…for far too long now, I feel compelled to post it — even though the issue has been discussed threadbare practically every night on TV all through the last month, and I cannot possibly have anything new or particularly insightful to add to it. If you have been following the news even cursorily, chances are you have had enough of Devyani Khobragade, but I promise to keep it short 🙂
My thoughts on the issue are a product of my personal dislike for Khobragade due to the whiff of corruption and entitlement she carries, my resentment of US hypocrisy wherein Americans can get away with murder on foreign soil but non-Americans in the US had better watch their step, and then again the shrill, unbecoming Indian response. The press in India has been more or less sympathetic towards Khobragade –nothing unites us Indians, or any third world nation for that matter, as resentment against the ‘overbearing, arrogant’ Americans.
I am surprised that a strip search per se should evoke such consternation, when even a former Indian President was subjected to it not too long ago without too many eye-brows being raised. As long as it was done in reasonable privacy (which it was) and those conducting the search are of the same sex as the person being searched (which they were), why is a strip-search a big deal? Because she is a woman? Has Devyani tapped into our primal, patriarchal fear of a perceived loss of honour through the disrobing of a woman?
There is no denying that the Americans were high-handed and over-the-top in their dealing with the issue. They could have done without handcuffing her in public, and they could have avoided lodging her with petty criminals if they only had to detain her for as long as it would take her to furnish a bail bond.They could have handled it more delicately if they had wanted to.
I was reminded of that old Hindi saying, “bhaya binu hoyi na preeti“– meaning there can be no friendship without an element of fear. One can only imagine the kind of furor that would ensue if an American diplomat were subjected to such a treatment, no matter what the crime.
It is true that Americans with or without diplomatic immunity routinely get away with practically anything on foreign soil. Raymond Davis is an egregious example and must be condemned for all it is worth–but surely it would be a fallacy to use his example to demand for the right of non-Americans to do as they please on American soil? If Khobragade is guilty of making false declarations in the visa statements of her maid, by all means she should face the music–and by the same token Americans should expect to be tried as per the laws of the host country in the event of a transgression.
The trouble with India is, it is ever so mindful of Western sensitivities– to the extent of appearing obsequious– and then cries fowl when the favour is not returned. When a French diplomat in India was accused by his wife of raping their own minor daughter, India didn’t move a finger until it received clearance to arrest him from the French government after five days. There is clearly a need for the intricacies and limitations of diplomatic immunity to be spelt out more clearly.
India’s official reaction to the Khobragade issue was embarrassing. Why make such a hue and cry when she was detained for only two hours and was in all probability guilty as charged too? India’s case was never that she was innocent–just that she should have been treated ‘respectfully’. How respectfully is respectfully enough? After all, the mere act of arrest can well be taken as disrespect. India hasn’t quite covered itself in glory by transferring her to a position that would guarantee her full immunity. Indeed, it has been been trying very hard to get the immunity to be applicable retrospectively–which is in effect an official admission of her guilt.
While I do feel miffed that an Indian diplomat was not treated the way an American diplomat expects to be treated, I cannot help feeling a wee bit gleeful that the law finally caught up with a corrupt bureaucrat, even if it had to happen in the US. We know she was unlikely to ever be held accountable in India for her shady personal finance details and she knew it. It is good to know that there are places in the world where the rich, the powerful and the privileged can be made to face the music too.