US: Bullying Not Diplomacy
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 18 Dec , 2013

Devyani Khobragade

The arrest and hand-cuffing of India’s Deputy Consul General (DCG) Devyani Khobragade in New York as if she is a criminal with all the intrusive personal indignities heaped on a “felon” by the US manuals raises serious questions about India-US bilateral equations and the unilateralist manner in which the US interprets the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR).

The government has rightly called the US action unacceptable. Concrete reciprocal action should follow to signal that there is a price to pay for willfully humiliating our diplomatic representatives.

This humiliation has been consciously inflicted by the US authorities ignoring its political implications. It could have been avoided since there is nothing in the case that could have compelled them to take this drastic step. If the US authorities felt that denying the maid the US minimum wage was intolerable, they could have sought the DCG’s expulsion. Instead, they have themselves — not the maid — filed the case against the DCG by contriving a legal cover for their extreme step by claiming that she had committed visa fraud by falsely declaring the maid’s wages.

There is much chicanery involved here. Indian diplomats taking domestic staff to the US accept the minimum wage requirement when all concerned, including the US visa services and the State Department, know this is done pro-forma to have the paper work in order. To imagine that the US authorities are duped into believing that our diplomats will pay their domestic staff more than what they earn is absurd. The US authorities have been clearing such visas for years to practically resolve the contradiction between reality and the letter of the law.

Any US concerns about this practical approach exposing our diplomats to potentially lethal legal consequences do not seem to have been amicably addressed at the official level despite the numerous dialogues that we boast of to underline our transformed bilateral ties. Absurdly, US authorities first recognise domestic staff as officials because visas are affixed on their official passports (without insisting on affixing them only on ordinary passports) and subsequently de-recognising their official status by subjecting them to local employment laws. The VCCR does not require that home-based domestic staff be treated as local American employees. The other ludicrous implication of the DCG’s case is that any Indian national giving wrong information on a US visa form can be hauled into a US prison at the whim of US authorities.

The US sees no moral wrong in our diplomats and our India-based service staff being paid far less than their US counterparts, but feels morally outraged if our domestic staff is not paid according to the US standards. Their moral sensibilities are not aroused when their own consular diplomats, paid extra in hardship postings like India, give slave wages to their Indian staff, disregarding their own laws on what is technically sovereign US territory.

Would the US authorities have treated the DCG of Russia or China in the same way it treated our DCG?

The Americans adhere to or ignore international law as it suits them. Their abusive interpretation of the VCCR cannot be challenged before any international adjudicatory body. Powerful countries can insist on their own interpretation and weaker countries have to adjust. While the US is cavalier about diplomatic immunity applicable to other countries, it seeks total immunity for its own personnel stationed in foreign countries as an entitlement. The case of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor attached to its consulate in Lahore who murdered two Pakistani citizens in a street shoot-out, is an egregious example.

Would the US authorities have treated the DCG of Russia or China in the same way it treated our DCG? Tellingly, they have recently expelled, not arrested, several Russian diplomats for defrauding the US healthcare system, a crime that cost the US exchequer. Our DCG not paying her maid the minimum wage did not cost the US exchequer a penny. The US is more careful with countries where their stakes are higher or where the threat of retaliation is more real.

This unfortunate episode reveals a lack of respect for India and a belief that we will not react forcefully. The State Department, instead of expressing regrets, can, therefore, be flippant in observing that this incident should not affect bilateral ties.

Unfortunately, because of numerous cases of maltreatment of domestic staff in India and some cases abroad, the egregiousness of US action in humiliating a senior Indian diplomat is escaping proper public understanding. The lady DCG, whose diplomatic passport has been impounded, is in for a long torment. Whatever our unmerited prejudices against our career diplomats and grievances about the efficiency of our consular services in missions, we should not forget that our diplomats abroad represent the country’s sovereignty. Debasing them is demeaning India and its sovereign status.

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The government has rightly called the US action unacceptable. Concrete reciprocal action should follow to signal that there is a price to pay for willfully humiliating our diplomatic representatives. Some steps have already been taken.  A systematic review of the privileges accorded to the US government personnel in India should be made and the principle of reciprocity strictly enforced in stages as the case in New York proceeds. The US has already self-inflicted a big price for its high-handedness as the Indian Foreign Service is seething with anger against it with a lasting fallout on the relationship at the diplomatic level.

