Deputy consul case: Be afraid of Preet Bharara

After India’s deputy consul general in New York was arrested for allegedly falsifying visa papers to underpay her domestic maid, the government, and the media, arrested in outrage. The consul was handcuffed! In front of her children! She was strip-searched! She was kept in jail with drug offenders! The Indian government swiftly took retaliatory action against US diplomats in India. The maid was smeared freely in the press, declared an absconder, and the US government accused of some nefarious business, especially when it turned out that the maid’s husband and child had been brought to the US.

Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the southern district of New York and the man behind the charges, discusses these allegations and, despite being constrained by his position on the things he is allowed to say, rebuts most of them very nicely here.

Preet Bharara’s name is now familiar to many Indians for his role in this story. But in the US, he is much better known for other things: if you search Google News for current stories, you will find examples like this. Basically, he has successfully targeted many Wall Street executives for insider trading, the latest being SAC Capital’s Michael Steinberg. He has not lost a case yet in prosecuting insider trading, convicting 77 of 77 defendants with ten pending cases. This is clearly a man who does his homework. But because one of those 77 defendants was Rajat Gupta, apparently Bharara is being accused by some in South Block of targeting Indians!

There is no doubt that, in his statement on the consul case, Bharara is saying much less than he knows. The Indian government has behaved in this matter with unbelievable stupidity and arrogance without ascertaining the facts — to the extent of moving the diplomat to the UN office and retrospectively claiming diplomatic immunity (which will be received only if the US State Department accredits her). Now one wonders whether the US values its relations with India sufficiently to go along with this ploy. But the more interesting question, to me, is what else Bharara has up his sleeve (this is after all the third recent case involving just the NY consulate…)

At the end of the day, the way we in India treat domestic help is a scandal, and, increasingly, an international one. The government and the media are right to be angry but have the wrong target.

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50 Comments

  1. Dr.D.K.Samuel

     /  December 19, 2013

    This Office’s sole motivation in this case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law — no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are”. Its US. said Preet Bharara, but sadly in India there are 3 rules 1 for the rich, 2 for the middle class and 3 for the poor

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

     /  December 19, 2013

    I hope at some point in your academic life you had expressed similar concerns about the wages, treatment, living/working conditions meted out to the graduate students’ and post-docs’ (whatever little is there of it) community in India.

    Reply
    • Rahul Siddharthan

       /  December 19, 2013

      I’d love it if grad students and postdocs in India were paid better. It’s not in my control. It’s also not that bad when you adjust for living expenses. When I was a postdoc in NYC about 10 years ago I was paid roughly US$ 4000 a month and that was about 30-40% more than what postdocs in many other fields got paid. It’s also less than what Richard was allegedly promised (even adjusting for inflation, I think). Indian postdocs and grad students need to be paid much better, competitively with their other career opportunities, no question in my mind. Yet some see the benefits in this life despite the poor pay and the certainty that they’d land a good job elsewhere…

      Reply
  3. The issue is not whether the Consul official is guilty or not. The issue is the treatment meted out to her. Preet coolly side steps the main problem by stating: “It is true that she was fully searched by a female Deputy Marshal — in a private setting — when she was brought into the US Marshals’s custody, but this is standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not, in order to make sure that no prisoner keeps anything on his person that could harm anyone, including himself.” (he forgot to mention strip searched, and cavity searched ( does this involve shoving foreign material into those cavities?)). What then about the Vienna Convention sections on how consuls are to be treated? US law is above all other treaties, agreements etc. This is typical American arrogance, which Preet has internalised very well ( one of the secrets of his success!). What about placing her in a cell with drug addicts? is this standard procedure too? For Consuls of other countries? An apology is called for which we will never get.

    Reply
  4. Rahul Siddharthan

     /  December 19, 2013

    I disagree, the issue is certainly whether she is guilty of the allegations. Otherwise the Indian government has no business demanding that the case be dropped, moving her to the UN in an effort to get retroactive immunity, and so on. The mistreatment can be disputed in international fora, but the official reaction goes well beyond questioning her treatment. There are cultural differences over strip-searches, and I will excuse such explanations more readily than I will excuse “cultural difference” explanations of treatment of domestic help. After seeing remarks of Ms Khobragade’s sister today (claiming that the entire Rs 30,000 a month was paid into the husband’s account in Delhi, Richard lived on cash payments which were allegedly in line with minimum wage but there’s no record of it, and was otherwise treated generously) , I am willing to believe that she was trusting and naive, but also too clueless to be a senior diplomat, and also too conditioned by Indian society to believe that this is how you treat servants.

