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India fumes as diplomat shamed

 | December 20, 2013

But is the fury shown by the Indian politicians an election gimmick.

COMMENT

The way American authorities treated India’s Deputy Consul in New York, Devyani Khobragade, the other day was simply barbaric. Charged with underpaying and ill-treating her Indian maid, Khobragade was arrested on a street after she had dropped off her daughter at school, handcuffed in full public view, taken to the police headquarters and strip searched. Her cavities were examined and she was kept locked up along with hardened criminals for a couple of hours.

Although Khobragade enjoyed only limited diplomatic immunity, her treatment, nonetheless, was cruel and just ridiculous. The U.S. action merely indicated that here was a nation which was still wallowing in paranoia – over reacting to any issue it considered an offence under its law.

Of course, when it came to security, America could be jumpy and deeply suspicious. Anybody with a Muslim name was a suspect in that country. And I know people who have changed their names only to breathe easy on U.S. soil.

There were several occasions when Indian film stars with the title of Khan being detained for hours at American airports, because the men in uniform were unable to differentiate between a good Khan and bad Khan. I cannot imagine that superstars like Shahrukh Khan, whose faces are so familiar, could have found themselves in humiliating and harassing predicaments at U.S. immigration points.

Khobragade’s case has nothing, nothing to do with terrorism. Which is why the whole affair seems so sordid.

Her maid had gone missing in June, and the Deputy Consul had filed a complaint.  Later, when she got a call saying that the maid will not go to court for underpayment of wages on the condition that her services are terminated and she is paid a certain amount. Khobragade filed one more complaint with the authorities about being blackmailed by the maid. No action was taken on either of the complaints.

Following Khobragade’s arrest and subsequent release, New Delhi took retaliatory steps, though some of them seemed immature — coming as they did from a country which calls itself a mature democracy.  Finally, the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, tendered an apology for the way Khobragade was treated.

She has since then been transferred to India’s Permanent Mission to the U.N. in New York where she will enjoy full diplomatic immunity.

Many Indians were happy that New Delhi acted with unusual firmness, little realising that this may well have been an election gimmick. Be that as it may, it is important Washington understands that India is a power which cannot be pushed around, and that tit-for-tat steps are perfectly normal in situations which involve the international diplomatic community.

However, India’s measures like removing the security cordon around the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, and the demand of a political party to deport all gay Americans appeared immature to say the least.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at [email protected]


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