Indian ego versus American self-righteousness

Published: December 25, 2013

The writer is a US-trained lawyer based in London and tweets @ayeshaijazkhan

Deyvani Khobragade, India’s deputy counsel general in New York, is allegedly guilty of visa fraud.  Reportedly, she provided false information on her nanny’s US visa application, promising to pay her $9.75 per hour but instead paying her a mere $3.31, which was not only in contravention of what she stated on the visa application but also well below minimum wage. None of this may have ever come to the attention of US authorities, however, had the nanny, Ms Sangeeta Richard, not visited an immigration attorney to discuss her plight.  Without getting into whether Ms Khobragade is entitled to diplomatic immunity or how well or poorly she was treated during the course of her arrest (as contradictory facts have emerged), let’s discuss India’s reaction to the episode.

The Indian government, affronted by the treatment meted out to its diplomat, retaliated in several ways. Revoking perks for US diplomats in India as a quid pro quo may be understandable, but India’s perversely draconian measures against Ms Richard, the nanny, who is as Indian as Ms Khobragade, are mind-boggling. Her passport was revoked, making her status in the US illegal. Her India-based husband and child were taken into custody. Legal action was instituted against her such that if she returns to India, she could face extortion charges. The message here was quite clear: how dare she? How dare a poor maid demand her rights in a foreign country and embarrass a higher-class Indian? And if she does, the entire state machinery will stand against her. One would think the poor nanny had revealed state secrets to an enemy nation to deserve such treatment.

What this saga has really done is seriously called into question India’s commitment to democratic ideals. What it’s shown is that not all Indians are equal in the eyes of the state. One wonders what the real issue is here. Is it the disrespect US authorities allegedly showed Ms Khobragade or is it the ego blow that diplomats of her pay grade can’t legitimately afford a nanny in the US? Many of India’s retaliatory actions reek of a colonial hangover and the desperation to look white folk in the eye and say ‘you can’t mess with us’. Well sorry to burst your bubble India, but until you can treat your own teeming millions with the respect and rights that they deserve, you cannot be in as strong a position as those calling you out on your shortcomings. In the meantime, you can revoke all the airport security passes you like. Incidentally, what were the American diplomats doing with them to begin with? Why put the Americans on a pedestal in the first place?

And that brings us to the other side of the story. The Americans are eager to portray themselves as the civilised nation that implements minimum wage laws and cares for worker rights. And while it is true that workers are far better protected in the US than in many other parts of the world, what would be the American reaction if say Ms Richard had applied for a US visa on her own? In all likelihood, she would have been turned down for the mere reason that she is not rich enough and hence, a potential drain on US society. Isn’t there a contradiction here? Don’t most civilised Western nations preserve the rights of those legally in their territory by denying access to much of the underprivileged world?

An even more glaring contradiction, moreover, is the attitude of American business and expats outside of the US. In the Gulf countries, in particular, Americans have, at best, looked the other way, and at worst, been equal partners in formulating policy and pay grades based on race and nationality such that they would be found patently discriminatory under US law. So, while enforcing worker rights may be cool back home, living a life akin to the British Raj may be preferable overseas. US v Khobragade must lead to intelligent discussion on how worker rights can really be protected across borders instead of limiting those rights to the select few who make it to Western shores. In a global world with rampant illegal immigration, this conversation is long overdue.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (43)

  • AA
    Dec 26, 2013 - 12:06AM

    Well written and far way from the truth. I sence lack on research on this subject matter as well. More of a monologue where one is expressing her wishlist and perception.


  • Indian
    Dec 26, 2013 - 12:07AM

    Pakistan’s bubble was burst in Raymond Davis and Salala attack case. Wasn’t it? @author
    Anyways these Americans can’t be allowed to treat our diplomats like crap and they have been given the taste of their own medicine. Now after her transfer to the UN, Devyani has got full immunity in the US. Everything is going to be just fine now.
    Btw author you’re perhaps not aware but the US government has fallen into the trap set by the nanny. She wanted to emigrate to the US from the beginning and now she’s succeeded in her efforts.


  • ModiFied
    Dec 26, 2013 - 12:48AM

    At best a poorly researched article by the US trained lawyer. Facts have been presently selectively like most lawyers do. One would expect a better rebuttal from a lawyer based upon the facts ( which are now in public domain all over the internet).