Courtesy: Hindustan Times

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Kanwal Sibal

is the former Indian Foreign Secretary. He was India’s Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia.

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13 thoughts on “US: Bullying Not Diplomacy

  1. I think the treatment meted out to the Indian DCG was not acceptable in any way. However, an apology is required from both sides – from the US for the appalling treatment and from India for MEA breaking a US law. Whether the DCGs of other countries have broken laws or not is not the question here because the matter is between the US and India. For the MEA to have its procedures in violation of US Law is a wrong doing by the MEA. Similarly, investigations must be carried out against US diplomats and DCGs in India and checked whether they are paying all their helps. Violator diplomats must be PNG’d and US violators who have no immunity must get the same treatment that was given to the Indian DCG, irrespective of the type of crime.

    The US-India partnership is of vital importance. Communist and terrorist regimes take advantage of such rifts between democracies and get the upper hand.

    • If the US apologizes to India, India need not strip search and cavity search US violators in India.
      India must make any compensation to the maid and get the DCG from the US.

      Both hands must strike in order to high-five

      • There has got to be penalty for strip searching and violating a woman’s modesty. To say that it is USA law is bullshit. USA should re-examine its laws or it should be send to the dog house. If a developed country like USA does not see that it has wronged then all USA women should be strip searched for failing to understanding what a woman’s modesty, or any one else’s dignity means. When that happens we will say Namaste. No need to high-five with your dirty hands

  2. I sometimes wonder whether India’s policymakers like IFS and IAS executives enjoying lucrative pay and service conditions at the expense of their otherwise impoverished compatriots have any brain to deserve such high life. And this article by the ex-FS is a case in point. I am sure Mr Sibal is well aware of the episode involving the international figure Dominique Strauss Kahn heading IMF and enjoying all sorts of diplomatic privileges far above this character Khobragade or even Mr Sibal himself. He was most probably going to be the President of France. But one day Strauss Kahn was handcuffed and taken out of a flight in NY leaving the US mainland in consequence of a court case against him filed by the same lawyer in charge of this case implicating Khobragade. And that was in full publicity all over the western world. But France never protested and let the law take its own course. What a contrast here ! Sir, there is no VIP culture in the European nations unlike in India – you need to learn that. Ordinary Indian citizens deserve some integrity from their masters as Foreign Service officers and Secretaries in Delhi, but that is conveniently stepped aside by India’s public servants in charge. These high level public servants know very well how to make the public their servants and lead a lavish life themselves at their cost. Shame on them !

  3. The maid in question was NOT being trafficked like sex slaves that predominate the USA landscapeI(streets, bars, strip clubs, backpage-adds, porn-sites sponsored by USA. etc.). The maid was free to resign and go at anytime. If you consider that she(maid) was provided lodging and boarding along with her wages, she was making more than what many apartment mangers make in USA.
    Was USA trying to recover back pay when it asked a mom of two children to strip. (miley Cyrus demo)? USA has lost the sense of right or wrong, many of the laws in USA are no better than gang rules.designed to force other people to lose their dignity, identity,property, or life(trevon martin?). .So when USA goes law,law,law,law, law……(rest of the world knows and see naked shameless ganster sob running around with a gun and wonder who the victim is this time).

  4. A surprisingly one-sided article by Mr Kanwar Sibal, who otherwise writes very analytically & objectively.

    Lets get the facts correct – Devyani willingly & knowingly broke a local rule, which they take seriously. When you hand over a signed contract stating compliance to their minimum wages and federal rules, etc along with the A-3 visa application form – its not just about “getting the paperwork in order” as you so dismissively state.

    And your statement taking visa fraud lightly indicates your mindset – as a diplomat and an emissary of our country – you are lord almighty and hence silly little things like rules, work contracts don’t really apply to you. Those are just for the ordinary mortals, eh?.