    Reply
  5. I am not condoning the alleged mistreatment of maids by Indian IFS folks. I am all for the law of the land taking action on such actions. But, how can you not see the arrogance and insular view of Americans in what they do, disregarding all International norms? Their reaction has also got a condescending, “we in america have different standards than you third worlders”, which unfortunately many of us who have been in the US for some time or other are so eager to lap up!

    Reply
  6. Gautam Menon

     /  December 20, 2013

    I disagree, Rahul, for various reasons. If the US had felt that she was violating any law, they could have requested the Indian mission to withdraw her or declared her persona non grata and given her 48 hours to leave the country. Rather than arrest her publicly, they could have asked her to appear for questioning, warning her that arrest subsequent to the questioning was a possibility which could be avoided if she left the country voluntarily. (Unlike murder or violent crime, this particular crime admits of such solutions.)

    Unlike some of the other commentators, I do think that consular officials are a special category, which is why they are treated specially in all countries – they have some immunity, they have privileges (such as parking and the use of diplomatic cars and special diplomatic pouches which, by convention, are not searched) which the comity of nations agrees upon. This is because they are the visible representatives of a country on another soil. So everywhere, they are accorded privileges others are not and are treated specially. The US demands special treatment – its citizens are not subject to war crimes tribunals and immunity from various sorts of prosecution, even for contract personnel, is written into their conduct of the Iran and Afghanistan wars.

    The idea that the US is some haven of freedom where the law applies to all, regardless, is something I don’t agree with. Has even one senior bank official been held responsible for the actions that led to the financial collapse and recession that destroyed the lives and futures of people numbering in the millions, not to mention the world financial system? Have any of them even seen the inside of a prison cell, let alone been ‘cavity searched’? These are crimes with consequences that are far more serious than the ‘alleged’ underpayment of a maid, not just for US citizens but for the world.

    Ms. Khobragade may well have broken US law. (I’m sure US consular officials in India break an untold number of Indian laws every day.) But it is an unwritten principle of diplomatic conduct that official representatives of foreign nations on your soil are treated with respect. Mr Bharara may get brownie points for his insistence that US law was followed in a non-discriminatory manner in this case and that all are equal under the law. But US law and their interpretation of international law are themselves discriminatory in various ways and then the question might be: What law should be followed? Isn’t the idea that US representatives are not liable under international war crimes laws itself discriminatory?

    So I’m not unhappy about the Indian governments approach in this case. Even if they just insisted that Indian law would apply rigorously and with no exception to US diplomats and enforced that, I’d think that would be reasonable retaliation. (For example, perhaps tongue in-cheek, our archaic and ridiculous laws against homosexuality – which are, unfortunately still legally applicable – against same-sex partners of US diplomatic staff.)

    Reply
    • Gautam — regarding the last point, surprised to see you on the same page as Yashwant Sinha! Even if your tongue is in your cheek and his wasn’t. Homosexual partners are not illegal, only acts (arguably) are — depends on whether they are “against the order of nature” — and proceeding against those would require spycams in diplomatic bedrooms, and a scandal bigger than Snowden.

      Interesting that you mention the financial system, since Bharara has been proceeding aggressively against insider traders (admittedly only one problem) and convicted many, including Rajat Gupta. Why haven’t the CEOs of the big banks gone to jail? Probably it is hard to pinpoint where the law was broken… insider trading is a clear-cut offence, securitization of loans and mortgages is legal, a lot of related things they did are unethical if not illegal, etc. Certainly a bunch of CEOs should have been jailed.

      Regarding the cavity search, the US denies it. Regarding whether she should have been arrested at all — well, consular immunity does not protect her. I suspect the state department, left to itself, would have preferred to do what you suggest — ask her to leave the country — but prosecutors in the US have considerable independence. Bharara claims she was treated better than a typical detainee would have been. I can believe that — American police are quite brutal with even non-violent offenders. And it is important to note that this is the third such allegation involving the NY consulate. I am pretty sure Bharara has not revealed even a small fraction of what he knows, but the evidence he supplied to get the warrant must have already been quite compelling.

      Consular people, and regular people like you and me, probably do break laws every day, knowingly or unknowingly. Whether action is merited depends on what kind of law is broken. Falsifying visa papers to underpay a servant seems particularly egregious. Here’s what we hear from Devyani’s sister (speaking in her defence!) — even this $3.31/hour (Rs 30000/month) was not paid to Sangeeta Richard in the US, but was credited to her husband’s account in India. Sangeeta meanwhile was paid in cash, supposedly at her request, and supposedly generously, but other than ATM withdrawals there is no record of this. Formally she was paid literally nothing. I can’t believe an IFS officer, even if well-intentioned, can be so casual about these things. But I do suspect it is a systemic problem, which accounts for India’s disproportionate outrage (it started from a mail sent by Devyani to the IFS people around the world, who probably all do the same thing). Where is the outrage over the employment conditions for the maid? A few labour organisations have spoken up but, on the whole, it is silencne.