  • Anjaan
    Dec 26, 2013 - 1:16AM

    Yes of course … it is a clear case of treatment on the basis of the colour of the skin … after all, the world has seen “American exceptionalism” in umpteen number of cases, the most glaring being the Raymond Davis incident in Pakistan … therefore, India’s colonial hangover, which is hardly 67 years old, could always play a role in India’s reactions … how the Govt. of India treats its own people, is none of American business to interfere into …

    Having said that … there is more than meets the eyes … it is a clear case of souring of relations, in the first place… perhaps as a result of India’s refusal to budge on the issues of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and refusal to give up its own interests under American pressure …Recommend45

  • SM
    Dec 26, 2013 - 1:51AM

    I guess when you don’t have all the facts, try not commenting, or else you will have such mess of an article that isn’t cohesive, credible or ‘opinionated’ about really anything.Recommend47

  • Dec 26, 2013 - 1:57AM

    So boring to read an analysis based on wrong information. I would advise the writer to study the turn of events carefully before deciding that the poor maid is the victim, Khobragade is the villain and India has a colonial chip on its shoulder.


  • Dec 26, 2013 - 2:23AM

    there are two issues in it .in case M/s Khobragade gave false declaration of the payment of the wage and underpaid and violated the US labour law and if she does not come under the category of a diplomat ( not having immunity from US law) US law enforcing agencies are within their power to take legal action. The issue of mistreatment depends on the perception . M/s Khobragade has however been transferred by Indian government to its permanent UN mission and there she is enjoying complete immunity from US law . it is a way to arrest the straining relations. Matter will soon be out of public memory but a lesson to all embassies in US

  • polpot
    Dec 26, 2013 - 2:44AM

    ” Her India-based husband and child were taken into custody. ”
    Typical falsehoods in the highly motivated writeup. If they were arrested how could they fly to US?


  • polpot
    Dec 26, 2013 - 2:47AM

    “One would think the poor nanny had revealed state secrets to an enemy nation to deserve such treatment.”
    Does anyone remember that poor doctor incarcerated for 33 years … abbottabad?

    Those who live in glass houses….should not change with their lights on.


  • Ankur
    Dec 26, 2013 - 2:57AM

    Misinformed. Misinformed. Misinformed you are. She had signed a contact with the diplomat about wages in India. She exploited that when she realized she can get more working in any other house. And about other allegations, she is an indian diplomat with immunity, Just like David Headley was for Americans when you desperately proved him a diplomat ,crumbled under US pressure and deported him without passport. She deserve treatment according to vienna convention 1963. Just because pakistan allows or tolerate the US bullying and trade it’s sovereignty (drone attacks) for US aid , that doesn’t means we should do that too. She was representing India their, Strip searching, putting her in cage with drug addits.. She a women for god’s sake! It cannot be justified whatsoever. Period.


  • rasgullah
    Dec 26, 2013 - 4:27AM

    And we have a Pakistani lawyer talking about equality?


  • Dec 26, 2013 - 8:54AM

    An article based on anything but facts. Period!


  • Pushtun Voice
    Dec 26, 2013 - 10:04AM

    Excellent article! The facts are that wages are different for each country based ok the cost of living. If i get a maid from my village for 50c a day and take her to Europe and still pay her the same wage that would be illegal under European labour laws even if the maid has a written contract.

    I am astounded no one cares about the poor maid in this case. Seems the poor in both India and Pakistan get taken for granted and are used as cannon fodder to preserve the “honour” of the middle classes


  • Rohit
    Dec 26, 2013 - 10:05AM

    @ Many of India’s retaliatory actions reek of a colonial hangover and the desperation to look white folk in the eye and say ‘you can’t mess with us’

    Meanwhile Pakistan is waiting for alms from US and China.


  • KaroBari
    Dec 26, 2013 - 10:59AM

    To all the Indians who have posted comments here so far-

    Are you guys all Indian Propaganda Ministry agents or what?? Do you realize that if it were your family member involved here (instead of Sangeeta Richard), the Indian Govt would have treated her the same way!

    The author is correct to state that no matter what happened to that Deputy Counsel General, the Indian Govt has only lowered India’s standing among the civilized nations by retaliating against the maid and using other thug tactics!

    Oh and btw, whatever happened in Pakistan and/or with Richard Davis does NOT make India’s actions right!


  • Nikki
    Dec 26, 2013 - 11:03AM

    Rule of law has no eyes and senses…… its not discrimination if the Indian diplomat fasing charges under the American law.


