her arrest is the manner in which the
Americans have mocked India’s judicial
system by ‘evacuating’ the maid’s family
from India on T visas — associated with
severe sex or labor trafficking.
It would seem that the maximum number
of persons evacuated by the US from foreign countries last year was from India —
one third out of a total of 151.
It is astonishing that India’s government has been unaware of this egregious con- duct by the US government and its missions in India.
A thorough investigation of this is
required at India’s end, with the US warned
that such interference in India’s judicial
system will not be tolerated and those in its
missions involved in the issuance of such
visas will open themselves to legal action.
Our immigration authorities should be
ordered to prevent any Indian leaving the
country on a T visa by declaring such visas
US authorities, its media and some
Indian Americans are finding excuses for
the crass manner in which India’s diplomat
in the US has been treated.
US labor laws have been arbitrarily
extended to the domestic staff of foreign
diplomats traveling on official passports, in
violation of the Vienna Convention on
The decision to exclude housing, food,
clothing, travel, medical expenses from the
package offered to such domestic staff is
The US is getting away with this because
of its superpower status. Those belaboring
errant Indian diplomats for flouting US
laws should keep this in view.
Ironically, for all of its posturing, the US
ignores the reality that its diplomats in
India pay ‘slave’ wages to their local domestic staff, not to mention the pittance they
give as salaries to the local staff employed
in their missions.
Which is why the US embassy is dragging
its feet in giving information to the ministry
of external affairs on wages and salaries
being paid to Indians in its employment.
The argument that the US is not violating
local laws by not paying them minimum US
wages is morally hollow, as it implies that
they can exploit foreign labor in disregard of
their own minimum standards, but will take
punitive legal action even against foreign
nationals in the US who employ their own
nationals as domestic staff at wages much
higher than normal Indian standards.
To then deflect attention from Devyani’s
case by bringing in issues of social inequalities in India, the addiction of the Indian
middle class to domestic servants and their
frequent maltreatment, is to suggest that
there is perfect equality in the US and that
the Americans have such a superior sense
of human dignity that they do not employ
maids even when they can afford them.
And that all cases of underpayment result
in strip-searches by US marshals.
The US is also trying to obfuscate the
enormity of what it has done to the Indian
diplomat by trying to shift the focus to
India’s decision to withdraw the security
barriers ‘surrounding’ the US embassy,
which is a canard because a public road
that had been taken over by the US
embassy and incorporated into its com-
pound to make it comfortable for its per-
sonnel to access the embassy club has been
re-opened to traffic, but with security barri-
ers alongside the embassy’s walls and police
presence still in place.
The security barriers along nine other
embassy compound walls remain and traffic on nine roads adjoining the embassy
walls has never been stopped.
These facts are being conveniently overlooked in the propaganda being disseminated by US authorities. The decision not
to allow the embassy to continue misusing
its diplomatic privileges in various ways is
being termed as ‘petty’, unbecoming of a
democracy and a would-be great power.
Such patronizing and condescending editorials in the US mainstream press show
how self-centered, narrow-minded and
insular Americans can be, even those with a
window on the world.
It is, of course, not petty for the US to
magnify a minor wage dispute into a huge
visa fraud issue, to agree to deport the maid
at one stage in writing and then inexplicably change its mind because someone
wanted to teach Indian diplomats a lesson
and to ignore the judicial process against
the maid in India.
The US has, of course, been above the kind
of pettiness India has shown, in disregarding
the fact that Dr Khobragade, seconded as an
adviser to our UN delegation, enjoyed full
diplomatic immunity, to keep the Indian
government in the dark about its intentions
towards her, to spirit away the maid’s family
two days before the arrest, to be unwilling to
acknowledge that handcuffing and strip-
searching a foreign woman diplomat is
unacceptable, and, for the edification of out-
raged Indians, to differentiate between a
visual examination of her cavities and digital
insertion in them, as if the choice of the for-
mer is notably large-hearted.
By the same token, Secretary Kerry has
shown remarkable generosity in expressing
regrets over the incident, or the ‘
circumstances’ of the incident as the US ambassador to India has said. In other words, the
deputy consul general regrettably created
the issue which forced the US to react
against its better judgment.
The statement of the US ambassador was
also inept, as it implied that the incident
should be set aside and the two countries
should now carry on business as usual. In
other words, minimizing the gravity of the
Of course, all sensible persons would agree
that this incident should not damage the
bilateral relationship beyond all proportions.
India and the US are engaged in numerous
dialogues on key strategic, geopolitical,
defense, technology, economic, energy, educational and other issues.
The agenda is far-reaching. Yet, on this
sensitive issue the dialogue between the two
countries has dragged on unreasonably.
It is necessary to have a bilateral agreement on immunities for diplomats of the
two countries working in consulates. The
status of domestic staff accompanying our
diplomats has to be clearly defined through
a bilateral agreement.
Diplomatic ties must be restructured on
the basis of strict reciprocity.
By being petty-minded on a minor legal
issue, the US has neither conducted itself as
a great power nor as India’s strategic partner.
Kanwal Sibal is a former foreign secretary
;Page A8 Tangled closure
the drama, however unsatisfactory,
came as welcome relief.
Devyani’s transfer from the con- sulate to the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations
was a masterstroke, which provided the
face-saving device for both sides. But in
the process, our case that the consular
officers too had immunity against arrest
and harassment became weak.
Our reciprocal measures also contributed to dilution of the rights of our
consular officers. It was pointed out
that the US had secret agreements with
some countries to provide protection to
consular officers over and above the
provisions of the Vienna Convention.
The US may seek such an agreement
with India to escape the new restraints
imposed on the US diplomatic and consular corps in India.
The US request for withdrawal of
Devyani’s immunity January 9 was a
formality and naturally, the Indian
government turned it down. The formal position of the US is that the
charges would stay till she ceases to
In the future, her diplomatic pass-
port will not enable her to enjoy immu-
nity. She will need a G-1 visa to enter
the US without fear of legal action.
This will cause considerable hardship
to her, but that appears inevitable.
A silver lining of the whole episode is
that the issue of India Based Domestic
Assistants, which has been haunting
Indian diplomats in the US and in
some other countries, will now be
resolved. The only way is to declare
IBDAs as part of the official team and
take them out of the operation of
The dent on US-India relations will
not remain for long as those will be
determined by strategic and economic
considerations. The roller-coaster has
already begun to slide upwards with
the US spokesperson emphasizing that
the dialogue would continue.
Interestingly, some of the inherent
features in US-India relations, such
as the mindset, on both sides manifested themselves in the recent
debate. They will also be addressed
in the new dialogue.
T P Sreenivasan is a former
Ambassador of India and Governor
for India of the IAEA. He is currently
executive vice chairman, Kerala
State Higher Education Council,
and director general, Kerala
Sour, sweet end Sour, sweet end
An employee enters a Dominos Pizza outlet after it was ransacked by members of the Republican Party of India in a
Mumbai suburb, December 20, 2013. Protesters ransacked the outlet, demanding a ban on US goods over the Indian
diplomat’s arrest in New York.