There are always multiple points of view for any disagreement. This particular story as it unfolds threatens to snowball those differences into a permanent freeze in relations between India and America.
Devyani Khobragade, an Indian Diplomat posted as Vice Consul in New York was accused of paying less than minimum wage to her domestic help, Sangeeta Richard. Devyani was then arrested and treated as a common criminal when booked for the offence. She was subjected to a strip search, and locked with unsavory criminals.
One would think this is a simple matter, what’s all the hue and cry about? But it isn’t so simple. Devyani is an Indian Diplomat and enjoys immunity based on the Vienna Convention. The American’s disagree though, saying she did not have full immunity because she was Consular staff and not a full diplomat. Indian’s say otherwise.
She was paying the fair minimum wage to her employee. Part of the salary was being sent to India to Sangeeta’s family at Sangeeta’s behest and the balance was being paid directly to Sangeeta. A second contract did exist but that was only entered to on the insistence of Sangeeta so funds could be sent to her family back home.
Devyani alleged that Sangeeta wanted a new passport so she could work elsewhere, that she blackmailed Devyani and eventually left her home.
Sangeeta has alleged that she was a mis-treated domestic worker. Paid below minimum wage and forced to work all hours. She eventually couldn’t take it anymore and one day left, connecting with Safe Horizons an anti-traficking program which brought her story to light.
The Diplomatic fallout:
This isn’t a story of two individuals anymore. India and USA are involved as sovereign nations. India because Devyani was a representative of that Government in USA, and America because it is the host country that went out and arrested a diplomat of a friendly country.
Critics of America are quick to point out the case of Raymond Allen Davies, who shot two Pakistani citizens in cold blood and was blatantly bailed out by America using Diplomatic Immunity as a shield against strong protests from Pakistan. India feels that their Diplomat is entitled to no less of immunity than Raymond was.
Today, Devyani has been granted full immunity by the US government and has returned to India. She still maintains her innocence. Richard on the other hand has stayed back in the USA, in fact her family has been brought to America.
There are a few points in this entire story that are strange.
If Devyani claims that Sangeeta was being paid minimum wage, why is that so difficult to prove? If she was remitting part of the funds to India, that should be easy to substantiate and if the balance was being paid in New York then that should be easy to account for as well?
In the US vs Devyani Kohbragade complaint, the officer mentions that the visa form which was submitted mentions the salary for the maid to be US$4,500. That is insane, no maid makes that kind of salary. If you consider $9.75 per hour as minimum wage for a 40 hour workweek, then the wages due to Sangeeta should be $1,560. Did the US Government really expect that Sangeeta be paid $4,500? That was probably Devyani’s own salary as has been reported in the media.
Why was Sangeeta’s family extracted from India? Her spouse and children were granted visas for America and whisked away. US visas are not easy to come by? Sangeeta is not a US citizen to deserve such preferential treatment? Under which US law was all this orchestrated?
We common folk will probably never know what really went on. The two Governments involved will come to an agreement and sweep the whole ugly mess under the carpet.
If Devyani has indeed underpaid Sangeeta, then she deserves to be tried in USA. As an Indian Diplomat however, she shouldn’t be any less protected from foreign prosecution as Raymond Davies was. Now that the Indian Government has secured her release, they should conduct a transparent formal investigation of Devyani and charge her should she be found guilty.