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Bharat+Bharara vs India
- US treatment of diplomat condemnable but you’ve forgotten us, domestic hands remind parties that swear by the aam aadmi and workers of the world

New Delhi, Dec. 19: The Gharelu Kaamgaar Sanghatan has said the equivalent of what the insolent boy cried out in the fable: “The Emperor has no clothes.”

Gharelu who?

The Gharelu Kaamgaar Sanghatan tries to organise domestic workers — the faceless millions who keep Indian houses humming daily but are not guaranteed “the minimum wage” that has pitted the country against the American bully.

“This is not a foreign policy issue but an issue of labour rights violation. We believe India needs to be equally outraged for the plight of the exploited domestic worker, who is also an Indian citizen, and deserves a fair trial,” said Anannya Bhattacharjee of the Sanghatan, based in Haryana.

“Diplomats and other senior officials routinely employ Indian workers abroad and treat them shabbily. What usually happens is that when the official gets even the slightest indication that the help could cause trouble, she would be shipped out and another Indian brought in her place. I am surprised that this didn’t happen in this case,” she added.

She condemned the alleged strip search and cavity search of Devyani Khobragade but demanded that the Indian diplomat be prosecuted to send a warning to other employers.

Bhattacharjee’s statement stood out in sharp contrast with an assertion of the Indian external affairs ministry: “There is only one victim in this case. That victim is Devyani Khobragade….” The foreign ministry may well be right but few governments will make such an unequivocal statement about a matter that is still in a court in India — something the ministry keeps reminding the Americans.

Besides, it is not clear how the UPA, which swears by the aam aadmi, will defend such a stand on an Indian housekeeper whose innocence or guilt is yet to be established in the Indian court.

Bhattacharjee, who has worked with Indian domestic hands in New York, sees a design. “What has happened is that this case has exposed a common practice among diplomats abroad. That is the reason why the Indian government has reacted this way because if the case stands trial, then skeletons will topple out of its diplomatic closet,” she said.

Several diplomats have pointed out that the condition of Indian domestic workers abroad is far better than those within the country and they enjoy benefits unheard of in India.

If true, that is precisely why the current outrage sweeping the country is sounding a bit rich for some.

Renu, a domestic help, retells an all-too-familiar story.

Her day typically begins at 6am, when she has to squeeze lemon juice into two glasses of warm water for her employers as they prepare for a trot in the nearby park. She is the last to retire at night at half past midnight.

Through the day, she cleans the floor, washes clothes and does dishes thrice. All for Rs 4,000 a month and a set of new clothes during Diwali.

“What is minimum wage? I have no idea what it means. Domestic workers in this country are underpaid, abused and some even pay with their lives at the homes of moneyed people,” said Baby Halder, a domestic help who had written a book, Aalo Aandhari.

The number of domestic workers in India is estimated to be 50 million — a vast and indispensable but unorganised force not covered under any existing labour law. The Domestic Workers (Registration, Social Security and Welfare) Act, 2008, which was amended in 2010, is still pending with the government. The only law that covers them is the one against sexual harassment. “Domestic workers in India are not covered by labour laws. I think it’s the close alliance between the Indian establishment and the Indian elite,” said Bhattacharjee, the Sanghatan activist.

Although the houses of most decision-makers in the country will be crippled if the domestic workforce revolts, few political parties appear to have devoted any thought to the Indian housekeeper at the centre of the New York case.

The CPM, which owes its existence to Karl Marx’s clarion call for the workers of the world to unite, issued a statement yesterday on the “outrageous” treatment of the diplomat but there was no reference to the housekeeper till this evening.

The party’s youth wing marched towards the American Center in Calcutta today, essentially taking up the cause of the employer-diplomat and forgetting the worker. Asked whether there is an irony, CPM leader Mohammad Salim said: “This has nothing to do with the ideological positioning of the CPM. It is nothing but arrogance of the masters of the universe, how they treat Indians.”

The Sanghatan’s Bhattacharjee said: “Minister Shashi Tharoor commented that Khobragade is being singled out. Instead of protecting such employers, the minister should be congratulating investigating agencies who have exposed this common practice.”

Renu, the domestic help, said: “I know I have rights as a human being. Who will listen to me? At least my employers don’t beat me up. This woman is lucky that a foreign government is talking about her salary. I cannot imagine it.”


