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Mainstream, VOL LII No 1, December 28, 2013 - ANNUAL 2013

India-US Standoff over Diplomat’s Humiliation

Sunday 29 December 2013

by Sudhanshu Tripathi

It is shameful for a country like America, which boasts of being a land of freedom and liberty with highly civilised cultural traditions ensuring endless opportunities to all talented and meritorious persons and, consequently, attracting them from all over the world since long, to act contrary to the courtesies being extended to all diplomats under the explicit rules of international law. The way senior Indian diplomat posted in New York, Ms Devyani Khobragade, was subjected to extreme humi-liation by not only just arresting and handcuffing her along with waist chains and leg shackles but putting her through both repeated strip and cavity searches and detaining her with sex-workers and drug addicts, normally used for ordinary criminals, on charges of visa fraud and false statement furnished in the visa application regarding salary payment to her domestic help, speaks volumes of its arbitrary, unethical and abnormal behaviour and reminds one of the White-Man’s-Burden policy of yester-years which had caused untold torture, repression and sufferings to millions of people of the Third World nations in the colonial era. Consequently, she broke down many a time but there was no regard of the basic dignity of being a woman who happens to be a daughter, a wife or someone’s mother. Not only this much, she was further subjected to swabbing, possibly for DNA sampling, which further added to her woes and also for our country.

Notwithstanding violations of the US’ visa rules, although the visa was granted by the US itself despite objections, the Indian diplomat was to bear the severe brunt of unusual American arrogance and highhandedness and was even denied the basic norms of human dignity as a woman that she obviously deserves. This is a matter of grave concern for India. Though there have been two previous cases in which Indian diplomats at the New York consulates have been enmeshed in cases of ill-treating a domestic employee, this is the first one in which a diplomat is facing criminal charges for not paying her domestic worker the minimum wage and of providing wrong information about the same in the visa application.

As it goes, it appears a normal practice in America to humiliate Indians on one ground or the other; the US had not spared even the ex-President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, or a famous Bollywood Star, Shahrukh Khan, in the recent past. By such aberrations, one has nothing but to infer that Indians become lesser human beings the moment they land in America. Now Indians, especially women, will have to think twice before proceeding to the US. After all, the US is a global policeman and nothing is impossible for it on the pretext of internal security or upholding the country’s rules and regulations.

If we go by the past American acts with regard to India, the US has always given us unfair treatment, be it on the question of cross-border terrorism exported from Pakistan or manipulating to secure the patent of Indian Basmati rice, Neem tree, turmeric etc. against which India had to fight a long battle or providing a permanent seat for India in the United Nations Security Council as it is the largest democracy and a responsible player in the comity of nations.

Obviously, the US’ actions do not accord the level of friendship that the Indian Government claims to have with it. Though our economic, techno-logical and security constraints do compel us to forge close relations with America, that cannot be maintained by compromising our women’s dignity and honour, especially in the case of one who enjoys certain diplomatic immunity as well. The Indian Government has rightly chosen the head-on collision course—tit for tat—by withdrawing some privileges earlier enjoyed by the US diplomats besides other such measures in a bid to not only retaliate but also to make the US realise that India has the guts to flex its muscles, come what may in future. In fact, this step should have been taken much earlier when President Kalam was frisked at the American airport by the US security personnel. The Indian stand, as explained by an Indian diplomat, is quite appropriate: “We will deal with them exactly the same way they are dealing with us. Not anything more, not anything less. While the US doesn’t provide courtesies to our diplomats, we go out of the way to withhold those facilities. If they are downgrading what we are entitled to as diplomats, they will also get the same treatment. This way we will both be going strictly by the rules.” If Washington believes that the Indian diplomat is immune from the jurisdiction of US courts only for her consular functions, India can also very well reciprocate in the same way which it has done.

Although all the Opposition parties cutting across party lines have rallied behind the Indian Government’s stand that the US must apologise, drop all criminal charges against the diplomat and allow her to return to India, but will that restore the dipomat’s lost honour and dignity? She had to endure a virtual criminal assault on her person. Further, the Indian Government has transferred her to India’s Permanent Mission in the United Nations to ensure her full diplomatic immunity so that she may not be harassed again.The entire nation along with all Indians residing in America and in other countries must unite to condemn this heinous act and see to it that this matter is referred to the United Nations General Assembly and all other international and global fora so as to put collective pressure on the US to obey international law and never resort to such shameful deeds with anyone.

The US, instead of resorting to jingoism or other crooked tactics, should come forward to honour India’s deep sentiments and concerns attached to this incident and ought to abide by the ideal and standard canons of natural behaviour while dealing with foreign nationals residing on its territory taking into account the doctrine of Sovereign Equality of Nation-States in the true spirit as mentioned in the Peace Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 and also enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

Dr Sudhanshu Tripathi is an Associate Professor, Political Science, M.D.P.G. College, Pratapgarh (UP).

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