Culturally Different

6a0128763842f6970c014e8ba4d3c9970dThe row over Devyani Khobragade case has reached its peak in India. The handcuffing and strip-search of Ms. Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, is the key trigger point for the outrage.

The Indian side of the story is that a simple wage dispute was elevated to a human trafficking case.  In the US, it’s criminal to pay less than the minimum wage. As a result, Ms. Khobragade was arrested. Now, the case in point is the “Diplomatic Immunity” provided to the lady. But then even the diplomatic immunity has a clause which says that as diplomats are representatives of nations, they are expected to obey the local regulations and authorities. Disobeying or flouting of local laws may lead to serious action against the diplomat. Again the defence here is that Ms. Khobragade is no criminal nor running away that she had to be handcuffed to which the US have argued that they were not aware of the lady’s diplomatic immunity and the latest reasoning is that she is covered by consular immunity.

Well, both India and the US would continue to give each other their side of argument and this would take them nowhere. If the US has done wrong then India has also done some mistakes. Both are equally to be blamed and not just one country. It is a case of difference in the cultures plus the difference of law of the land followed in the respective countries.

In India, a domestic worker’s job is given no regard and that is the reason why in this incident the issue of wages has not even come about. The argument of Ms. Khobragade’s own salary constraints that she couldn’t spend more on the domestic is rubbish. If you cannot afford then why do you opt for a domestic help in the first place. I am sure Ms. Khobragade would be aware of the popular idiom that says, ‘Cut your coat according to the cloth’.

We are very much aware of the grim reality of the plight of our domestic help. It was only a few months ago that the newspapers were filled with the news of the death of domestic help at an MP’s house in India. Indians should know that their cultural attitude towards domestic help will not cause a spark in their own country but that does not mean it will not cause a stink outside the borders. In fact, it’s ironic that nobody in India is talking about the ill treatment of the domestic help but the diplomat’s treatment by the US.

This new has certainly put a spotlight on the inhumane treatment given to domestic workers in India. This is a fact and the case is a proof. Hence by all accounts, the diplomat is guilty of a crime.

On the other hand, the US should also have taken into consideration of the fact that if they want higher diplomatic immunity for their embassies then the same has to be ensured from their end too. Even if Ms. Khobragade was guilty, the entire procedure could have been handled in a much better way. The US authorities could have pre-informed the New York consulate and Ms. Khobragade could have gone down to the station herself.

In the past too, Indian envoys and many top officials have been subject to humiliating and disrespectful treatment during their US visits, mostly at the airports. While in India, US consulates are equipped with special ID cards that allow them to move easily when travelling to and from India. Other amenities like access to duty-free alcohol, tax benefits are the add-ons from India to the US diplomats.

In 2010, when the U.S. President Barack Obama described the alliance with India as “one of the defining and indispensable partnerships of the 21st century”, he did not stick to his words in 2013. Why?

The point here is that instead of looking at one another’s fault, one must take it as a learning lesson. Throwing stones on one another will not do any good. A key learning from this incident for everyone is that – Don’t abuse your position just because you can. Sooner or later it catches up. 

But the questions that need to be answered are: Can Mr. Obama guarantee that in future there will be no trespassing of the diplomatic immunity? Or can Indians promise a change in their old age cultural attitude of ill-treating their domestics?


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