Thursday, January 9, 2014

Indian Diplomat, Indian Worker and American Law

This story is old. After chewing and re-chewing multiple times, this tale was pushed to the backyard. Just for the sake of curiosity, I would like to revisit the facts.

Characters in this story - both Devyani Khobragade, deputy consul general in New York, her maid Sangita Richard are Indians.

Khobragade hired Mrs Richard as a domestic help. According to written contract submitted as part of visa application, Khobragade agreed to pay $9.75/hour for a 40 hour work week. Application continued to state that Richard will make around $4500/month. So far so good, but the problem comes next. There was one verbal agreement between Khobragade and Richard. According to this, Richard’s salary would be 25,000 INR/month with an additional 5,000 INR for overtime. If we consider the exchange rates at that point of time, this would be around $573 ($3.31/hour).

It looks like neither Richard nor Khobragade informed anything about the second agreement to US authorities before she left India. Obviously they won’t agree on issuing a visa for an applicant whose salary would be less than legally accepted minimum wage.

Many things happened after that; Khobragade complained; India revoked passport for Sangita.

Khobragade was arrested by US Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service. According to Indian media, she was subjected to hand cuffing, strip search and cavity search.

As per the statement from Nikki Credic-Barrett (spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshals Service) "Khobragade was strip searched but not subjected to a cavity search... anyone taken to holding cells of the New York federal courthouse is automatically subjected to a strip search if they are placed among other prisoners".

As Khobragade was attached to Indian mission in US, this became a problem between two. India naturally invoked Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (signed by both India and US) to get full immunity for Khobragade.

Article 29 and 30 of the convention says that (you can find the convention here,

Article 29
"The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity."

Article 30
"1.The private residence of a diplomatic agent shall enjoy the same inviolability and protection as the premises of the mission.
2. His papers, correspondence and, except as provided in paragraph 3 of article 31, his property, shall likewise enjoy inviolability."

As per Article 32, "The immunity from jurisdiction of diplomatic agents and of persons enjoying immunity under article 37 may be waived by the sending State."

It is to be noted here that, as per artcle 34 "A diplomatic agent shall be exempt from all dues and taxes, personal or real, national, regional..."

I think US could have inform and ask GoI to initiate actions against the diplomat (in case she would found guilty). Even though US prosecutors won’t get what they wanted (Khobragade might walk free from an Indian court), I still think this is the best way.

At the same time, I would like to ask some questions,

1. Khobragade might be well aware about US laws on minimum wages and Visas. Why she created a second agreement with Richard?
2. Isn't better for her to pay the full wages, in case she want to employ a house maid?
3. Arguments about her low salary won’t stay in this case. She is 'married to an American citizen, New York-born Aakash Singh Rathore, a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania'. Moreover it’s not the basic right of Khobragade to have a house maid. Because of her position, Khobragade's salary might be tax free.
4. What about Richard's version of the story? Indian media hardly focused on her version.
5. Are Indian and US administration so incapable of handling this entire sequence of events as a low key affair?

Still time is there. US and Indian officials can sit down and talk. There is no need to flex the muscles; US need to understand that their past run-ins with many other governments don’t paint them as a dove. Raymond Davis incident in Lahore didn't happen long time back. US can easily reach a settlement and put a full stop on this issue.

Indian government also have to do a lot of hard work. If I am not wrong, many Indian nationals are still held as hostages by pirates; many Indians are facing regressive working conditions and exploitation in foreign countries... Why government is not acting swiftly in those cases?

Relations between two nations are bigger than a couple of individuals or issues between them. After all both alleged victim and the accused are Indian nationals. It is better for both nations to find  a face saving measure and go on.


1. More skeletons tumble out of Devyani Khobragade’s cupboard - FirstPost
2. Devyani Khobragade incident - Wikipedia
3. 3 options available to US on Devyani Khobragade case: Sources - DNA
4. Leading to Devyani's arrest, a verbal deal and 'two contracts' - Financial Express
5. Diplomat arrest: PM says US action deplorable, Khurshid smells rat - The Hindustan Times
6. Devyani Khobragade incident: Both sides of the story - IBNLive
7. US agreed to deport Devyani Khobragade's maid before changing tack - TOI

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