When did diplomacy become so undiplomatic ?

Devyani Khobragade, and officer of the Indian Foreign Service, got arrested in US ,handcuffed in public before her children, taken into custody, stripped and cavity searched like a criminal drug dealer, and then let off on a $250K bail. Her alleged offence – paying less than minimum wages to her maid, while having documented a higher wage on visa filings for the maid.

I am dumbfounded that this issue was so carelessly handled by both US and India. The word I am looking for is UNDIPLOMATIC.

1. No one is above the law of the land : There is no excuse to pay below minimum wages to anyone. If visa filings for the maid had a higher wage than what was actually paid, then it is clearly wrong and such practices should stop. Why not send the diplomat back to India if that is an option , and never allow her back into US ?

2. Will US government arrest everyone paying less than minimum wages?: Clearly there are a lot of illegal immigrants in this country who don’t make minimum wages. They are allegedly mostly employed by US citizens and US incorporated companies. Will US now go all out and arrest everyone it suspects in that category ?

3. Why would US Marshall do a cavity search in this case ? Diplomat or not – what was the point of cavity search in this case other than to humiliate the woman? The alleged crime was not about dealing with drugs or something like that. Is this appropriate for law enforcement in a civilized country ? Standard Operating Procedure is a poor excuse for what happened.

4. US cannot have it both ways : When Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor , killed 2 people in Pakistan – US demanded diplomatic immunity. Even the Preident of US demanded Pakistan to provide immunity to Davis.  Eventually US paid millions of dollars to get him back into the country.  Here is the wikipedia link with the details http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Allen_Davis_incident With that background , is it fair to now take a stance that the Indian diplomat (a REAL diplomat, unlike Davis who was a contractor)  does not have immunity ?

5. Why does an Indian diplomat need a maid in the first place ? : I am sure she is a busy woman. But then there are plenty of busy women (and men) who work in the US who are not diplomats and they don’t have a maid. Most mid-level people cannot even afford a full time maid. So why do Indian diplomats get maids on official passports? That seems like a remnant of colonial rule and I really wish the Indian government stopped this practice. If there is a lack of will to stop the practice, can’t the government at least pay its diplomats enough to cover the expense of having a maid service?

6. Retaliation to undiplomatic moves from one side is NOT more undiplomatic moves from the other : I am not a diplomat – literally or figuratively. But my impression about diplomats in general is that the one thing they are good at is to keep talking in good times and bad times, and not act in a rash way. Yet – India’s response was rather childish. Rather than keep communication open – they did pretty childish things like removing barricades near US embassy in New Delhi. I also read that Indian government officials stripped US diplomats of special ID cards etc. And Indian ministers and officials refused to meet with congressional delegations from US.

7. Diplomats will kiss and make up quickly, common man in both countries will need more time : It was with utter dismay that I read the comments to articles in the press that reported on this situation. Some accused Indians of being caste crazy and caste system as being the reason for paying the maid below minimum wages. Some also suggested sending back all Indians in US back home and stop outsourcing. The response from Indians accused US of racial discrimination, and ill treating immigrants and so on. The diplomats on both sides will forgive and forget quickly (at least I hope so)- but the longer this stays unresolved – it will divide and polarize the common folk on both sides. Common folk have to work closely with each other tomorrow – and every time these things happen, it takes time to start respecting each other again

8. Is there more than what meets the eye ? :  If this article states the facts right, then I am perplexed with the US actions. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Timeline-of-Devyani-Khobragade-case/articleshow/27601818.cms

9. It is in everyone’s best interest to not forget the big picture.:The political balance in South Asia is delicate, and India is by far the best buddy US has in that region compared to China, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It would be incredibly silly for US to have a less friendly India . India is friendly with Afghanistan – but have tense relations with Pakistan, and a somewhat tense relationship with China.  Similarly India relies on US for a lot of its business in IT and IT enabled services, and other trade. And US does not have a good short to medium term solution if they decide to take away business from Indian IT companies.

