It is difficult to believe that any Government, let alone the United States would treat a foreign diplomat the way India’s Counsel General in New York, Devyani Khobragade was treated by the city police. Would the New York Police have treated a British, European or Chinese diplomat the same way? Not only does it violate all international protocol norms but it shows a disrespect towards India that is all too obvious.
In the United States, at the highest diplomatic circles the belief obviously is that one can take any liberty with India and get away with it. The Indian diplomat was publically arrested, strip teased, private parts examined, subjected to a DNA swab and treated like a common criminal.
The Times of India (Decembr 18) said that the police behaviour flouts Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Consular relations. It sharply pointed out that “US authorities would not have flouted protocol similarly if the accused had been a Chinese or British.” But, as is typical of Indian behaviour, the paper played it easy saying “the matter shouldn’t escalate into an all-out political row between the two countries who enjoy an important economic and strategic partnership.”
The New Indian Express (December 18) said “symbolic gestures are not enough. The Government should withdraw all special facilities given to American diplomats and direct Indian law enforcement agencies to act if and when they are found guilty of violating Indian laws.” In a subsequent editorial (December 20) it said that “India must insist that the US give the same special privileges to Indian diplomats in the US as its own diplomats enjoy here.” It said “US officials have been unduly pampered by our governments” and instead of offering an apology America wants us to “forgive and forget”. That is barbarian.
The Asian Age (December15) described American behaviour as “Arrogant, uncivil and undiplomatic.” What is shocking, as the paper noted, is that Khobragade’s arrest had been planned even while India’s Foreign Secretary was visiting Washington. She (Sujatha Singh) was not even tipped off about her junior colleague’s impending arrest. The paper also noted that “complaints against Indian diplomats on the issue of wages have only been reported from the US and nowhere else.”
Hindustan Times (December 18) noted that “India and the US have returned to petty squabbling” and that “when there is little substance in bilateral ties, then small irritants like the latest one will set the tone.” The core issue said the paper is that “a maid in Manhattan has to be paid more than a full-time Indian diplomat in Manhattan” and “this is hardly the stuff of strategic relationships and geopolitics”.
Economic Times (December 20) reminded readers how even a former Indian President, Abdul Kalam and ex-Defence Minister George Fernandes had once been submitted to such humiliations. In regard to wages, the paper said “If Americans want Indians to pay US wages in America, they should pay US wages to Indian staff in their embassies, treated as American territory.” But the wise thing to do, said, the paper is “our diplomats must stop the practice of taking household help from India.” And it added that “the US has to get used to the idea that it cannot bully anyone it wants to.” Finally, the paper pointed out, “India has to feel like it has a spine and stand up for its own.”
The Hindu (December 19) rightly pointed out that “a strip search, examination of body cavities and the possible use of restraints other than handcuffs such as waist chains and shackles, are grossly over-the-top steps to use against any detained person.”
The Hindu thinks the transfer of Khobragade to the Indian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York “is questionable” and casts “India’s claim of a nation ruled by law in poor light”. What law? A poor law that permits the police to examine anyone arrested illegally be they ‘body cavities’? The cops who arrested her must be sacked. And the President of US must offer a public apology, not a junior official. What is India taken to be? A banana republic? What kind of barbarism is the United States practising in its arrogance? A little sense of decency needs to be practiced. It is no argument to say that the law is enforced irrespective of a person’s rank. But a person cannot be treated rashly until he or she is found guilty. Lots of things are involved in the Khobragarde case than is apparent.