Sunday 16th June 2024,
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The Secular Princess and the Hindu Pauper

The Secular Princess and the Hindu Pauper

Back in 2013 India was involved in a heated verbal exchange with America over the treatment meted out to Devyani Khobragade, Deputy Consul General in the Consulate General of India in New York. Khobragade hired Sangeeta Richard, an Indian national, in November 2012 as a nanny and domestic servant. She was charged on 11 December 2013, of committing visa fraud and providing false statements in order to gain entry to the United States for Richard. Also she was charged with paying her domestic servant just £2 an hour, which is below the allowed minimum wage.

Khobragade was arrested in New York on December 12, 2013 by United States Marshals after dropping her daughter at school, after which, she was handcuffed, strip searched ,DNA swabbed and, according to Indian media sources, subjected to a cavity search. She denied all the charges and was later released on bail. India has since demanded an apology from the US over her alleged “humiliation”. The Indian government has since moved Khobragade to a permanent Indian Mission at the U.N., New York which may provide her with diplomatic immunity.

The incident has sparked a diplomatic row between the two democracies, as well as angry street protests in India against America’s treatment of Khobragade. The USA is accused of being anti-Indian and lack of proper sensitivity. In retaliation former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha called for the arrest of same-sex companions of US diplomats, citing the Supreme Court of India’s recent upholding of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The Indian government asked US consular officers posted in India to return all identity cards.

On December 17, 2013, Delhi Police had removed security barricades on the road outside the US Embassy in New Delhi, citing need for improvement of traffic flow in that area. India has demanded an unconditional apology from the US government and asked the details of the salaries of all domestic help, gardeners and other staff employed by US consulates in India to check for inconsistency or frauds  India moved to block perks such as cheap alcohol and food imports, for embassy employees. The next day, Ex
Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh criticised the actions of the US authorities as “deplorable”.

But is it as simple as this? The Khobragade incident has shed light on a few uncomfortable facts. Most damning is that the deputy consul was paying below the minimum wage. Richard complained about exploitative treatment and as a result steps were taken by India to repatriate her and husband Phillip back to India. On December 10, 2013, the maid’s husband and children were granted T visas, which allow certain victims of human trafficking and immediate family members to remain and work temporarily in the United States if they agree to assist law enforcement in testifying against the perpetrators. Yet Khobragade has publicly campaigned for women’s rights and gender equality.

Politicians across India’s political spectrum were united in their condemnation of how the deputy consul was treated. That in itself is quite farcical because one of the condemnations came from Narendra Modi, then the elected state chief minister who himself was denied an entry visa to America. Yet at that time where were the protests? Instead India was quite happy for the USA to deny entry to the democratically elected politician who has made Gujarat the powerhouse success that it is.

There is also something deeper here. In 2011, Prabhu Dayal, the then Consul General in New York, was accused of treating his domestic worker Santosh Bhardwaj  as a “slave”. She was forced to work long hours for £183 a month, had her passport was confiscated and had to sleep in a storage closet as well as fighting off sexual advances from her ‘master’. As usual India backed the diplomat against the maid. In 2012, IFS officer Neena Malhotra, then India’s cultural and press counsellor in New York, and her husband Jogesh were ordered to pay out nearly £0.92 million for forcing an under-aged Indian girl to work for little pay at their Manhattan apartment.

Again a virtual slave and history repeated itself when we realise that ‘slaves’ have no rights. In response to the recompense, India moved the Delhi High Court for a restraining order against any adverse directive involving its officials. The Delhi High Court restrained the maid and her lawyers from pursuing the case and made it clear that only an Indian court will have the jurisdiction to entertain the complaint.

Now the very Marxist gang and their ‘useful idiot’ disciples behind excluding Modi from America will no doubt perk up and say these are clear examples of India’s hierarchical and inegalitarian caste system, which is bolstered by the Hindu religion that dominates India.