      Reply
      • From this article:

        “If they wanted to throw the book at her,” the second [US administration] official said, the United States could have protested to the Indian Embassy in Washington and “made her leave the country. That’s the way these things are done,” particularly in cases in which no physical abuse is alleged.

        So, indeed, the state department probably would have preferred that — but at this point, India’s demands for dropping the case are probably not helping. The US may not want to be seen as caving.

        Reply
        • Anonymous

           /  December 21, 2013

          Finally, what are your views on the other dubious aspects of this case ?

          1. Sangeeta Richards’ family sneaked out of India on US visas while there’s a police complaint against one of them ?

          2. Sangeeta herself is absconding and is obliged to face the courts in India – there’s a case and warrant on against her, too, in India which the US embassy was *told* about. If the US authorities knew where she was/is and there was some sort of litigation being pursued with her in the US, aren’t they obliged to inform the Indian authorities that they know of her presence ? Incidentally, she’s been absconding for a few months since she disappeared in the US, and there’s a complaint with the NYPD against her as well.

          Do you believe – irrespective of Khobragade’s guilt – that the US authorities are entitled to simply ignore and bypass the Indian Judicial system and the obligations of at least informing the Indian Consulate of both their awareness of Sangeeta’s presence, as also the steps being taken with respect to this case involving an undertrial Indian national and an Indian counselor officer ?

          Reply
      • Anonymous

         /  December 20, 2013

        Rahul,

        Who prosecuted the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case ?

        Wasn’t it Bharara ?

        Did your conviction of the honesty of the allegations of the “poor African maid” prove true there ?

        Reply
      • Anonymous

         /  December 20, 2013

        Another thing. Yashwant Sinha’s statements are quoted in detail here. You can see that he has his tongue at least a little “in cheek”, he’s not

        “Media has reported that we have issued visas to a number of US diplomats’ companions. ‘Companions’ means that they are of the same sex. Now, after the Supreme Court ruling, it is completely illegal in our country, just as paying less wages was illegal in the US. So, why does not the government of India go ahead and arrest them and punish them,”

        Sinha, a former foreign minister, pointed out that while many focused on his remark about
        ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
        Section 377, his attempt was to bring out the issue of legality or law of the land. “My view is
        ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
        irrespective of Section 377. But the point is, as of now it is illegal. The law is still against
        ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
        same-sex relationships. Whether it should be there or not is another question. So, following
        ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
        the rule book, since same-sex relationships are illegal in this country, those diplomats who are into it should be arrested, just as those in the US paying less wages are in the wrong following the US law,” he said.

        Incidentally, convictions have taken place under Section 377 in the past and, very likely, did not require webcams recording actual the “un-natural” intercourse. So they can be technically pursued.

        Reply
  7. Anonymous

     /  December 20, 2013

    Errata for previous posting –

    1. “You can see that he has his tongue at least a little “in cheek”, he’s not * taking a pro-Section 377 stand.”

    2.”Incidentally, convictions have taken place under Section 377 in the past and, very likely, did not require webcams recording the *actual “un-natural” intercourse. So they can *technically be pursued.”

    Reply
  8. Rahul Siddharthan

     /  December 21, 2013

    Dear anonymous, I thought of responding to all your points but Shekhar Gupta does it much better than me. Basically, the maid has not been heard yet and the government’s actions so far do not inspire confidence in their impartiality. Go read that article.

    Reply
    • Rahul Siddharthan

       /  December 21, 2013

      PS – the maid version is here, based on husband’s statement to Delhi HC and daughter’s email to a US state department official. Go read. I am very glad the investigation is in the US and not in India.

      Reply
  9. I am no wiser after reading Shekhar Gupta’s rant (there is nothing of substance in his write-up, but it sounds suspiciously like a “paid piece”). The other piece on the “maid version” also does not have anything new to say. All of it has already been written. By the way, I am puzzled by the numbers: $9.75, $3.31, Rs. 30,000, $4500 (how can this be an amount due to the maid per month?). They dont add up to anything sensible! How much does a consul general of India get as pay? No one has told us that, although somewhere I read that it is less than $4500. Oh, I just worked out a number! 6 am to 11 pm every day = 17 hours; 17 X 30 – 4*2 (2 hours off per sunday to go to church) = 502 *9.75 = 4894.50. Getting close to 4500!
    However, my point was that the anger is on the behaviour during the arrest that is condemnable. A TV channel told us yesterday that when an Italian diplomat was arrested on a maid charge some time ago, he was not strip searched. And then, the husband and daughter were “evacuated” (Preet) as …. What arrogance! Apparently a T1 visa is used in human trafficking cases and this was used for the evacuation.