10. US should be happy that BJP is not the ruling party in India now: Sadly, same sex relationships are criminal in India. BJP leader Yashwant Sinha has taken a position that US diplomats in India that have same sex partners should be arrested . I hope no one listens to him – but as the time taken to resolve this issue increases, this is the type of rhetoric that will come up, and it just makes it miserable for people who have nothing to do with this issue directly.

My wish list on resolution is pretty straightforward

1. US approves the move of the diplomat to UN , and drops the charges against the diplomat. I don’t think US should apologize to India if the visa filings were false. Future issues of this nature needs to be handled more diplomatically.

2. India stops allowing its diplomats to have maids, or at least pay for the maids and not break the laws of the countries they are posted. India should restore all privileges it allowed US diplomats a week ago, and make sure their safety is well taken care of.

3. We all move on with our lives – and not let this incident create any bad side effects
Added around 7.30 PM AZ time :

4. Give a work visa to the maid , and help her get a real job.

I should add that there is a net positive in this situation . The US Attorney has effectively given a much needed warning to people who bring servants on visas . These folks should get every protection mandated by the law – whether employed by diplomats or not .

Published by Vijay Vijayasankar

Son/Husband/Dad/Dog Lover/Engineer. Follow me on twitter @vijayasankarv. These blogs are all my personal views - and not in way related to my employer or past employers

7 thoughts on “When did diplomacy become so undiplomatic ?

  1. Dear Vijay ,

    I went through your blog multiple times. Firstly I liked some of the points but have to rebutt certain points
    a) This case is not about Maid and her low wages. Paying low wages in US would not lead to prison and can be settled for e.g. by paying fine. (This was done very recently). It is not about applying the “Law of the land” on the Indian Diplomat but selectively applying “Law of the land”. I would not go into merit of the applying the “Law of the Land”.
    b) Since US govt. has been insisting that the law of the land is applied, consider the case when India Govt. applies the law of the land. The Diplomat could possibly be put behind bars under Sec 377 of the IPC . Indian Govt., even though, under pressure took a decision which was consistent with internationally agreed principles and not the law of the land. I also understand that people in foreign ministry don’t have the balls to apply Sec. 377 on a US diplomat.
    c) US have been in a double speak about the so called “Law of the Land”. They can deny Visa to Narendra Modi for human rights violations but play ball with regimes with worst human right records and deplorable laws. Suit yourself laws are applied selectively. The reaction in this case was much more than US would have thought. Probably election year and the overwhelming outburst in India were the prime reasons.


  2. The moment, I saw “No one is above the law of the land”, I hurried to find this: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/untouchables/ (it is ironic to your previous post!), only later to realize the common sense behind the post, after fully reading it. Good points. However, India is reacting “only” to the way she was handled and not for US charging her. I thought, India failed to stand up when President Kalam was frisked. Further, why would a US personnel in US embassy in India be treated any special at the airport any more than the local citizen? Only the wrongly given privileges have been taken out, that includes the barricades. Good, fat sheds. This event is just a motivation to get the portion right.


    1. Frisking Kalam was deplorable – no justification at all . I can’t imagine the reaction if Clinton is frisked at Mumbai airport

      As for privileges – I generally think “un-ringing the bell” (especially when used in vengeance ) denotes immature behavior . Such actions taken when the relationship is good – those I can understand . Taken in haste , it looks immature to me .

      Thanks for posting your thoughts !


      1. Unfortunately there to no established or documented protocol on how the retired presidents have to be treated, so nothing could be done in case of Abdul Kalam. I am still of the opinion that US should apologize on how the diplomat/consular officer was treated
        Regarding keeping a maid, this is a privilege given to all carrying a green passport (such as unlimited luggage in international travel, extra allowance for importing and exporting personal items). This is a norm for all countries and is reciprocated by all countries and airlines.


      2. No documented policy is a poor excuse – if Bill Clinton goes to India , will the CISF constable at Mumbai security frisk him ? No – absolutely not .

        At this point – US has clearly said they won’t apologize or drop charges . And I suppose we will see a series of tit for tat diplomatic moves


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