Diplomat Detention Case: Victimising The 'Domestic Assistant'?
While the media, the government and the opposition seem quite exercised, perhaps rightly, over an "insult to India" because of the way an Indian diplomat, Dr Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, was arrested, handcuffed, kept in a cell with drug addicts and strip-and-cavity-searched, not much thought or media-attention has so far been given to the fact that the case against Dr Khobragade is based on the way her 'domestic assistant' was treated.
A mere perusal of a timeline on rediff —Diplomat's arrest: Trouble was brewing since June—seems to indicate that if the facts are indeed as stated, the Indian establishment colluded to victimise the domestic assistant, Sangeeta Richard, who arrived in the USA in November 2012 and started working for Dr Devyani Khobragade as a domestic assistant.
As per Dr Khobragade's own law-suit filed in Delhi High Court, it was sometime in March 2013 that Sangeeta Richard wanted to work outside on her off days, but was told that it was illegal according to her visa status, and also because she had an official passport.
Richard left Dr Khobragade's residence to buy groceries on June 23, 2013 and did not return. Dr Khobragade informed the Indian Consul General who informed the relevant authorities. So all that we know about the case is from Dr Khobragade's own account. We are yet to hear Sangeeta Richard's version.
On July 8, Richard visited an immigration attorney's firm in New York and the rediff report quotes a person present there as telling them that "four individuals from the consulate soon arrived at the attorney's office. There were discussions, and reports indicated Richard demanded a sum as her wages, and an ordinary Indian passport."
The rediff report goes on to say:
Meanwhile, her husband and child in India were taken into custody, according to the witness. A scared Richard spoke with them, and refused to leave the attorney's office premises.
The consulate officials remained outside. Later in the evening, the police were called and they took Richard away.
The Indian government revoked Richard's official passport the same day, which made her status illegal in the US.
The Indian embassy in Washington, DC requested the US State Department to locate Richard and return her to India.
September: The Delhi high court issued an order to restrain Richard from instituting any action or proceedings against Dr Khobragade outside India on the terms or conditions of her employment, according to a statement issued by the Indian embassy.
In his order on September 20, Justice Jayant Nath noted that any grievance about the terms of employment, salary or ill-treatment could only be adjudicated by an Indian court, since Richard and Dr Khobragade worked for the Government of India.
The high court also issued notice to Richard's husband Philip in Delhi. The case is scheduled for hearing in February.
Meanwhile, an arrest warrant was issued against Richard by the metropolitan magistrate of the south district court in New Delhi under Sections 387, 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code, according to the Indian embassy.
These are related to extortion, cheating and conspiracy.
If Richard enters India, she will be arrested.
Richard chose to remain in the US rather than return to India, where she would be arrested on arrival, and the US officials proceeded against Dr Khobragade.
Highly placed sources said the fact that Richard left her employment within six months of her arrival in the US seems suspicious.
Read the full report at rediff: Diplomat's arrest: Trouble was brewing since June
As the website searchindia.com reported on December 13, 2013:
It is very telling that the Indian Embassy’s statement had nothing to say about the serious charges levelled against Devyani by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
It’s very rare that an Indian diplomat or any diplomat for that matter gets arrested considering that diplomats have diplomatic immunity. In Devyani’s case, U.S. officials refused to acknowledge her diplomatic immunity in the alleged Visa fraud and false statements matter.
Bharara did not mince words while announcing Devyani’s arrest on Thursday:
Foreign nationals brought to the United States to serve as domestic workers are entitled to the same protections against exploitation as those afforded to United States citizens. The false statements and fraud alleged to have occurred here were designed to circumvent those protections so that a visa would issue for a domestic worker who was promised far less than a fair wage. This type of fraud on the United States and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated.
Following Devyani’s arrest and subsequent release, the Indian Embassy in Washington DC issued a statement:
The Embassy of India in Washington DC had immediately conveyed its strong concern to the U.S. Government over the action taken against Dr Khobragade. The US side have been urged to resolve the matter with due sensitivity, taking into account the existing Court case in India that has already been brought to their attention by the Government of India, and the Diplomatic status of the officer concerned.
Searchindia.com also pointed out that the Indian Embassy acknowledged that Devyani Khobragade had been arrested on the basis of allegations raised by her “former India-based domestic assistant Sangeeta Richard.”
But Indian embassy personnel conveniently forgot that Sangeeta Richard worked for Devyani Khobragade in New York City from late November 2012 through June 2013 and described her as “former India-based domestic assistant Sangeeta Richard.”
Indian embassy officials are smearing the maid by charging that she had “been absconding since June this year” but had nothing to say about the alleged fraud committed against Sangeeta Richard by senior diplomat Devyani by not paying her the promised wages.
U.S. officials allege in court documents that although the maid was promised $4,500 per month she was paid less than Rs 30,000 rupees per month, or $3.31 per hour (way below the minimum wage in New York state).
It appears that either Devyani or the Indian government has been trying to muzzle the maid Sangeeta Richard by filing a case against her in an Indian court.
Read the full report at searchindia.com: Indian Embassy Smears Maid to Protect Diplomat Devyani Khobragade
Indian diplomats, and many others have pointed out [eg: Envoy gets $4,120 per month, US says pay nanny $4,500] that the minimum wage for the domestic assistants, as required by the US law, is actually far more than not just the salary of the concerned Indian diplomat, but many other diplomats of many other countries as well, and that "this is not India’s story alone." Some have made the point that:
The US should ask this question to the 194 countries it has diplomatic relations with: who actually meets the minimum wage requirement of $4500 per month for an employee as per the US government rules under which action was taken against Khobragade?
Now, the simple answer to such technicalities is that regardless of what happens with other diplomats, if Indian diplomats cannot afford the minimum wage, they clearly should not keep domestic assistants, rather than resort to subterfuge.
The diplomat's father, Uttam Khobragade, is on record, however, as telling the DNA that Sangeeta was paid more than the regular monthly salary:
“Besides the regular monthly salary, she was paid additional amounts whenever she required. This is nothing but harassment. When Sangeeta started demanding more and more money, we registered a complaint against her in Delhi. The metropolitan magistrate court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against Sangeeta. We are shocked that Devyani was arrested for no fault of hers and that too when she has diplomatic immunity”
According to him, the Delhi High Court issued an interim injunction in September, restraining Sangeeta Richard from instituting any action or proceedings against Devyani Khobragade outside India, regarding the terms or conditions of her employment. Be that as it may, others point out that even if all the allegations against Khobragade are true, even if she did not enjoy full diplomatic immunity, was her offence serious enough to be arrested, handcuffed, kept in a cell with drug addicts and strip-and-cavity-searched? Could the Americnas not have ordered her extradition, which could have been effected diplomatically by dubbing her ‘persona non grata’? Khobragade is right now out on bail, and it is to prevent her from being convicted and being sentenced to jail, that India has taken the steps that it has.
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