While the incident brings up the stark inequalities in Indian society, it does so from a bizarre angle. This is not a case of caste discrimination, because as Mayawati, chief of the Bhaujan Samaj Party and icon to millions of Dalits, has pointed out, Khobragade is herself a Dalit. This startling revelation is enhanced by Khobragade’s very own sister Sharmistha, who denied that she was an elite poster girl of India’s privileged and affluent minority. Nevertheless her background is hardly the stuff of Oliver Twist or any rags to riches story.

Born and brought up in Mumbai, her father, Uttam is former magistrate and retired IAS officer and her uncle, Dr Ajay M Gondane is Indian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea. She studied medicine and qualified from the Seth GS Medical College and King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai but abandoned it to enter the Indian Foreign Service in 1999. She is proficient in English, Hindi, German and her mother tongue, Marathi. But it was not her qualifications which counted in getting her the prestigious position in New York. Instead it was the fact that she is a Dalit which allowed her entrance to the IFS on the India’s quota system for ‘Schedule Castes’, because 7.5 per cent of all jobs in the IFS must go to members of Scheduled Castes.

The system was established with the aim of helping social mobility in an otherwise rigid culture of caste discrimination. In reality is entrenched caste and privilege so that the masses have no chance to succeed in a system that crushes all attempts at meritocracy. Narendra Modi is one of the few to have broken through this bamboo ceiling, having been born into a poor family, in a house of brick and mud and began working as a young boy serving tea at a bus station. How many other tea vendors and child labourers can realistically aspire to the highest political post in the country? When you contrast Modi’s life with that of Khobragade, we not only have the contrast between power and privilege on one hand, with aspiring dynamism of the masses on the other, but also the clash of the old India of neo-colonial backward attitudes, with that of a confident vibrant young India which will break through barriers of social class.

Dr Khobragade’s father Uttam has joined the fray claiming: ‘The whole of India feels that it is not an attack on Devyani, it is an attack on Indian sovereignty.’

This is of course a sentiment which resonates with India’s major parties. But where were they when Pakistan backed terrorists behead Indian soldiers, attacked the parliament in Delhi, or massacred innocent people in Mumbai? Does India then stand firm and demand an apology? Rhetorical question because the very next day they will be shaking hands with their smug smiling foe and having a game of cricket. On that basis India should be organising a basketball tournament with America.

After all America has not actually launched terrorist attacks on India.india never mentions how hindus are persecuted in Pakistan , even as they stream into the country to find refuge and are forced to live in squalid camps . The same dire treatment is given out to its own citizens the indigenous pandits of kashmir who were forced out of their homeland at gun point by Pakistan baked terrorists in 1990 . But when it comes to a spoilt little rich girl from the elite , india cannot keep its larynx under control .

What we have here is a fundamental clash of values. India may be a democracy but it lacks a healthy civil society. Instead the state is seen as the panacea to all ills as it intrudes into micro managing where it is not needed. A new elite caste has grown up where political office is inherited. Mimicry, kleptocracy and Swiss bank socialism are the hallmarks of this dysfunctional illiterate upper crust. India garners no respect because it does not respect itself. It degrades its Hindu basis and roots in the name of secularism, a secularism which ironically discriminates on religion in its insistence on separate laws for different faith communities.

Quotas to supposedly tackle caste only help a few well-connected and affluent families who thereby join the parasitic elite in kicking down the masses as they are waited on hand and foot by servants at home, and enjoy the beck and call of armed police as they speed through the streets in their air conditioned luxury vehicles with blacked out windows, running over the street beggars and homeless. India, that is so quick to take offence at one of its own elite not being shown the proper deference, has no qualms in ignoring the suffering of its own soldiers and common citizens who suffer from acts of terrorism or become the victims of exploitative labour practices, people trafficking or the sex trade. When attacking America for supposed diplomatic improprieties, India should remember the old adage that people living in glass houses really should not throw stones.


About The Author

Ranbir Singh : Writer and lecturer, HHR chairman : BA (Honours) History, MA History from School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London : , Have lectured previously at De Montfort University, London School of Economics, Contributor to various political and human rights discussion outfits.

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