  • Observer
    Dec 26, 2013 - 11:26AM

    The author hasn’t done her research on the truth before writing this article. If she cares to understand real facts, she needs to do a more systematic and careful reading of the articles published, especially counterpoints in the Indian news media. If she did, she would have realized that the babysitter is not an innocent and naive victim as some of the left leaning publications portray. She gamed the American system to gain immigration.


  • Happens
    Dec 26, 2013 - 12:13PM

    @ Ayesha Ijaz Khan

    You know we are not Arabians. We are Indians having a sense of belonging-ness to our soil which is our fatherly land and spiritual land . We did it to teach them a lesson and continue to do it . We believe in friendship with mutual respect , but not at a cost of self respect. We have friendship with them and will continue , but tit for tat will be applied in case of adversary.


  • faraz
    Dec 26, 2013 - 12:40PM

    A rare occasion that Indians friends (who are frankly far more knowledgeable and rational in their comments than Pakistanis) have no real counter arguments


  • Parvez
    Dec 26, 2013 - 1:44PM

    I thought the title was way better than the opinion piece.


  • Gp65
    Dec 26, 2013 - 2:07PM

    Facing charges is fine. It is not commone for people being I mvestigated for white collar crime to be handcuffed, strip searched and body searched. It is this treatment that is being protested. In addition, the autor’s article is full of mis information vis-a-vis facts know. In the public domain. Misleading information will lead to flawed conclusions.

    NYPD which claims to be acting even handed lay certainly did not act even handed when the maid on dependent visa went missing and they refused to file an FIR. The claims that the woman was made to work 17 hours a day stretches credulity and seems to be based on assumption that she was toiling away every waking hour. This is hardly possible to support a family of 4 in USA iven all the tools and equipment available.

    Finally how many illegal aliens in US who maybe underpaid have their families airlifted o US based on a. Omplaint? Once the maid left Devyani’s employment, she did nit have any status in US and was an illegal alien.

    Indians are protesting a la k of even handed treatment.Recommend32

  • Ali S
    Dec 26, 2013 - 2:29PM

    The author missed a few points of research but got her point across nonetheless. Even if the US should have treated the diplomat better (i.e. simply deport her and rid her of her consular status), the complete lack of Indian support or sympathy for the maid is deafening.

    I think the US courts took the maid’s status in relation to the diplomat as some sort of modern-day slavery ($3.31/hour is not even survival wage in NYC) and the wounds of slavery are still fairly raw in the American legal system.


  • Tony Singh
    Dec 26, 2013 - 5:18PM

    @Ali S:
    While I am all for justice if any injustice is done to the maid, There is more than what meets the eye. I have following points
    1. Maid approached Dr. Devyani for the job.
    2. She already had relatives working in US embassy in India
    3. Therefore she worked the system to migrate to US. (one should commend her intelligence she fooled not only Indian officials but US officials too to an extent that they bought tickets for her family to fly (evacuate) them to US. Did not even pay service tax- that;s breaking Indian Law!!!)
    4. Law is a Law only when one applies it uniformly across board. If one does not do that then its not a law but a discretionery power. That is what Preet Bharara did – used his discretionery power and not applied the Law. Now we hear that US embassy is reluctant to give wages paid to the staff working in their offices and also of maids working in their homes in India
    5. One does not undergo strip search and Cavity search on the question of wage dispute – Period. In most countries that tantamount to rape.
    6. In India Homosexuality is a crime (though I disagree with it) under article 377. Should that mean that all US diplomats who have come with their gay partners be cavity and strip searched and put behind bars. Can one imagine what would happen if indian police uses “the standard procedures” on these diplomats after arrest?


  • Hunter Punter
    Dec 26, 2013 - 5:31PM

    A very poorly researched article with absolutkly wrong facts. Govt of India revoked the maids “official” passport in june, after she went missing. Technically the maid was a govt of India employee on an official Govt of India passport and absconded. on the job. Secondly all diplomatic missions bring their own domestic assistants, to ensure diplomatic secrecy. Paakistan does the same. The US Embassy in India employs 1000 local employees and does NOT pay them US wages. they are paid less than what this maid was paid. Even the Indian Ambassador to US, does not get a salary higher than what the US thinks should be paid to the maid. lastly all wages of Embassy staff who are ex host country are based on govt salaries of the host country along with allowances. The maids husband was given a visa overnight and whisked away to the US. Wonder, how many maids in the world does US authorities give visas to and immigration as well. there is far more than meets the eye. The author has done a rather poor job at this.


