Hard lesson from Devyani affair: India must grow its economy to be listened to

20 Dec

US secretary of state John Kerry called national security adviser Shivshankar Menon with an expression of regret over the wrongful arrest of Devyani Khobragade. There’s hope that the Devyani affair may blow over soon. The manner in which it has played out, however, raises disturbing questions about whether India is being stigmatised again for its poverty in the US and in the West – replacing the earlier, more hopeful narrative of its being a growing economy.

It’s a moot question whether the US would have cast aside the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations – which forbids arrest of consular officials except for grave crimes (let alone subjecting them to felon-like treatment) – so blithely if a Chinese or Brazilian rather than Indian diplomat had been involved. So what is it that differentiates China or Brazil from India? One, it’s well known they are no pushovers and will retaliate measure for measure. And two, they are perceived as growing economies in which the West has a stake, and therefore worth listening to.

Contrast the casualness with which western institutions treat India. Much western newspaper coverage of the Devyani affair, for example, is replete with patronising generalisations about Indian society, reflecting the disdain of a high-wage economy for a low-wage society. As a result there is little reflection on the ludicrousness of the charge against Devyani, who is accused of paying below minimum wages because she didn’t pay $4,500 a month to her maid. Since that amount exceeds average US per capita income, on that count most Americans are criminally exploited and their employers ought to be charged as felons!

There’s a hard lesson in international affairs that India must take away from the Devyani affair. Even as India’s leadership allowed its growth story to implode, the global economic downturn has placed the West in a sour mood and there’s a nasty tendency to scapegoat Indians. Don’t expect the West to play fair. Rather, India must match the West at its own game. That requires a relentless focus on the economy, instead of mucking around with identity politics which in the end impoverishes all religions and castes. Secondly, any privileges accorded to diplomats from the US and other countries must be on a strictly reciprocal basis, casting sentimental illusions aside. Those are the only ways the message that India is a serious country, not to be trifled with, will go home.


“Standard Practice” is an idiotic argument by the NY law enforcement people! Don’t they have discretion or use their common sense? It may be “standard practice” for Al Qaida to murder innocent people, especially Americans, but this is sheer terrorism and barbaric. It may be “standard practice” for people to be flogged in public in some countries or beheaded — that is no justification for such practices.

In no way am I condoning the abuse of Diplomatic status or Visa fraud or possible mistreatment of the maid (all subject to investigation), but its the excessive use of force by US police that is so evident — particularly against black Americans — which must stop.


Follow your own laws. Don’t abuse it. Due cause and Not Guilty until proven – are, as far as know basic tenets of US Law. I had not quite realized that strip searching a female diplomat is part of the US legal construct. Perhaps it is. Who knows!

Would you say that Iran was justified in treating the US diplomats the way they did as fair. Perhaps they were fair. The US did topple a diplomatically elected government in Iran.

To clear the air on the legal position, since this concerns a private staff of a consular officer, the position is very clear with respect to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 24 APRIL 1963 to which I presume both the US and India are signatories and therefore legally bound to follow under international law. It appears that the action of the NY prosecution attorney, which had the concurrence of the US State department, is clearly in breach of article 47 that reads as follows:

Article 47

1. Members of the consular post shall, with respect to services rendered for the sending State, be exempt from any obligations in regard to work permits imposed by the laws and regulations of the receiving State concerning the employment of foreign labour.

2. Members of the private staff of consular officers and of consular employees
shall, if they do not carry on any other gainful occupation in the receiving State, be exempt from the obligations referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article.

US courts have handed down a 1.5 million dollar judgment against a DIFFERENT Indian diplomat for near slave-like conditions. If civil fines do not get the attention of this personnel, certainly a different prosecutorial response will.

Yes, Saudi Arabia is our baby. Any large economy without a skeleton in the closet would be not a large economy. But something like paying a fair wage to a housekeeper is common decency and — I do get it — the soft quiet hand of diplomacy may not work with some people. Certainly, the vast poverty that I saw in India might suggest that the government there AINT do enough for its people.

When those government people come here, they need to follow the model of helping the poor (housekeeper) to one day:

1) move into a higher job than housekeeper or
2) retire with decent savings when the worker chooses.

At 3.10/ hour, that would take a century of work. So, you’re morally wrong to defend this problem.

As for Saudia Arabia, we need the oil because of our very bad land planning since the 1950s.

Thanks for taking a controllable thing like paying a decent wage and shifting into high gear with the macro picture of bad land planning and a collective demand for oil. Nice try.

The India personnel need to pay up. They need to not appear to treat their staffs like the dignity of human being.


Homosexual sex is illegal in India.  The U.S. cannot expect special treatment for it’s embassy employees after this ridiculous display of brutality by the U.S. authorities.  That means all the U.S. homosexual partners living with embassy staff in india should be arrested, and tried.  It’s only fair, and it’s what the U.S. demands.


 Why didn’t the U.S. authorities simply issue the Indian consular employee a subpoena?  There was no reason at all to arrest her, and certainly no reason to search her in any way, much less conduct cavity searches.  The U.S. authorities knew exactly what they ere doing.  They are sending a message that the U.S. is a force that nobody is safe from.  It’s a move designed to subjugate india mentally as a nation.  

Fact remains, this domestic worker is making a fortune working for this diplomate in terms of indian wages, and she/he is very lucky to have the job.  Indian people know this, so there is no victim her, except the diplomat.  Now the domestic worker is fired, but she probably wanted to get status in the U.S., and by turning in her employer they granted her a permanent visa and work permit in return.  That’s a nice little incentive to make up a story against her employee.


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Posted by on December 20, 2013 in Uncategorized


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