Friday, 10 January 2014

Khobragade indictment- painful reading for Indians

Mid rank, Indian diplomats are normally only allowed to take one domestic servant per trip. The Government pays the air fare and provides an allowance to pay the servant. It is in the diplomat's interest to keep the servant happy otherwise the servant has the right to return to India leaving the diplomat to fend for herself.
Many servants will feel lonely, they may find the climate not to their liking, they may miss their own families. Thus the diplomat needs to ensure that the servant has a good social life and is treated as a member of the family- e.g. being taken along for sight-seeing trips and Community events. Also their Religious needs must be catered for.
Did Devyani keep her maid happy? It appears not because the maid left her. Now the maid was entitled to return to India at Govt. expense if she felt mistreated or if her mental health had suffered in the new country or by reason of family emergency and so on. It was the duty of the Consul General to ensure that her grievances were addressed and that she was sent back safely.
What about if the maid simply absconded? Then the Consulate had a duty to inform the U.S authorities and also to take such steps commensurate with their duty of care- i.e. establish that she was not ill, under duress or at risk of exploitation.
Did anything of this sort happen?
According to the the U.S indictment of Devyani Khobragade-

Devyani's f.i.r accuses Sangita Richards and her husband of various crimes of cheating and conspiring to obtain and retain an official Indian passport for a malafide purpose.
It is poorly written-

This is quite extraordinary. Why is the husband of the maid being accused of cheating and conspiracy and other such crimes? Which ordinary diplomat would proceed in such a high handed way? If Devyani herself, and not her superior officials at the Consulate or the M.E.A, initiated this plot she must be sacked and tried in an Indian Court. If not, she must be questioned as to who ordered her to put her name to the above.
We might suspect that her father acted officiously and she reluctantly backed him up. This would fit the mind-set of the retired I.A.S officer. However, the fact that Devyani made this f.i.r speaks for itself.

I don't know if it is true that Sangeeta Richards demanded to be sent back on her own passport. But it is quite probable as it improved her bargaining position. Devyani had no right to deny this request. Now, the Consul General could have spoken to the maid-servant and promised to redress her grievances. He could have said- 'okay, tell you what, we will pay you for helping out at Consulate parties. We will include you in more sightseeing excursions. We will get you vocational training. We will organize a creche so you and others like you have more time off. One thing, as a matter of urgency, we will ensure you can attend Religious services to your liking.
'One thing we will never do is to say you can't return to India even though you are finding it difficult to cope here. You are a citizen of India same as us. We may appeal to your patriotism to stick it out but we can't deny your right to go home.'

Indian Courts must now take cognizance, by suo moto or other means, of what has happened and send a clear signal to the I.F.S cadre in this matter.

I wonder, had no strip search occurred and if, instead Devyani had been merely subpoenaed, whether Govt of India might have waived civil immunity?


Anonymous said...

Devyani must have filed the fir as revenge for Mr.Richards petition in India against her for mistreating his wife. That petition was dismissed on the grounds that the offense happened outside India. This means Richards could only get justice in America.

windwheel said...

I think I read that Devyani's husband, an American philosophy professor, had gone to file a crime report accusing the maid of theft even before the Richards petition but didn't go through with it- which suggests it was bogus.
I suppose, the negotiation between employer and employee might have gone like this-
Sangita- 'Either pay me more or let me work outside or send me back. Notice, under the bogus contract, I've already worked enough hours to sue you for the entire amount I would be owed if I stayed with you. In other words, if you want to go by the strict letter of the law, fine, I'm no worse off except I go back to India immediately with the same (or more) money than I would have got had I worked the full term.'
Devyani- No. You made an agreement and must stick to it. Don't try to be too smart. It will backfire. If you leave me in the lurch, you will get yourself in trouble.

It looks as though Devyani played hard ball. But Sangita was a grown woman and could stand up for herself. The strange thing is that the Diplomat and her Philosophy Professor husband and ex IAS officer father proceeded in a maladroit way- or so it appears- whereas the Richards husband and wife acted sensibly and within the law. It is a bizarre twist that Richards petitioned the Indian Court to try to get Sangita back to India and the Court denied it had jurisdiction! Later, on the urging of the Khobragade, a different Court put an injunction on Richards from pursuing a claim against Khobragade in a foreign court saying India alone had jurisdiction.
No doubt there is another side to the story- but I have to say prima facie, it is the lower middle class Richards who appear to have been law abiding and patriotic Indian citizens doing the right thing and avoiding creating a scandal, whereas the elite Khobragades seem to have acted malafide again and again.
Khobragade's father even alleged that Sangita was a CIA agent!

Anonymous said...

"It is a bizarre twist that Richards petitioned the Indian Court to try to get Sangita back to India and the Court denied it had jurisdiction! "

Hmm...I thought Sangita was Richards. Some ontological dysphoria here?

windwheel said...

Just looked it up- apparently her name is Sangeeta Richard, not Richards.
What I meant was that her husband, Mr. Richard, back in India petitioned the Delhi Court, on behalf of his wife in America, stating among other things that she was being denied passage home.
I guess the Richard family are either super smart or they had great legal advise.