Out Of My Mind: A tale of two women

Dec 22 2013, 11:27 IST
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SummaryIndia is about to retaliate and take away the rights and privileges of US diplomats.

India’s reaction to the arrest of Devyani Khobragade has been over the top. From a safe distance, the Indian political and diplomatic establishment was ready to almost declare war on America. The various past ‘insults’ have been detailed. Past ambassadors have thronged to TV channels to recount their experiences. India is about to retaliate and take away the rights and privileges of US diplomats.

All this and what for? The arrest of a person who is consular appointment but who is charged with some criminal activities. None of those activities pertains to her job as a diplomat for India in the US. They concern the payment and treatment of her domestic staff, another Indian woman. In our rush to defend Devyani Khobragade, we forget the plight of Sangeeta Richard. Which is natural because one is IFS and another merely a domestic servant. What rights could a domestic have in India let alone in New York? She should have been grateful that she got this fantastic opportunity to go and serve in Khobragade’s household looking after her children at Rs 30,000 per month with board and lodging.

The realities of the situation are otherwise. As the US legal documents in this case show, Rs 30,000 per month is just $3.31 per hour on the generous calculation that she worked only 40 hours a week. In the visa application the salary was given not as $573.07 per month (which the Rs 30,000 would have amounted to in the days of the strong rupee) but $4,500. Richard was instructed to lie about her salary to get the visa. Thus Khobragade knowingly falsified an official document. But also paying only $3.31 per hour amounts to wage slavery as that is below the minimum wage. Since the declared salary was seven times higher than what Richard was paid, imagine how far below the minimum wage her salary was.

The American legal submission is worth reading as it is very detailed, though somewhat clothed in legalese. The fact remains that Khobragade is charged with something which can merit 15 years of imprisonment. Employing someone below minimum wage (having stated that you will not do so in the visa application) is an offence. It is not part of her diplomatic activity. Human rights of one Indian citizen have been violated by an Indian IFS official. No one in Parliament raises a word about that. Khobragade may be a Dalit (though

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