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World News /23 Dec 2013
12.23.13

The Indian Blind Side

The detention and reported mistreatment of Devyani Khobragade, an Indian consular officer in New York, has sparked furor in India. The public on the streets of New Delhi, bureaucrats and politicians all seem to compete with each other as they hurl insults at the United States. Blinded by outrage, Indians are unable to take into account the uncomfortable reality. The primary misconception lies in the applicability of diplomatic immunity to Devyani Khobragade, the deputy consul general in New York. According to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, immunity is not as extended to a consular official as it is to a diplomat.

To put simply, “diplomatic immunity” and “consular immunity” are dissimilar. Both diplomats and consuls must abide by the laws of the host nation. Diplomats are, however, unfettered by the rules and regulations of the country they are stationed in.

On the contrary, consuls can be brought to trial if they break local and national laws. This is why Ms. Khobragade was arrested. In the broad scheme, she is a diplomat too, but does not hold a position that grants her unreserved immunity.

Considering this, the U.S. law enforcement agency acted lawfully by arresting her. Moreover, as soon as the barrier of diplomatic immunities is lifted, no difference is made between a ‘John Doe’ and a ‘felon’ whose profession is diplomacy. The U.S. marshals therefore may not be in the position to offer her special treatment.

Nevertheless, Indians are enraged because a female bureaucrat was strip-searched by Americans which is seen a taboo in contemporary India. There are appropriate channels through which to lodge their frustration. Far from being prudent, Indian federal administrations are assuming a tit-for-tat position. Putting aside the acrimonious remarks, they have suspended a number of privileges entitled to American diplomats. Furthermore, opposition leaders demand to imprison homosexual staffs stationed in India. This response further fuels public sentiments.

Indians thus ignore the key reason for this episode. Ms. Khobragade evidently fell short of fulfilling the prerequisite, which is the submission of candid information to U.S. authorities that her profession demands. Upon arrival in New York, she promised to pay an hourly wage of $9.75 to her domestic staff but she paid only $3.31 per hour. Those sympathetic to her plight have blamed Ms. Khobragade’s monthly remuneration of $4,100. Clearly, she is unable to pay $4,500 to her housemaid.

In this case, she either misinterpreted U.S. labor laws or circumvented them. It is hard to believe the former is true if one considers that she is a highly trained bureaucrat. Thus, she can be not only reprimanded for her conduct but also convicted of a felony. Indians seem to tacitly sanction the wrongdoing committed by a diplomat that in turn dwarfs the sanctity of this profession and therefore India’s image abroad. Unfortunately, they still remain myopic.

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