Reading Chidananda Rajghatta, an Indian news correspondent in Washington in a Mumbai newspaper, I realised the tremendous cultural difference between India and the United States in the matter of employing a female housekeeper. Rajghatta speaks of a situation as it exists today in his own home in India. He concedes that even in India “exploitation of domestic workers is all too real and hardly needs reiteration”. However, he adds: “But there is a personalised human element in the service in relationship in India that is entirely missing in the US” and he gives his own experience.
It reminded me of my own younger days, way back in the thirties, living in a household with some fifteen members that included guests and at lunch time children from a near-by girls school. There were that many mouths to be fed. There was no electricity; a patient had to be fanned whenever it was called for. There was no water supply. Water had to be drawn from two wells. But nobody ever complained. The cook-cum housekeeper was from our Brahmin community. She came to work us as a young widow and was immediately accepted as part of the family. My mother and two sisters helped her. The elder children drew water from the wells and helped in other ways. Everyone worked round the clock. This went on for years. Then the children grew up and left home, and slowly the number of members of the family came down to a measly four. By then water supply became available and electricity took care of many problems. It was suggested to her that she should go back to her own family which by then was doing well. Her reply was: “Who are you to tell me to go? This is my home and I will not leave.”
She wanted to take care of my older mother and she thought it was her bounden duty. She was told that she can stay but was not expected to do any work but even that made her angry. She had reason. To my mother, the housekeeper was a daughter. There was no such thing as working hours. Every hour was a working hour as much for the family elders as for the housekeeper.
This is why I am shocked with Sangeeta Richards’ behaviour. If she felt she was being ill-treated and ‘over-worked’ she could well have asked to be sent back to India, instead of running out of the Khobragade household. On the part of the US Government it could have sent a senior official to see the Indian Ambassador to settle matters amicably.
If even if it was necessary to arrest Khobragade it could have been done quietly and without any fanfare; she could have been placed under ‘house arrest’ and not allowed to go out. Did she have to be arrested in public, have her handcuffed and treated in the most barbaric manner? The argument maybe made that the law respects everybody equally, but a diplomat is a diplomat. In any event getting a woman’s body ‘cavities’ searched is sick and disgusting. The whole event shows up the arrogance of the US. It is a barbaric Government and deserves to be treated with contempt. It is good at bullying not realising that it is dealing with India, which, in past years, has been putting up with US behaviour uncomplainingly. Now, having to face an angry public, it has hit back. But not quite sufficiently.
America must be showed convincingly that India is not a banana republic. Meanwhile it does not come as a shock that – according to a report from the White House itself – nearly 22 million American women – about one in five – have been raped in their lifetime in the US with nearly half of the victims subjected to sexual assault before the age of eighteen. This is not to run down the United States but the sooner the US Government and its staff all the way down to a magistrate is taught social behaviour, it will be better for all concerned.
Washington still behaves like a Super Power. Those days are over. It has to learn the essence of dharma. Importantly, Indian bureaucrats now holding many important posts in the US must become more sensitive to decent behaviour and stop bullying as the NRI, Preetinder Bharara, the US Persecutor has been noticed doing, in Devyani’s case. He has brought no credit either to India or to his new found home, the US. He should be ashamed of himself.