    Reply
  10. Rahul Siddharthan

     /  December 22, 2013

    Gautam – we will only be wiser after a proper investigation, which is better carried out in the US than here. A few things — if there is any truth in Richard’s husband’s claims, especially the threats from Khobragade senior, the evacuation was necessary. The arrest warrant from Delhi HC and use of the word ‘absconding’ are unjustified because once she enters the US legally her further status is the US’s problem, not India’s. The initial complaint was about a missing person and Khobragade was properly told that she has no locus standi to file such a complaint. Using words like ‘runaway’ are likely to remind Americans of their own history of slavery. Finally, we know Khobragade has lied before, in getting herself allotted a flat for which she was not eligible, in a building meant for Kargil widows, with the connivance of her father who is also implicated in the unapproved FSI change of that building.

    Reply
    • Rahul Siddharthan

       /  December 22, 2013

      Regarding the pay, she was agreed $9.75/hour and says she was made to work over 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, with 2 hours off on Sunday for church. It does roughly add up to $4500/month.

      Reply
    • Anonymous

       /  December 22, 2013

      “The arrest warrant from Delhi HC and use of the word ‘absconding’ are unjustified because once she enters the US legally her further status is the US’s problem, not India’s.”

      Actually, Rahul, I believe this is incorrect. An Indian citizen travelling abroad (even perfectly legally) can be summoned to face legal (specifically, criminal) proceedings in India. If s/he does not obey the summons or respond to it in any way, she is, by definition, absconding.

      Your statement actually implies that an Indian citizen can 1) commit a crime , 2) simply leave the country and vanish, so that 3) s/he has now permanently immune from prosecution in India, since s/he is ‘not absconding’.

      Of course, the maid’s alleged crime was committed outside India, but both she and her alleged victim were travelling abroad in an official capacity and were both government employees. That should give Indian courts some jurisdiction, at the very least, on the issue.

      Reply
      • Anonymous, this timeline (versions of it have appeared in several places) says they tried to file a missing person complaint long before she was accused of any wrongdoing. I’m not sure whether the word “runaway” was used by them but it appears in the above article. The whole thing reeks of the attitude that they have ownership of another human being. And, two weeks after she went missing, Khobragade’s husband filed a police complaint accusing her of stealing a Blackberry, etc. Why the delay? The court cases in India strike me as driven purely out of vindictiveness.

        Reply
  11. Kaushik

     /  December 22, 2013

    Prof. Barua used the term ‘insular view’ to describe the American response. I don’t disagree, but I think the term can be aptly used to describe the actions of the Indian government as well. The strip-search of Devyani Khobragade was unjustified not merely because she was a DIPLOMAT, but also because she was a mother with no record of violence who was arrested while she was dropping off her kids to school. There was no reasonable reason to fear that she would have arms hidden on her person. Hypothetically, if a diplomat was arrested on suspicion of smuggling arms to the Colombian drug cartel, surely we can agree that a careful search would be prudent. The Indian government’s usage of phrases such as ‘like a common criminal’ suggests a preoccupation with the privileges of its bureaucrats rather than a principled disagreement with a routine violation of civil rights.

    Where it had a chance to claim the the moral high ground, our government has instead come across as self-serving and petulant with its demonization of the maid and the retaliatory steps against the US embassy. The removal of security barricades outside the embassy a year after Benghazi implies a scorched-earth campaign to win the argument with no consideration of US sensibilities. Our government seems to forget that its primary responsibility is to ensure that our citizens get the same rights and opportunities as people in the west, not that our diplomats get the same privileges as their western counterparts. However anti-American we might be, do we really believe that a functional working relationship with the US and its government is not going to be at-least somewhat helpful in our economic growth?

    Reply
  12. suresh

     /  December 22, 2013

    At the end of the day, the way we in India treat domestic help is a scandal, and, increasingly, an international one.

    Absolutely right and I’ll add that the issue of workers in the “unorganized” sector continues to be evaded right across the political spectrum. This is the sector that employs around 93% of the workforce.

