Amit Reaganswami
L’Affaire Devyani [Updated]
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

I have heard of two interesting stories involving diplomats. Both were from an acquaintance who became the Indian head of a multinational conglomerate about 10-15 years ago. Being the Indian head, he had to deal with issues not strictly related to business. First was about a young American who had come to India to “Discover himself”, Soon the young man found himself addicted to drugs and the crime which comes with it. Eventually he found himself in an Indian prison. His father made frantic attempts to help his son extricate himself which is why he ended up contacting the head of the Indian division of the company he worked in — i.e. my acquaintance. He also got in touch with the local American Embassy.

The local embassy as my acquaintance noted was nothing short of spectacular. Using some “interesting” means they managed to extricate this American from the Indian jail and in a flight back to the US. Whatever the crime, the American consulate would not let him rot in India. The only justice system which mattered to them was the American justice system.

A similar pattern followed when another expat, this time a Japanese man who was smuggling butterflies (which just so happened to be endangered) from India got caught by the Indian authorities. The Japanese embassy here and the staff here also did whatever was necessary to make sure the man did not face legal action or jail time in India.

These stories happened 10-15 years ago when the Indian media was not as capable of generating outrage, and Arnab did not thunder from the Television screens. Maybe the same could not be repeated again. But the important thing here is that the local embassy had its priorities clear. To not subject a citizen to the laws and prisons of another country, whatever that person did. Prosecution in their own country was far better than that in a foreign country. And this was about individuals who had no diplomatic immunity.

Today’s outrage worthy case is about Devyani Khobragade — a diplomat who in a way represents our crony get-away-scot-free system. Her father — Uttam Khobragade was the Godfather of the Adarsh scam letting the building go from 6 floors to a whopping 31 floors. The clear quid pro quo seemed to be a flat for Devyani and her brother in what was an elite skyscraper in Colaba. And this same lady was posted to New York in what is quite an important posting in spite of all the public outrage against Adarsh.

The other thing people are outraging about is that she had a nanny that too imported from India. And paid her less than American minimum wage, all the while being a lawyer who stood for women’s rights. And yes she is a despicable babu — the white towel kind who we have more than enough reasons to hate. Many NRIs are outraging about the fact that she managed to get Indian middle class privileges in the US while they have had to live the American drudgery of doing everything including throwing the trash out themselves. Then there is the actual crime itself — ”Visa Fraud” where the wages she mentioned that she will pay the maid / nanny were far lower than what she actually paid the nanny. This is bad enough for anybody to do, but for a member of the Indian Government Mission to do the same is barely acceptable.

So we should bury her right? Wrong. First it is very important to note why diplomatic immunity actually exists. The laws and the legal systems of a country can often be plain stupid. Section 377 of the IPC may seem plain stupid to most Americans today. Similarly there is a raging debate on the American right on the minimum wage, especially now that the President in his infinite wisdom is trying to increase it. That it actually increases unemployment and causes people to under report income has been debated aggressively. The French seem to have a turban problem and the Swiss a minaret problem.

And for those neo-colonials, who go about praising the American legal system, please note that this is the same system which makes it a constitutional right to own guns of mass destruction and the same system which let George Zimmerman kill a boy going back to his house because he was “armed with pavement”. What works for one country, may not work for another country. That is why we are a sovereign nation and not subjected to a white man’s idea of what’s right.

Saudi laws pertaining to women are outrage worthy. Diplomats from other countries posted to Saudi Arabia should not be subjected to archaic medievalism of The Kingdom’s laws. That is exactly why diplomatic immunity exists. Even when it is prudent of Diplomats posted to other countries to observe and respect the local traditions, surely an American diplomat in Saudi should not be prosecuted because she accidentally entered the “male floor” of a shopping mall without a veil.

Nobody comes out looking good in the Devyani affair. First let’s take the maid who “bleeding hearts” have suddenly fallen in love with. A timeline by rediff does not exactly show her in very good light. She was working illegally especially considering her special passport and visa status. After going to the world’s best extortion artists — i.e. US lawyers, she suddenly decides to start what clearly looks like extorting her boss for money.

Then there is Preet Bharara — the Paris Hilton of US Attorneys. His claim to fame is going after Wall Streets mighties. Something which endeared himself to the Occupy Wall Street extreme wings of the Democrat party. Actually his claim to fame is going after washed out mighties of Wall Street. Those whose days were behind them like Madoff and Raj Rajaratnam. His tactics in getting a Rajat Gupta conviction used Fed wiretaps were controversial to say the least. The DSK case, another high profile dud showed him as an opportunist. In general just a publicity hungry, political career expanding attorney.

Then there are the IFS and the Indian government which loves being a doormat. It was a doormat when an Indian was hounded in Togo; it was a doormat that let a microscopic country like Malidives walk all over us. It was a doormat that let a popular Indian President — actually the only popular Indian President get harassed. A doormat let its diplomat get harassed. And finally decide that they have the spine only to protect a diplomat who seems tainted by connections to the Adarsh scam. And then there is the quality of people who are posted to important positions — but that we should not be surprised about. Our diplomatic missions are reflections of our Government. Is it really surprising that our doormat government has doormat missions with people of questionable credentials?

The American State Department on the other hand seemed to know about the wages and tacitly agreed to the same. If they developed a change of heart on the wage practices of the Indian embassy, surely there were better ways to deal with it other than a spectacular arrest?


And finally the many sins of Devyani and her father are well known.

The late B Raman in an epic piece after Narendra Modi’s visa denial repeatedly said how he would never bring another country into injustices in his own country

But it would not have occurred to any of us to seek the assistance of a foreign power to teach them a lesson. We would have considered such an attitude anti-national

This reflects something that we should always remember. However flawed your systems are relying on other countries legal system is stupid and idiotic. If Devyani Khobragade needs to be tried, she should be tried in India. Not subjected to a court in the US. Especially as an Indian diplomat. Irrespective of her political affiliations and cronyism. She can be expelled from the US, but to dramatically arrest her and strip searching her is plain wrongIt’s a lot like subjecting Gay US diplomats to a strip search for allegedly violating Section 377.

The US is a bully. It scarcely respects the laws of other countries and has one set of laws for itself and another set of laws for everybody else. Raymond Davies got immunity after killing two people. Was the killing in pursuit of his “consular duties”? The NSA spying showed how they even treat their friends with contempt. And that is exactly why I love that country. But, the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them and develop a backbone. You may have to take a few blows along the way, but that’s the only way to deal with them. That’s the only way to get respect.

I dream of a day when we can convict Devyani. But that conviction has to happen in India. Not in a foreign land, by a foreign judge. But in India, by an Indian.

She may be a criminal / fraud / Idiot / scamster / slave owner,

But she is an Indian criminal.