  • antanu
    Dec 26, 2013 - 5:37PM

    so….what are we going to do. ..waging a war against US…? Please don’t try to daydream….We can not do anything against US …all this hoo haa had been for Indian public to show that we are capable of challenging the US ….but alas ended up as a joke? and it has nothing to do with Pakistan. why bring it in the issues of salala etc…? are we so weak that we are measuring everything in Pakistan scale? perhaps it is a fact..US is treating us with a disdain just like it did with Pakistan.


  • Suresh
    Dec 26, 2013 - 6:50PM

    The diplomat never filled maid’s VISA form.
    The maid stated her employer’s salary in VISA form, not what salary she gets.
    The maid worked as maid to few American in India, and later stayed in same apartment when they left.
    The maid’s father works in American consulate New Delhi
    The Americans issued VISA, and they very well know Diplomat’s salary, and that she can not pay all her earnings to the maid as her salary. Suspecting something wrong, they could have refused the VISA.
    The maid is well versed in American labour laws, about her own right et even before she left India shore.
    Maid’s family is evacuated by the Americans. They are not in India.
    This is a conspiracy of both the maid and the Americans.


  • Dec 26, 2013 - 6:55PM

    Dear All,

    Listen very clearly or I Have to repeat “MIGHT IS RIGHT” you have to be mighty in every aspect to get some respect in the world.



  • Pankaj
    Dec 26, 2013 - 7:45PM

    what a poorly researched article…a common indian knows more facts regarding the case… waste of space…


  • Dec 26, 2013 - 8:15PM

    Just another so called Muslim journalist mouthing half truths and entire lies about India. “Sangeetha Richards husband and children we re taken into custody”. They we re already in the US even before Ms. Khobragade was arrested..


  • Sridhar
    Dec 26, 2013 - 8:16PM

    This article is crap.
    It does not take into account the fact that a nation can pay its employee as per its capability. You cannot expect the diplomat to pay the maid equivalent of her own salary. It has not come to light that the info on the visa application of the maid (when she was applying for job) was misread by the US authorities.
    I do believe that the maid got smarter and wanted to go her own way once she made it to the US. She approached an NGO who probably contacted an attorney. Her rights were read out and interpreted as per US law, forgetting that US law is not applicable to someone visiting US as part of diplomatic entourage. Here, i believe US wanted to make an example of the dipomat who might have made it difficult for the maid back home in US.
    US should not have ill treated the diplomat. This is not done to someone from a country that US claims is a “strategic partner”.
    US could have complained to India and the diplomat would have been quietly shifted out of her present assignment to some other area. Interestingly, diplomat’s husband is a US citizen, which means, the diplomat might be having a green card!
    Sometime ago a Jordanian diplomat was caught shoplifting in Macy’s in US. The matter was quietly buried as she claimed diplomatic immunity.
    As per Vienna protocol on consular relations, it is clearly stated that the host country has no say over how much the visiting country pays its employees. It is the visiting country (India in this case) which decides the pay salary etc. Remember, the maid is in the pay roll of the consulate and not of the diplomat. If diplomat pays her extra out of her own pocket, that is different.
    All in all, case was botched up from both sides. I hope cooler heads will prevail and the matter will be sorted out.


  • Gp65
    Dec 26, 2013 - 10:45PM


    ET mods (3rd attempt) Everything I have stated in my rebuttal is factual yet you filter it. Please permit response ha is consistent with your guidelines.

    The very fact that war occurred to you as first option of dispute resolution proves you are not Indian despite all your pretense. When India did not choose war despite decade long infiltration of jihadis from Pakistan, it is clearly NOT what it would choose now either or even consider as a option.

    What India is going to do is not hypothetical. It is treating US consular staff with reciprocity. Many facilities and services which were given over and above what Vienna convention gives we’re withdrawn, Indian ministers and even opposition leaders refused to meet with a delegation of US Congressmen and Senators who were visiting.

    In the end this is a signal that US is not entitled to extra facilities, they were being provided due to the status of relationship. It is upto US to choose the status of its relationship with India. If it wants to downgrade, India will be glad to reciprocate.

    @Ali S:

    1) the maid was paid according to her contract. She was earning 10 times more Han any maid would in India.

    2) The accusation of visa fraud is due to error of the NYPD officer misreading the visa papers and mistaking Devyani’s US allowance for the salary promised o the maid.

    3) the only remaining issue is that of paying below minimum wage. This will be addressed in the courts. The NYPD is looking only at cash compensation in US. It is ignoring cash compensation in India (Inr 30000 per month which is equivalent to around 50000 Pakistani rupees per month) plus annual return passage to India plus free boarding and lodging plus use of the family’s car and phone).

