Friday, December 20, 2013

Lessons from the Khobragade case

There is such a big ruckus about breaking the law in the Devyani Khobragade case. One could easily say that the law that has been broken is one that is not practical and was made to be broken. Most laws in India along with their attendant rules are of this nature.


The minimum wage in the US is about $8 per hour in most places, and in New York from what I read in the papers it is about $10 an hour. How is this figure computed? By taking the cost of living, I presume. What is the cost of living for a live-in maid who comes from India and stays at her Indian employer's residence? Effectively zero. From what I read, she was being paid handsomely by Indian standards. If she wanted to, she could send most of the money home. Who has that kind of savings in India? Not even a mid-level bank officer after expenses can save so much.


Coming to the employer in this case, if she had actually paid the minimum wage, the salary of the maid would have far exceeded her own salary. So are we really expecting her to be paying that kind of amount? To add to this, there is the problem of "overtime". If she is asked to sleep with the kids (don't know if that is true in this particular case) it can be construed as overtime since she is on duty! 


There has been a request pending with the Finance ministry for long now from the Foreign ministry to revise pay along with suggestions to change the visa category under which the domestic help for consular staff travel. Meanwhile, a US posting which was much sought after is now sought to be avoided by foreign service staff. Who wants to go to a country which so highly curtails individual freedoms even to enter into mutually beneficial actions? In fact, the more one sees how US officials act, the more one comes to the conclusion that it is a police state where the might of the state is wielded with disproportionate force against every puny offence. The list of "crimes" is long, the enforcement is harsh, and as with every other country on earth, it is the poorer sections of the population that always face the brunt of these laws. What is worse is that these actions are cloaked as being for the "protection of liberty, freedom, equality, human rights, sexual equality...etc. ", all motherhoods which can never be questioned!


There is a law in place, agreed. How practical is this law especially in its applicability to this case, where plainly the employment was a consensual contract and not by force, paying wages which are far in excess of what that maid could expect in her home country, with a comfortable work atmosphere without any harassment (no complaint of that nature has been voiced)? Should the law really apply to her employer, a consular official? She does not enjoy "diplomatic" immunity but the definition of diplomatic immunity can be stretched as in the case of Raymond Allen Davis,  the US contractor for the CIA who calmly shot two people dead on a Lahore street in 2011. The US government had him flown back by stretching the argument of who is a "diplomat"! Apparently, he was one. And Devyani, who is actually a consular official is not? But then, the US has always been known for its double standards. We in India also have double standards but we are not so sanctimonious about it. The US in spite of all its contradictions is always pristine and holier-than-thou. 


There is another mistake which the US made in this case. They arrested an upper-middle class Indian lady and subjected her to strip search and all such unspeakable atrocities. The problem is, she is "one of us". She could be the daughter or niece of any of the ministers or  IAS officers (she is actually the daughter of one). She is not of some distant pedigree (like the maid in this case) like the bonded laborers in the Gulf whom we can choose to ignore. The establishment in India obviously bristles at this and reacts with vehemence. If this can happen to Khobragade, it can happen to me or my family. The idiots could also have handled it better. By handing over the arrest totally to the US marshals, they let the cold heartless "system" take over. The US marshals know how to arrest, strip, and search. They don't distinguish between different people. They should learn from the Indians in these things. Every prison has prisoners who get food from home, "special visitation rights" so that they don't lack for the other human necessity apart from food, and even special "parole" (a la Sanjay Dutt) to keep visiting home for months at a time before sauntering back to prison. By making a virtue of "everyone is equal before the law" they are digging their own graves. Like I said, they should send the US marshals to India for training - they will go back with a heightened sense of appreciation for all kinds of class distinctions!


And then you have the "conspiracy" angle to it. The maid disappears a few months back and there is hardly any effort to trace her. Then she resurfaces and her family is flown out of India on a "T" visa a couple of days before the incident. This visa is for the families of those people who go against their governments and cooperate with the US, to fly them out to avoid "persecution" in their home countries. Intended originally for the severest cases of human rights violations, I am sure. The impartiality of Preet Bharara (of Indian origin) is also suspect. He is possibly using this case to advance his political ambitions. 


In the midst of all these complications and angles to the case, it is very amusing to read the statements put forth by the US authorities. It goes something like ( I am only paraphrasing) "We are committed to following procedures", "All the procedures and rules were meticulously followed", "We value the relationship with India", " Everyone is equal before the law", "The US stands committed to human rights (please ignore their drones over Afpak!)" and all such inanities. Most US institutions and multinational corporations are masters at this kind of communication, where motherhoods are doled out in response to specific questions, and we are supposed to be happy, nay overjoyed, with their response! 


Coming back to laws that cannot actually be implemented, they should again learn from India in these things. We are masters at having strict laws and messy rules on paper, while allowing all kinds of loopholes for the influential (and the corrupt) to exploit. They should send their lawmakers here for some training under our Babus. And their politicians could do with some instruction from ours too!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fwd: Chasing Mammon

Chasing after something that the world
has decreed is good for me;
even in fullness never enough,
for someone had more than me!

Higher, faster, stronger. Move!
for what is stillness, but sloth?
For that which we value we need more
though all else may be lost!

In pursuit of demanding mammon
all my days till now were spent.
In the race, I left life behind
clutching at empty recompense!