Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Saga of India's Devyani Klobragade: How to Turn a Minor Issue Into an International Incident

Devyani Klobragade was the Deputy Indian Consul General in New York City until a few days ago. United States State Department security officers arrested her as she dropped her daughter off at school, and then turned her over to the U.S. Marshalls Service. Devyani claims she was handcuffed, strip searched, and thrown into a jail cell with common prisoners, such as drug offenders. The Marshalls say they exercised “standard arrestee intake procedures.” Sangeeta Richard started employment with Devyani in November. She left employment in June and “disappeared.” Devyani accused Sangeeta of attempted extortion. Sangeeta claims she was promised in a contract $9.75/hour in wages if she became a housemaid to Sangeeta in New York. She then asserts she was forced to sign a new contract in the United States paying her only $3.31/hour and had to surrender her passport to Devyani. An Indian Court issued an injunction against Sangeeta, barring her from proceeding against Devyani in United States courts. Apparently Sangeeta has no intention of returning to India to face Indian justice because she has been granted asylum in the United States. In addition, the United States government has flown her family from India to be with her in America. The Richard family must be elated. They’re legally in the United States. The United States has accussed Devyani of Visa Fraud in the misrepresentations in Sangeeta’s visa application. Devyani, of course, denies the charges and says money was sent to Sangeeta’s family in India as well as direct payments to Sangeeta. A similar incident recently occurred here in Orange County. A housemaid leveled similar charges against a Saudi Princess. Local authorities arrested the princess, but subsequently dropped all charges when it became clear that the former maid was lying in an attempt to receive asylum in the United States. Sangeeta’s story can, if true, establish a criminal case against Devyani. It may make sense to a prosecutor, especially an overzealous prosecutor. But it’s stupid. It defies common sense. There has to be an alternative explanation for the government’s action. The explanation that makes sense is that the Justice and State Departments decided to make an example of Devyani because of excessive abuses in the diplomatic corps. She apparently lacks the full diplomatic immunity of an embassy diplomat as compared to the limited immunity of a consular employee. They didn’t think it through. The Devyani Affair has become an issue of class in India. Middle class and upper class women and men should be treated with respect and dignity. Devyani is apparently a Dalit, the lowest class under the outlawed caste system, but she is highly educated and become a distinguished member of the diplomatic corps. She is thereby entitled to respect. Other prominent Indians have been treated “poorly” by Indian standards, especially by the TSA. Former President A. P. J. Abdul Kalum had to remove his shoes at airport security while India’s Ambassador Meera Shankar had the pat down treatment and Indian’s permanent representative to the UN was detained fro reusing to remove his turban. In this respect India should understand the TSA does not discriminate. The TSA has patted down former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and members of Congress. India’s Foreign Minister Salman Khursheed, declared before India’s Parliament that “It is no longer about an individual…. It is about our sense of self as a nation and place in the world.” India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, called the treatment of Devyani “deplorable.” Sensitive cases in the United States are often handled by having the accused discretely surrender out of the public limelight. The State Department could have arranged for Davyani to quietly surrender in private or have quietly requested the Indian Government to remove her from the United States. Not so this time. She was intentionally arrested in public in a humiliating environ, and then treated by the Marshalls as a common criminal. India responded to the arrest of its diplomat by Calling the United States Ambassador into the Foreign Minister’s office for a dressing down, removing the cement barrier/security blocks in front of the United States Embassy, stripping the US Embassy and consulates of their right to duty free alcohol and food, and requesting surrender by American diplomats, including consuls, of their government issued ID’s and airport passes. Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to smooth the waters by calling Shivshankar Menon, India’s national security advisor and empathized “with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded.” Menon had called the United States’ conduct “despicable and barbaric.” Preep Bharara, then United States Attorney for New York, jumped into the fray by defending the government’s actions, and in effect undermining Secretary Kerry’s efforts to calm Indian. He asked the rhetorical question: “Is it for U.S. prosecutors to look the other way, ignore the law and civil rights of victims, or is it the responsibility of the diplomats and consular officers and their government to make sure the law is observed?” This Administration should not be quoting the rule of law. India reassigned Devyani to India’s United Nations Mission, which will, at least prospectively, afford her full diplomatic immunity. The United States has lost the publicity battle over the Devyani-Sangeeta Affray. It also does not hold strong bargaining leverage with India. The United States sided with Pakistan for decades after the partition of India. Nehru, Jawalarlal India’s Prime Minister, was a socialist and the international leader of the third world, non-aligned nations. The American rapprochement with India is of recent origin and fragile. Another potential diplomatic disaster is about to blow up with the upcoming India elections. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is forecast to win the next national election. The BJP is led by Narendra Modi, who would become India’s next Prime Minister. The State Department denied Modi a visa in 2005. He stands accused of human rights violations a decree ago when religious riots broke out through India. He actions as chief minister of the province of Gujarat as Hindus rioted against Muslims have been called into question. Estimates are that over 1,000 died in these riots. He is on the State Department’s list of those who committed “severe violations of religious freedom.” By not resolving the Devyani saga quickly and quietly, the State Department is more limited with Modi.

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