The arrest of Indian Diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York and subsequent diplomatic spat between India and United States is fast becoming tabloid stuff, with supposed hoax videos of Ms Khobragade's strip search doing rounds on the Internet and Indian media changing their story on a daily basis. This affair, however, tells us a few things about new India which is worth taking note of.
First, a quick update on what happened. What we know so far is this: Ms Khobragade's housemaid, Ms Sangetha Richards, someone who was recruited from India and was brought to United States, complained of inhuman treatment against her, and also stated that she was never paid the promised salary, the one Ms Khobragade apparently declared in the visa application form that she signed. After Ms Richards formally complained, Ms Khobragade was formally charged by the prosecutors. This much we know, because no one seems to be disputing this.
Now, the claims: India claimed that Ms Khobragade was strip searched, a claim which was strongly denied by US Marshall's office and never substantiated from the Indian side: We now have a video doing rounds on the Internet, which is claimed to be a hoax. There is a claim by Ms Khobragade's attorney that this is all due to the mistake of an US Visa official, who took what Ms Khobragade got paid herself ($4500) as the amount she would pay the maid. There is also a claim, made by Ms Khobragade's family, that Ms Richards is trying to game the US System and to claim asylum as a victim of human trafficking (a related speculation that Ms Richards was a CIA mole in the Indian embassy surfaced in Indian media, but died down without substantiation).
For normal mortals found in a similar situation, these will be legal arguments played out in a courtroom, for which Ms Khobragade will have plenty of opportunity. If she was unfairly treated by the police, which is unlikely, she can indeed press charges against the officers involved. Given that Indian diplomats (and diplomats from other countries too, it must be said) find themselves regularly on the wrong side of US law with regard to domestic help, seems to give credence to the view that underpaying maids is possibly a common practice. For Indians living abroad, this is an all too familiar story - once in a while, you get to see similar stories played out between domestic help and their sponsors - except for the fact that this has now become a major world news and a source of geopolitical tension.
The escalation of this seemingly common issue to such a level rests of Indian government getting involved claiming that Ms Khobragade had 'diplomatic immunity'. However, since then, it has been clarified that Ms Khobragade had specific diplomatic immunity only related to her consular duties, and did not enjoy full diplomatic immunity that would have saved her from prosecution in an affair of this kind. Indian government has also accepted this view apparently, by moving her to a role in the UN team in New York which allowed her full diplomatic immunity.
So, legal details aside, everyone seems to accept that the maid was paid less than minimum wage, and there may have been a case of lying on the visa application form (whether it is a mistake is yet to be established), a criminal offence. Everyone seems to accept that Ms Khobragade did not have diplomatic immunity, and there is no substantial evidence that she was treated unusually after her arrest.
What we know for a fact, however, is that India has gone ahead and cancelled many diplomatic privileges of US diplomats in India, who had not been convicted of any wrongdoing in India, including their rights to import alcohol. There were speculative statements made by senior politicians about prosecuting gay partners of US diplomats, presumably using a colonial era law which many Indians see as out of date. And, they have also taken completely cavalier steps, like removing security barriers from US embassy in New Delhi, without regard to the considerable threat this embassy is under from Global terror networks (Indeed, if the hated ISI wants to embarrass India, they have been extended an open invitation).
As an overseas Indian, one is struck by this reaction, primarily considering the contrast between India's reaction to this and the French reaction to the arrest of Dominic Strauss Kahn, who at the time of his arrest, was the Head of IMF and a front-runner in the French Presidential race. DSK did something very french, and it was not conclusively proved that he was at fault (indeed, he was acquitted). The French was outraged and indeed, there was talk of conspiracy: However, the French government had the good sense to keep the rhetoric in its place.
In contrast, what India seems to demanding for Ms Khobragade is not diplomatic immunity (she did not have any), but the impunity the Indian elite usually operates with. It is proving the point that many Indians including Arundhati Roy makes, that the Indian elite and the Indian state have become one and the same, and that it does not believe in equality before law (and the privileged must be allowed to do whatever they wish). It is ready to put the country's geopolitical interests in line (the relationship with United States is important because the Indian government itself says so: Manmohan Singh could not think of any greater achievement in his 10 year premiership than the nuclear deal with the United States) for someone who seems to have a very well connected father. The affair also tells us something about Indian journalism: That even the mainstream media in India can not control its tabloid streak when one of their own is touched, and indeed, it has no respect for rule of law like rest of the elite.
In a few months, Indian democracy will be trumpeted about and the world will be reminded that India is world's most populous democracy. In that sense, this affair is timely to remind everyone that democracy is not an end in itself, and divorced from rule of law and accountability of various institutions, it can indeed turn into a very ugly affair.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.