    4) the notion that handcuff strip search is standard procedure for those arrested maybe true. However is it true that everyone being investigated of white collar. Rome is arrested? We’re any of he CEOs of Countrywide, Wachovia and WAMU who brought US financial system I the knees subjected I such a treatment? No.

    5 It was Devyani who was handcuffed, strip search and cavity searched not the maid. So naturally the sympathy is for Devyani not her maid.

    6) unlike what US media and Pakistani media states the lack of sympathy for the maid has nothing to do with Sangeeta’s caste since Devyani herself is from what used to be a low caste once upon a time and which is beneficiary of affirmative action in post independence India (as Devyani herself was).

    @faraz – thanks for your kind words for my compatriots. Hopefully you can see the rationale here for the way Indians are reacting.


  • sudar
    Dec 26, 2013 - 11:17PM

    India’s ‘reaction’ as narrated by you happened before the deplomat was arrested.

    Her passport was revoked, making her status in the US illegal.

    Reason: The maid disappeared and after months started talking to her employer thro an attorney asking for money.

    Her India-based husband and child were taken into custody.

    Lie. Ther were never arrested but US has flown them free of charge quitely.

    This is the class of a US based Pakistani lawyer. I feel sorry for your clients.


  • Pradhan
    Dec 26, 2013 - 11:37PM

    I seriously want to know how much a Pakistani maid gets paid in Pakistani consulate and what other benefits do they get. So, that I could compare it with this case.


  • JSM
    Dec 27, 2013 - 8:59AM


    The last word in the matter has not yet been spoken. See the following link:

    Courtesies are not one sided.


    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:36AM

    Please excuse my ignorance but if the U.S. had embassy in Somalia would they pay their diplomats the wages applicable in U.S. or the wages applicable in Somalia? My point is do the U.S. expect the GOI to pay the nanny even higher salary than their 2nd or 3rd level diplomats? Am I missing something or am I plain stupid????Recommend2

  • Aciest
    Dec 27, 2013 - 3:51PM

    Very poorly researched article, seems like most Paki intelligentsia rely on anything/everything present on the internet. Please for Christ’s sake, do some fact based real research based on reliable sources next time you think of writing an article.


  • Anoni
    Dec 27, 2013 - 4:22PM

    Hahaha … Looking at replies.. it seems there are more indian at ET than Pakistan i.e perhaps 10 to 1 ..

    ET you should move to India. :) no offence

    By the way the author made a valid point .. Are poor not equal ?


  • Lala Gee
    Dec 27, 2013 - 8:24PM


    *”Those who live in glass houses….should not change with their lights on.”

    Does this principle apply to Indians as well?


  • Lala Gee
    Dec 27, 2013 - 8:48PM

    @p r sharma:

    “M/s Khobragade has however been transferred by Indian government to its permanent UN mission and there she is enjoying complete immunity from US law”

    Does she also enjoying the same respect in UN as well after all these accusations of exploiting the poor and the weak, and passing through different types of body searches???


  • polpot
    Dec 27, 2013 - 8:51PM

    @Lala Gee: “”Those who live in glass houses….should not change with their lights on.”
    Does this principle apply to Indians as well?”
    Well I can only confirm that the principle certainly doesnt apply to Pakistan Why?
    Cause there is never any light :)!.
    Another Big Victory for Pakistan.


  • polpot
    Dec 27, 2013 - 8:55PM

    @Anoni: “ET you should move to India. :)”
    ET you can be sure that there would be no bombings/shootings targeted at you.
    Most Welcome to India but it will be a sad loss for the country that you would be vacating.


  • Kiera Khan - South Dakota USA
    Dec 27, 2013 - 9:21PM

    India might claim to be the most democratic nation in Asia & yes at the moment the most economic force there but at what price? THIS:
    50 million girls have been eliminated from India’s population in the last century.
    7000 girls continue to be murdered daily – in INDIA
    India is ranked the fourth most dangerous place in the world for women
    India’s denial that this exist is a sure thing that India’s girls will become an ENDANGERED species


  • Lala Gee
    Dec 27, 2013 - 9:24PM

    @p r sharma:

    “M/s Khobragade has however been transferred by Indian government to its permanent UN mission and there she is enjoying complete immunity from US law”

    Is she also enjoying the same respect in UN as her counterparts do after all these accusations of exploiting the poor and the weak, and passing through different types of body searches? Or, perhaps this does not matter to India?


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