    This episode ought to make us, the elite, (not “Indians,” most of whom are busy living hand-to-mouth) focus attention on ourselves. If we are honest, we will admit that we feel comfortable with Ms. Khobragade — she dresses and talks like “one of us.” She is fluent in English. Ms. Richard would not warrant a second glance despite the fact that she is our fellow citizen. (Personally, I realised, with a little shock, that the word “servant” which comes so naturally to us is not used even in Britain, let alone the more egalitarian US.)

    The reactions in India, with some exceptions, makes one deeply pessimistic.

    Reply
  13. Anonymous

     /  December 23, 2013

    Check this out to find out what strip searching is like: bit.ly/1dw7S14. Now how can anyone justify this for a diplomat from another country? Is barbaric too mild a word? Removing the barricades in front of the US embassy in Delhi was a great move. Cavities are laid bare now!

    Reply
  14. Sorry, the last comment was mine. It became anonymous by mistake.

    Reply
  15. suresh

     /  December 24, 2013

    Gautam,
    It has been clarified even in the Indian press that Ms. Khobragade is not a diplomat, but a consular official. Her immunity is limited to acts performed in an official capacity – a position that India has not challenged. Furthermore, the video you link to is about a cavity search which Mr. Bharara denies was performed.
    The justification for strip search is two-fold: it prevents arms smuggling and also suicides by prisoners. It is true that countries like India have not seen the necessity for it but that is the US law and all prisoners are subjected to it.
    I am afraid very few outside India sympathise with Ms. Khobragade or buy the Indian government’s version. If I may ask, why are you so infuriated about the treatment of Ms. Khobragade? Do you think that the strip search was an insult directed at all Indians? Do you really think that was the motivation? I am sorry but most Americans don’t care about India. Preet Bharara may be Indian in origin and he’s directed his attention at not only Indians and Indian-origin people but many others too — Russians, for instance.

    Reply
    • Kaushik

       /  December 24, 2013

      Suresh,

      As far as I understand, routine strip-searches are not uncontroversial in the US; I can’t find the links right away but I believe the ACLU has gone to court against them. I don’t believe routine strip-searches are technically “US law”, they are standard procedures decided by the US Marshal Service, i.e. by the administrative wing of government. As a matter of general principle, US law doesn’t allow routine violations of civil rights just on the chance that they may result in the prevention of occasional criminal acts; it demands that there be some probable cause of criminal activity in each individual case. In this case, there was no reasonable chance of either arms smuggling or suicide. Thus, there is a defensible case to be made that the strip-search was unjustified. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my comment above, I feel the Indian government has chosen the worst possible way to object to Ms. Khobragade’s treatment. Instead of making its case based on principle, it has chosen to focus exclusively on bureaucratic privilege, which neither the American right nor the left have any sympathy for. Ms. Khobragade is now an extremely unsympathetic defendant, and her lawyer must be hoping that her case somehow doesn’t make it to court.

      Reply
  16. suresh

     /  December 24, 2013

    Kaushik,
    I don’t know US law, so I have just relied on the statements of Bharara and others. However, doing a little search I uncovered a reference to Safford v Redding. However, the issue was different: can law enforcement officials (or a school) carry out a strip search merely because of suspicion? A similar issue is involved in the case of Shoshana Hebshi (search the name) which is still ongoing.

    In Ms. Khobragade’s case, she was charged formally. The strip search took place when she was being sent to prison (prior to hearing for a bail). I may be wrong but I think there is no controversy here. If I remember rightly, someone from an American human rights organization actually wrote an article defending the treatment of Ms. Khobragade.

    I have no desire to get into an involved discussion in matters beyond my ken, so I’ll let you have the last word.

    Reply
    • Kaushik

       /  December 24, 2013

      I’m certainly no expert; my understanding of US law is based on having watched a disturbingly large number of ‘Law and Order’ episodes. Google tells me that the US Supreme Court ruled that this sort of thing is legal: http://cbsloc.al/JaXYZW. I probably misunderstood something I read in the news. Of course, I think this practice is wrong, but that doesn’t matter.

      Reply
  17. 1. The video was showing a strip search. Cavity searches without touching is part of a strip search. At the end, you may have noticed that the cop was putting on gloves. Cavity search was about to begin, I think!
    2. The following are two articles in the Vienna convention documents dealing with consular officials:
    Article 40
    Protection of consular officers
    The receiving State shall treat consular officers with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on their person, freedom or dignity.
    Article 41
    Personal inviolability of consular officers
    1. Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trail, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority.

