the country initiate a proper dialogue with its Indian counterpart to discover the veracity of the documents than simply arresting a diplomat and putting her behind the bars? And to understand that America's motto 'all are equal (suspects)' stretches to only searching Indian diplomats and their associates, even to the extent of searching former President of India Dr Abdul Kalam Azad does say something about the caution that America will now need to practice. How about basing our fears on something than a simple 'hunch' that something could be wrong?

Let's look at the other side of the coin. America, with its short history in comparison with other countries in the world, is still a toddler in human aspect. The land of opportunities also lives in perpetual fear, and has also been battling probably the worst times in job generation, sagging economy and strained ties with other nations, along with losing the space of prominence. Losing throne and the crown is never a good feeling. So, what happens then? The judiciary system, and any other 'procedural' system, is applied with greater force in order to reassure the people of the nation that the country isn't losing the grounds yet.

It is a matter of introspection and also retrospection to understand whether the specified labor charges which is little above nine dollars per hour with fixed work timings, is being followed by at least majority of the Americans who employ help at home. And, do all American expats respect the law of land wherever they are stationed?

The issue that was supposed to boost the strained images of Obama administration had a boomerang effect on India. The ruling party, which saw this as an 'almost personal insult' immediately set with a series of knee-jerk reactions which could even be termed diplomatically not-so-intelligent.

Firstly, India never even made a whimper when its former President was searched on arrival on its shores. If this was not an insult, India need not take Devyani episode seriously, unless there are others cobs to be cooked now.

Digressing a bit, US has jumped the gun with respect to diplomats (and their relatives) in the past too. A diplomat's daughter was arrested in New York two years ago on charges of sending obscene messages to her teacher in the college. The case, fell flat on its face when the officials, after handcuffing and putting her in captivity for over 24 hours, couldn't nail the role of Kritthika Biswas, daughter of diplomat Debasish Biswas. If that was a facepalm, this is a proper diplomatic face off for both countries, which need to look at reconsidering their relations, future and common enemies in order to secure the days ahead, instead of training guns on each other.

If this episode can teach both countries to prepare their officials to deal with the laws of land, and the terms associated with diplomatic immunity, it can avoid such situations from repeating themselves over and again, allowing the other countries to have a good laugh at their expense.

 

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