Did she or didn’t she? That’s the question…

Posted: December 21, 2013 in Maid row
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

We just love to flaunt our connections, don’t we? And if we are the connection, we just love to flaunt that too. ‘Immunity’ is a word that has been misused by politicians, diplomats, journalists, bureaucrats and anyone with any connection to government. When we are not in that position, some of us engage in what we call ‘name-dropping’. “I know so-and-so” or “do you know who I am?” is a popular refrain. See what happens at airports around the country. An MLA or MP or even the son-in-law of a VVIP can walk through the green channel, because he has the connections.

Whether Devyani Khobragade broke the law, or was framed by her maid, or the US government, the twelve men and women in an American courtroom will decide. And Ms Khobragade has not cared to give us the correct version – and by that I don’t mean her version, but the legal and truthful one. She has just denied the charge. What is the real story? Did she or didn’t she underpay her maid and does she have the documents to prove that she didn’t? The complaint alleges that Ms. Khobragade undertook to pay Sangeeta Richard $9.75 an hour for a 40-hour work week, but actually paid her around 30,000 rupees a month, or about $3.31 an hour.

Even weirder is External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid insisting on immunity for the diplomat. So does Khurshid mean that even though she committed the crime he would like her to be exonerated because she is a diplomat? Or should she have been handcuffed or strip searched?

Even on the question of immunity there are two versions. And then to protect her, the government hurriedly shifted her to the UN, where she can avail full immunity. Why do that, if she is innocent?

So what makes Ms Khobragade so special? Her father’s connections or her exalted status as ingrained in the Indian Constitution? This isn’t the first case of an Indian diplomat underpaying his or her maid, and it definitely won’t be the last. I wish ordinary citizens like me would also get such leeway when we are caught in a jam. And after having read the report on the Adarsh housing scam, it looks like neither Ms Khobragade or her father are as clean as he is claiming to be. She has also been declared ineligible to own a house in Adarsh. So when the lady didn’t have any issues bending a few rules here, how do we know she didn’t bend it there too?

But I do wish we – government and people (journalists included) – would stop indulging in this shoddy chest-thumping rhetoric. We have been blaming the media from across the border for the past sixty odd years of being jingoistic on a rather touchy issue. Isn’t that exactly how we are behaving now? Aren’t we going by whatever version we want to believe is the truth? Or as the TV channels are doing – carrying out their own jury trials, with the Sardesais and the Goswamis shrieking at the top of the lungs to gain some extra TRPs. I am really surprised at the stuff that is floating around about Ms Khobragade’s treatment of the maid; about how the maid thought Ms Khobragade was a wonderful woman and treated her like family; about how the maid was blackmailing her, etc etc. All that is really not important in this case, is it? So can we stop the BS?

Which also makes me wonder why the Manmohan Singh government never reacted with such alacrity when former President APJ Abdul Kalam was searched or when former Defence Minister George Fernandes was strip searched at an American airport? Was it because both men were not on the ‘most favoured people’ list of the MMs government? The lame excuse given then was that these were their (US) procedures at all airports. Some of my friends sitting in the USA or some more here might disagree with me on this, but tell me what did the Indian government do, with reference to a certain Rajat Gupta who was till the insider trading news broke, the darling of the Indian government and media? Of course, he broke the law, and the Indian government does not extend courtesies to law-breakers, does it? But Kalam and Fernandes did not break any law? Why didn’t our government withdraw privileges to US diplomats then? So what’s so special now?

Someone sent me an interesting piece from the US that according to Article 47 (Exemption From Work Permits) of the Vienna Convention, the staff in question wasn’t bound by local wage laws. I’ll accept that if it is really the case. Article 47 states: Specific restrictions on authority to express the consent of a State: “If the authority of a representative to express the consent of a State to be bound by a particular treaty has been made subject to a specific restriction, his omission to observe that restriction may not be invoked as invalidating the consent expressed by him unless the restriction was notified to the other negotiating States prior to his expressing such consent.” If you can figure that out, let me know.

The other issue is one of well-to-do Indians or Americans, or those in positions of power short-changing their countrymen elsewhere. In the midst of all this, spare a thought for the maid. We have conveniently made her the villain of the piece. A maid getting Rs 30,000 in India is unheard of except if she is working with the really rich. So it is easy to understand how someone in her position can be easily lured to any other country by such a figure.

I don’t know whether Ms Khobragade and the US government came to some sort of tacit understanding that they would look the other way while she underpaid the maid and a third party decided to be a little smart. If that is so, then all I can say is Ms Khobragade (India) slipped on a really big banana peel that was conveniently left there for her. If not, let us wait for the court to decide. And I mean the US court, not the one run on the news channels.

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