    This sorry episode was brewing for a long time at least since June this year, before it came to a head with the arrest. It would appear that real communication between both sides on the issue was missing – when the US State Dept sent that note to the Indian Embassy in September indicating the seriousness of the case, why was there no attempt made to resolve the issue from both sides? What was our ambassador doing? Why was Ms Devyani Khobragade not able to read the clear signs? Were you diplomats trying to push for a privileged space in this issue and were attempting to go eyeball-to-eyeball with them? Or was the issue simply neglected with disdain and allowed to fester?

    Lastly, why give these special privileges to the US diplomats in India? Airport entry passes to operational areas for them?? Are we a bandana republic or what? Keep the yanks in their place here- show them the rule book here and they will comply.

    Time you diplomats from both sides get off those ivory pedestals and shed some of those bloated egos and get on with real work. Yes, you are emissaries of the country abroad – your very nature of work requires special privileges- but please do NOT mix that up with absolute invulnerability and being above local laws, when applicable.

    • I agree with the author.He explained taking many aspects into the view. The U.S.’s high handedness is evident. If it follows the laws which are sacrosanct to you all why it has acted lightly against the diplomats of other countries and esp. how it got its CIA agent from Pakistan who killed two Pakistani citizens. Many people are shedding crocodile tears about Ms.Sangeeta Richards and spewing anger against the diplomat. If the agreement is just nominal why the maid agreed to work there. And what about our domestic workers working in U.S. diplomats homes? U.S. knows all these but acted high handedly. It’s a conspiracy. U.S. doesn’t have any right to speak about laws. You are not taking into account the wages of the diplomat. Mandela rightly said about U.S. that it has commited innumerable mistakes which are unspeakable.

  5. If USA(United Shit of ALL) is concerned about slavery they should grant immigrant visas to all Indians making less the $5 a day. India should strip search and put into prison all USA diplomats that pay less the minimum USA their employees in India

  6. Most of the Govt employees in India are corrupted, what else they do other than support their own kind,,lol
    US govt acted as per law, against Devyani, who is guilty of fraud , and as per maid complaints police taken actions, but these dirty congress politicians to support their own kind of corrupted fellow, playing dirty game. rather dismissing Devyani n bring her back n arrest n put in jail, instead they increase post n value of that fraud,, how pathetic this govt become, its shame to country citizens,

  7. This case illustrates the true nature of Indian system that accord very many privileges to the VIPs regardless of how they attained the status. While hundreds of poor fisher-folk have been killed and further numbers harassed and humiliated by a tiny rouge state in the South, Sri Lanka daily, the same Indian state currently refuses to act, and tries to boast as a big power to the US. The same Shiva Shankar Menon and Hon. Kurshith, who seem to be impotent just like Hon. Prime Minister Mr. Singh, is finally opening their mouths, what a wonder! It seems the Mafia-headed Indian state is trying to manipulate US-justice system through coercion and threats, and if Obama admin. buckle, this would set precedence to such perpetrators in the future, similar to the fanfare end of Sankarachaariars who had murdered their employee.

  8. 1] India needs to find out what the maid passed to the USA(Criminal authority) in return. USA does no one any favors for nothing.
    2] It is know that USA will find a person(s) of same race/country to betray/spy their own kind so that it appears that they are neutral and not racist..

  9. USA laws are laws are self serving laws of convenience. They are typically used to do make people comply and are enforced by Law enforcement group/mob bullies who are always armed with guns and other weapons. These weapons are usually used to take away the life or liberty of the person on any pretext.
    Welcome to the land of free and brave as long as you comply.

  10. India cannot interpret the Vienna Convention according to its own convenience. A wrong has been committed by both sides. For heaven’s sake do not make the accused a victim. This matter did not erupt suddenly. According to one report this action was brewing since September. What was the MEA doing? What were her superiors in the Ministry and Embassy in Washington doing? These are inconvenient to us and hence we want to focus on the arrest.

    The US action is at the same time reprehensible and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The politicians are making big noises that we are not a banana republic. May I ask what have we done in response to repeated Chinese incursions and unending Pak violations of cease fire?

    While condemning the US for its actions, the MEA must ensure that our diplomats do not go about committing breaches of law of the receiving State. It is time we focus on the behaviour of our own officers.

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