    Reply
    • Rahul Siddharthan

       /  December 24, 2013

      It has been clarified that there was no cavity search. I do object to the strip search and think the US should have apologised for that and needs to look at how it treats non-violent offenders in general — but should have let the case continue otherwise and most certainly not go along with this UN immunity ploy.

      Reply
  18. Anon

     /  January 2, 2014

    Dear Dr./Prof. Siddhartan,

    You seem to think that if Ms. Khobrogade did something wrong, then she should be prosecuted as per the law of land and that they will treat her fairly. Unfortunately that is not quite right. Just like everywhere, in the US also there is a slight difference on the law as per the letter and how it is actually executed. Please have a read here:

    http://bostonreview.net/us/seth-abramson-criminal-justice

    Her race alone is a troublesome factor here. The same judicial system that saw her strip searched and jailed until brought to court, will also give her the usual dubious treatment. The best option for most people in this scenario in the U.S. is to take a plea bargain even if they did nothing wrong. The other option is simply too risky and harrowing.

    Reply
  19. V. Balakrishnan

     /  January 2, 2014

    It is always most enlightening to read one of your analytical blogs as a Rip van Winkle would, i.e., after a time delay, so that one has the additional benefit of the considered responses of your thoughtful readers! In the present instance it has been a very educative half hour for me, and I thank you and your correspondents for that. The drama is obviously not over as yet, and it’s hard to say how it will turn out. A few comments that occurred to me: (1) Shekar Gupta’s piece sounds like a rant to me, too. It’ s a clever piece, but definitely a rant rather than an analysis. (2) The last comment by Anon makes a good point, and the link given makes for chilling (if not altogether surprising) reading. Not for nothing does the US have more lawyers than the rest of the world combined, and the plea bargain is unfortunately the best option even for totally innocent persons charged with something. The much-vaunted US legal system is in many ways far more inhumane than the painfully slow, ponderous, often corrupt system here, especially for innocent persons. (3) The possibility of undercover work being the reason for the “extraction” of the maid’s family (the benign counterpart of “rendition”, perhaps?) is far being totally improbable, and cannot be ignored or dismissed outright. (However, I think the gripe about their being “spirited away under our very noses”, as some reports had it, is laughable, given the well-known degree of coordination and communication among different agencies and departments in our country.)

    Reply
  20. suresh

     /  January 7, 2014

    Anon:

    Rahul will speak for himself but for the record, nobody claims that the US justice system is perfect. It is probably as broken any other justice system. However, given that all justice systems are broken in some manner or the other, some are still better than others. All said and done, the US system is better than many others. For example, would you prefer that Ms. Khobragade be tried under the Saudi or the Chinese systems?

    If it is your intention to act as defense attorney for Ms. Khobragade, then you really need to do much better.

    Reply
    • I have nothing new to say, actually… the indictment will happen in a few days and we will know more then.

      Reply
    • The problem is that we know only one thing: she agreed in the contract accompanying the visa papers to pay $9.75/hr for a maximum of 40 hours a week, directly into Richard’s bank account in the US, and did not. That is undisputed. She claims she paid as much, and more, in cash and benefits. I suspect, even if provable, that will not wash in a US court. Why can’t a foreign service professional follow the letter of the law in a foreign country? But beyond that we know very little — only allegations on both sides. The indictment may reveal more.

      Reply
  21. Anon

     /  January 7, 2014

    @suresh:

    Of course I do not want to be a defense attorney for Ms. Khobrogade. My sympathies sympathies are with her as long as this ordeal lasts; it is basic courtesy for one of our countrymen abroad, and nothing more. I may in fact ask questions about her and the Adarsh scam once she is cleared and returns to India.

    What I purported was simply the following. The US is a without doubt a remarkable country and it is easy to get swept away and overwhelmed by its greatness. This overawing is to be resisted and a more level-headed approach must be taken until all facts are crystal-clear in the case. That is all I wanted.

    Reply
    • Anon — there are (at least) two “countrymen” (women, actually) involved, Khobragade and Sangeetha Richard. So I’d rather reserve my sympathies. As stated in the post above, my belief was and still is that the case is strong and we don’t know more than a small fraction of it.

      Reply
  22. Neelima

     /  January 10, 2014

    There are two countrywomen in this case, and one of them is Dalit, Ms. Khobragade. I hope she is still `one of us’!

    Reply
    • Rahul Siddharthan

       /  January 10, 2014

      Neelima — is that relevant? I’ve read that the other is a Dalit too, not sure. Anyway, it looks like this case will not see its day in court.

