Sunday, June 23, 2024

Khobragade Gets Indian Diplomat Lobby Support as US Stays Firm

Washington, DC – The United States had given enough leniency to the repeated alleged abuses of domestic workers, but according to the US State Department, the Indian Embassy and the Government of India failed to react to repeated US communications on the matter.

Refuting the charges of the Government of India (GOI) and its embassy in Washington, DC that the US State Department did not reply to its repeated communications since summer of this year, a senior State Department official said that they were constrained from publicly or even privately having conversations with other governments “because of law enforcement sensitive material.”

On December 12, 2013, Devyani Khobragade, the Deputy Consul General of India in New York, was arrested and allegedly treated like a hardened criminal by making her undergo a strip search and cavity search. She was arrested in the city on suspicion of visa fraud and making false statements, after being accused of paying her Indian maid, Sangeeta Richard, below the US minimum wage.

The official disclosed that the attorney for Richard approached US authorities as early as July 9 and an investigation was begun immediately, thus constraining the officials from divulging any information.

The Indian Embassy in a statement earlier released from Washington, DC listed a timeline of communications it had sent to the State Department and alleged, “No response was received from the US side for any of these communications.”

Asked to comment on these Indian allegations, Marie Harf, the State Department deputy spokesperson told journalists, “It’s highly inaccurate to say that we ignored any Government of India communiques on this issue, period,” noting, “Some of these communications are private diplomatic conversations or law enforcement sensitive.”

Stating that US law enforcement authorities and the Government of India “have some different interpretations of the issues and allegations at play throughout this entire scenario,” Harf stressed, “We have engaged in extensive conversations with the Government of India about this issue in Washington, in New York, in New Delhi, going back to the summer.”

Alleging that it was the GOI which had not responded, Harf noted, “We’ve also requested the Government of India to provide us with the results of its own inquiry into the allegations made by Dr. Khobragade’s domestic worker and to make her available to discuss them, I don’t think either of which was done.”

Harf concluded, “So we’ve had a lot of conversations back and forth, we’re continuing to now, and I think it’s fair to say that we’re still looking into exactly what all of those conversations look like. But we definitely responded. I certainly – it’s inaccurate to say that we did not.”

The senior State Department official also reiterated the earlier comments from Harf saying that the department takes the obligations and duties of the incoming international diplomats very seriously and communicates this position to all embassies.

Harf, during a briefing this week, said, “We very clearly have said every year in diplomatic notes to every country that has diplomats here throughout the world that there are obligations they have for their staffs when they bring them to the United States. We make those obligations very clear and we take any allegations that they haven’t done so very seriously.”

An email to the Indian Embassy requesting clarification whether this information had been communicated to its diplomats on a regular basis, including Khobragade, received no response.

But in a confirmation of the ongoing reports from India that there are powerful Indian diplomat groups behind Khobragade, the Association of Indian Diplomats (AID), issued a statement saying, “The Association is dismayed at the specious, inaccurate and bureaucratic arguments that the state department and other US authorities have put forward to try to justify such selective and discriminatory treatment of the Indian diplomat as standard American procedure.”

In addition, writing in the Indian media, the former Indian diplomat Prabhu Dayal, who served as Indian Consul General in New York from September 2008 to February 2013, and was slapped with a forced labor suit by his maid, Santosh Bhardwaj, wrote, “Although the US authorities have invariably been informed whenever this has happened, they have done nothing to nab them. As is well known, the US has a very large number of illegal, undocumented aliens who provide cheap labor.”

The question arises whether the former diplomat is implying that law enforcement authorities look the other way in the case of undocumented aliens.

Prior to Dayal’s episode with his domestic worker, the domestic worker of another diplomat, Neena Malhotra, Consul for over three years, filed a complaint in July 2010 in a federal court. Shanti Gurung, who worked as a housekeeper for Malhotra, accused the diplomat and her husband of kidnapping, trafficking, and ill-treatment.

Dayal wrote that he met Gurung “often as she would come to the consulate to attend functions such as Republic Day, Independence Day, Diwali, Baisakhi etc, as well as music concerts, and she was always happy and contented.”

It is unclear how the top officer was able to reach his decisive conclusion of the maid’s level of contentment after superficial interactions at a social event.

A visit to most homes of administrative officers, part of the top echelons of society in India, reveals the presence of servants, gardeners and domestic helpers, reminiscent of the British Raj era when colonial rulers employed large numbers of local domestic servants.

Today, more than sixty years after India’s independence, there are no signs of any change in the behavior of these officers. Instead, there still exists a mentality which is a hangover of the British Raj in the attitude and behavior of these sahibs.

When needed, most Indian Americans employ local workers and pay the going US rates. Why do Indian diplomats insist on bringing domestic help with them?

The reason is simple: the live-in domestic help brought from India are accustomed to working like a slave from early morning to late night with few complaints.

With the age of expanding communication, this is changing and there have been a spate of complaints as US law enforcement officials are becoming more aware of the ongoing abuse which takes place behind closed doors.

Lets not forget that US prosecuting attorney Preet Bharara was born in Punjab and is privy to the Indian mentality of treating domestic help as servants and is aware of the missing “dignity of labor” in Indian society.

In his statement on Wednesday, December 18, Bharara wrote that the complaint shows that, “She (Khobragade) clearly tried to evade US law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers.” Bharara continued that Khobragade did not merely seek to evade the law, but that, “She caused the victim and her spouse to attest to false documents and be a part of her scheme to lie to US government officials.”

It is time to practice the principles of equality and compassion for all, as propagated by Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of India, whose statue adorns the front square of the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC.

Author profile
Tejinder Singh

Tejinder Singh was the Founder and Editor of India America Today, and is the inspiration for Global Strat View.

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