The following are excerpts from a statement issued by Manhattan US attorney Preet Bharara and a rebuttal by the spokesperson for the Indian external affairs ministry in response to a question



Devyani Khobragade was charged based on conduct, as is alleged in the complaint, that shows she clearly tried to evade US law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers. Not only did she try to evade the law, but as further alleged, she caused the victim and her spouse to attest to false documents and be a part of her scheme to lie to US government officials. So it is alleged not merely that she sought to evade the law, but that she affirmatively created false documents and went ahead with lying to the US government about what she was doing.

One wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?


We need to keep in mind the simple fact that there is only one victim in this case. That victim is Devyani Khobragade — a serving Indian diplomat on mission in the United States



As the alleged conduct of Khobragade makes clear, there can be no plausible claim that this case was somehow unexpected or an injustice. Indeed, the law is clearly set forth on the state department website. Further, there have been other public cases in the US involving other countries, and some involving India, where the mistreatment of domestic workers by diplomats or consular officers was charged criminally, and there have been civil suits as well.

In fact, the Indian government itself has been aware of this legal issue, and that its diplomats and consular officers were at risk of violating the law. The question then may be asked: Is it for US prosecutors to look the other way, ignore the law and the civil rights of victims (again, here an Indian national), or is it the responsibility of the diplomats and consular officers and their government to make sure the law is observed?


(No specific response)



Khobragade is alleged to have treated this victim illegally in numerous ways by paying her far below minimum wage, despite her child care responsibilities and many household duties, such that it was not a legal wage. The victim is also alleged to have worked far more than the 40 hours per week she was contracted to work, and which exceeded the maximum hour limit set forth in the visa application. Khobragade, as the complaint charges, created a second contract that was not to be revealed to the US government, that changed the amount to be paid to far below minimum wage, deleted the required language protecting the victim from other forms of exploitation and abuse, and also deleted language that stated that Khobragade agreed to “abide by all Federal, state, and local laws in the US”. As the complaint states, these are only “in part” the facts, and there are other facts regarding the treatment of the victim — that were not consistent with the law or the representations made by Khobragade….


No specific response. But Indian officials had said on Wednesday that the nanny was trying to extort money from Khobragade



As to Khobragade’s arrest by state department agents, this is a prosecutor’s office in charge of prosecution, not the arrest or custody, of the defendant, and therefore those questions may be better referred to other agencies. I will address these issues based on the facts as I understand them. Khobragade was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded. She was not, as has been incorrectly reported, arrested in front of her children. The agents arrested her in the most discreet way possible, and unlike most defendants, she was not then handcuffed or restrained.

In fact, the arresting officers did not even seize her phone as they normally would have. Instead, they offered her the opportunity to make numerous calls to arrange personal matters and contact whomever she needed, including allowing her to arrange for child care. This lasted approximately two hours. Because it was cold outside, the agents let her make those calls from their car and even brought her coffee and offered to get her food.

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’ 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. This is in the interests of everyone’s safety.


The action taken against her was not in keeping with the Vienna Convention. There were no courtesies in the treatment that was meted out to the diplomat, under the normal definition of that word in the English language



The victim’s family has been brought to the US. Legal process was started in India against the victim, attempting to silence her, and attempts were made to compel her to return to India. Further, the victim’s family reportedly was confronted in numerous ways regarding this case. Speculation about why the family was brought here has been rampant and incorrect


The statement in question acknowledges that legal processes were in place in India. Yet, incredibly, it invites speculation about why it was necessary to evacuate the family of (Sangeeta) Richard (the nanny) and about the action purportedly being taken against them. The implication of this remarkable admission needs to be considered very carefully with regard to the implicit comment it makes about the Indian legal system, Indian law enforcement authorities, and the responsibility that legal officials of a foreign government seem to arrogate upon themselves with regard to the nationals of another country



Some focus should perhaps be put on why it was necessary to evacuate the family and what actions were taken in India vis-à-vis them.


It needs to be asked what right a foreign government has to “evacuate” Indian citizens from India while cases are pending against them in the Indian legal system



This office and the justice department are compelled to make sure that victims, witnesses and their families are safe and secure while cases are pending.


The statement underlines the compulsion that is felt by the Manhattan US attorney’s office “to make sure that victims, witnesses and their families are safe and secure while cases are pending”. This is precisely why, when there is a prior legal process already under way in India, the Manhattan US attorney should consider it obligatory to enable justice to take its course in India in the first instance. When the legal process in another friendly and democratic country is interfered with in this manner, it not only amounts to interference but also raises the serious concern of calling into question the very legal system of that country.