      Reply
  23. Anonymous

     /  January 12, 2014

    The Dalit status has as much relevance as the possession of a flat in Adarsh society! As for the maid, I’m happy to know the average Indian maid (whatever her caste status) has sufficient importance to the U.S. that her entire family is spirited away in a jiffy. We who have stood outside the U.S. consulate at 4.00 a.m, been fingerprinted and photographed to extinction for visas despite our blameless and lawabiding lives, and put up with all meekly in the spirit of all are equal before U.S. law, can only be envious!

    Reply
  24. Another Anon

     /  January 12, 2014

    Two comments:

    1. Since the caste angle has been brought in, would the Indian government’s identical response be justified if the diplomat was a brahmin and the domestic help a dalit? If not, then it is those who raise the caste issue who are being “casteist.” We have to be sensitive to the ways in which caste distorts our thinking but we ought not to forget that being non-casteist means that we treat everyone equally. This is not at all easy given the prominent role that caste plays in our society, but this at any rate is our objective.

    2. It has been clarified by Preet Bharara that the family was moved to the US because pressure was being put on them to get Sangeeta Richard to come to India where she could be charged. This is not implausible, as those familiar with Indian law enforcement would know.

    Reply
  25. Anonymous

     /  January 13, 2014

    Ahem, the converse of Dalit is non-Dalit. Yes, the Indian government’s response would be justified whether the diplomat were a non-Dalit or Dalit. That the response is justified, is the point of my comment.

    As for my familiarity with the law enforcement agencies of India are concerned, it is that of the usual law-abiding Indian citizen. If the (anonymous) commenter above has special familiarity which justifies the gross lack of faith shown in them by the comment, perhaps, he/she will explain what it is!

    Reply
  26. Anonymous

     /  January 13, 2014

    Sorry, that was me above. The log in didn’t work.

    Neelima.

    Reply
  27. Another Anon

     /  January 13, 2014

    Yes, the Indian government’s response would be justified whether the diplomat were a non-Dalit or Dalit. That the response is justified, is the point of my comment.

    1. Beg your pardon but that was not the point of your comment. It was that those who disagreed with you were casteist. If all you wanted to justify the Indian government’s response, you could have done so without invoking Ms. Khobragade’s caste — no one used it until you chose to bring it in. It wasn’t that everyone agreed with Rahul either.

    2. Certainly, I know of Indian law enforcement and the ease with which it can manipulated. When I was a student at university (admittedly a long time back) I knew of students who had been charged in murder cases, no less. The fact that they were attending university in a different state from where they were charged says something, no? Things may have changed a little but the picture is still substantially true. This, though, is not the place to speak about such matters.

    Let me add two things. First, this has nothing to do with caste and everything to do with the fact that powerful people in our society can bend the law illegally for their own benefit. Ms. Khobragade may be Dalit but she belonged to a powerful family that, judging by press reports, was able to exert considerable pressure on the Government of India. Given that, it is certainly plausible that pressure could have been put on Ms. Richard’ family. Second, as an occasional reader of John Grisham (my wife is an ardent one), I know that the US is not immune from such manipulations either. I don’t think any society is totally immune – it is just that the powerful can get away with a lot more in our society.

    Reply
  28. Anonymous

     /  January 13, 2014

    Such vehemence! Did the cap fit? Why is Ms Khobragade’s caste not relevant? It is as relevant as her belonging to a powerful family. Being Dalit doesn’t make her right, and being powerful doesn’t make her wrong (or vice versa). However, both determine the extent to which both halves of the equation feel she is `one of us’. The issue with the government of India is entirely different. Even American newspapers have said that treating a diplomat in a wage dispute like a Colombian drug smuggler smacks of extreme insensitivity. If the much maligned Indian agencies subjected the other half of the wage dispute to a similar experience, it would be regarded as justification for U.S. agencies spiriting her away (which is being done even without any such incident).

    -Neelima.

    Reply
  29. Anon

     /  January 14, 2014

    Dear Dr./Prof. Siddharthan,

    ( I hope that makes clear which Anon this is..)

    Your point is valid, that there are two “countrywomen” involved. In this case, my support to the Government of India and Ms. Khobrogade was only as long as she remained in this legal quagmire in the U.S.. Now that she has returned, I was willing to address the plight of Ms. Richard and in fact typed a long comment supporting her, but didn’t post, because something just occurred to me:

    It is extremely strange that two countries are having such a diplomatic and judicial war over such a simple thing as a wage dispute for a worker. Governments do not go to such ends for a domestic helper, in normal circumstances. Therefore *something else* of much more import is clearly going on, though I have no idea what that *something else* is. Therefore it may be best not to overly be committed to this matter.

    As an earlier example of such *something else* that may have gone on in the background which is not clear to the public at the time: The first world war started supposedly because a Serbian youth assassinated the Austrian Prince. Clearly it is absurd to think that this is the real reason for such a huge war.

    Reply
  30. Another Anon

     /  January 14, 2014

    Vehemence? Cap? No, I don’t belong to AAP. Well, whatever suits your fancy. Anyway, my last clarifications:

    1. I mentioned Ms. Khobragade belonging to a powerful family only in the context of pressure being put on Ms. Richard’s family. In that context, it is very much relevant.

    2. In India, the dispute between Ms. Khobragade and Ms. Richard would be a *civil* dispute, not a criminal one, amounting to breach of contract. Ms. Khobragade is, of course, free to file a case against Ms. Richard for breach of contract. It is not clear if she has done so.

    So far as I can see, Indian law enforcement agencies have no role in this — at least, as yet. Indian law enforcement agencies could get involved if Ms. Richard deliberately ignored the directives of the court.

    3. At any rate, Ms. Richard’s family is not involved. The point made by Mr. Bherara is that the family was being targeted. In the absence of direct evidence (at least evidence available to us), we have to go by our “priors.” My prior is that this is eminently plausible. If contrary evidence becomes available, I will correct myself.

    4. The case in the USA is a criminal one amounting to visa fraud. Even if Ms. Richard did not want to file a case, the USA is free to do so.

    5. There is something to be said for the Indian government’s furious response. Something along the lines of what you argue — the USA being unwilling to abide by the standards it advocates for others — has been made by the former Singapore foreign minister, Kishore Mahbubani in y’day’s Indian Express. But I still don’t see where caste comes in.

    6. Now have fun blasting me. I have had my say.

    Reply
  31. The US backed down in this case. They had to, when even their papers said that the treatment post-arrest was unfair. This is the best we can get out of the only super-power in the world. I am also glad to see that the screws on the US embassy in India are still tight ( spouses coming in as housewives and then teaching in their school and then not paying taxes – this is being investigated). I hope the Govt has the guts to take this to its logical conclusion (at least a demand for tax arrears to be paid).
    The lesson to be learnt by the IFS is that all domestic help should be stopped for diplomats in countries where the GDP is more than twice India’s. As I read somewhere else, someone has suggested that diplomats who have children to look after, should be posted to places like Bangladesh, where local domestic help can be afforded at the diplomat’s salary, and never to the US or Europe!
    Gautam Barua

    Reply
  32. Rahul Siddharthan

     /  January 18, 2014

    Gautam — I think we must be talking about different cases here. In the case that I have been reading about, the US did not back down. The case remains. Khobragade has filed for it to be dismissed, Bharara has till Jan 31 to reply. The only extent to which the US went along with India was to agree to India’s re-assignment of Khobragade to the UN with full immunity — to refuse would have been unprecedented, but the whole thing has been unprecedented. But rather than let her live her immune life in the US, they demanded that she leave the country, and she will be arrested if she tries to re-enter — while her husband and children stay in the US (and the husband is a US citizen, not sure about the children). It looks like the worst possible outcome for her, other than actually being put behind bars for a long stretch. As for the rest of your comments, it is rather revealing of your attitude to domestic help, I’m sorry to say.

    Neelima and anon — replying late, was away. I disagree that caste is relevant. The US surely doesn’t care, and India’s reaction is exactly what it would have been if she had been a member of the elite privileged upper classes, which is what she is. I claim Adarsh is relevant to the following extent — can we believe what she says in this case? We know she lied previously. That makes me less likely to believe her this time. Though of course she could be telling the truth about paying well and not exploiting — but here’s the thing: there’s ABSOLUTELY NO DISPUTE that she failed to follow the letter of the requirements, which were that the payment was to be into Richard’s bank account (there is a reason for such requirements after all), and a person who cannot follow such basic laws in a foreign country should not be representing India.

    Reply
  33. Rahul,
    The US let her go! That is why I said they backed down. For them, this is a big “back down”! I am sure Preet did not agree to this deal. This is not the worst that could have happened to her. She could have been in an US jail! As for her married life, I am sure Canada will come in handy one way or another.
    As for the domestic help part of it, I am surprised you did not get the gist of what I implied. So here it is – in the US and Europe, only the very rich can afford domestic help. So there are other avenues of help, like day care centres and these should be used. The Indian Govt should provide financial support for such facilities. But in a poor country, such facilities may not be there, and hiring local domestic help by embassy staff may be good for the local economy and desired by the local govt. Clearly, the lesson to be learnt is that Indian diplomats should not carry help from India to any country.

    Reply

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