The Devyani Khobragade story does not leave us. There is this development of US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell resigning. Many, like The Asian Age (April 2) believe that it is not surprising. As it put it: “Indian and American officials were expecting a change of guard. The move signifies a possible desire by Washington to push the “refresh” button in relations with India. At the practical level it is hard to see a renewal under a leader who presided over the decline. Unlike Mrs Powell, a career diplomat, a political appointee might be better suited to revise ties at the operational level.” The paper said “the test of this will be how the US handles the Khobragade affair from now onwards.”
But meanwhile another development has taken place which must be a cause for concern. According to The Hindustan Times (April 6) an American police officer, Manny Encarnacion was arrested at New Delhi airport on March 10 “when three live bullets were found in his baggage during screening”. According to official sources, in India “this is a violation of the Arms Act”. To the best of one’s knowledge this information over a month old first came to be published in Hindustan Times only on April 6. Why was the story suppressed by the Indian government? It became common knowledge only after the US daily New York Post published the report. According to the story in the Post, “India is getting revenge for Nannygate”—the reference being to the Khobragade arrest and the insult heaped on her. In a letter to the Secretary of State, John Kerry, New York’s Republican Congressman, one Chuck Schumer, is supposed to have told a TV channel that he thinks “India’s behaviour is sort of juvenile”. Actually even American public was not in the know of the police officer’s arrest for 25 days. So far, it would seem, the State Department has played down the story. Asked if it could be seen as retribution for Khobragade’s arrest a State Department spokesperson is reported as saying: “We have said we want to get past some of the tensions that have been there over the past several months and move on. I just can’t speak to this specific case.” He better not. India has broken no law. On the contrary, the US police officer has. The US must be taught a lesson. No country, howsoever powerful can get away with insulting and humiliating India. The officer must be released only after all the charges against Devyani are withdrawn. But why, may one ask, was the story suppressed for over a month?
Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party is losing friends in the media and rightly so. The point was made by The Times of India in a powerful editorial. It said: “The Aam Aadmi Party seems to believe that the definition of an independent media is one that fawns on it and frowns on all its rivals.” Referring to the party’s election manifesto which pushes “for all manner of curbs and restrictions on the media, thereby dealing a massive blow to basic freedom” the paper said that the AAP has two choices. “It can introspect on why so many have got disillusioned so fast or it can attribute motives.”At the moment, said the paper, “it has chosen the latter course, which is self-destructive.”
A Mumbai city sessions court’s judgement on the Shakti Mills gang rape has roused the attention of the media. The court had applied for the first time Section 376(E) of the law against rape. By that provision ‘repeat’ offenders in rape invite either life imprisonment or death. Said The Telegraph (April 7): “The sentence should send an unambiguous message to molesters and rapists and its impact has been made stronger by the fairly short time between the law’s enactment and its implementation… The death sentence stands out however, not only because of its firmness but also because, unlike in the 2012 Delhi rape case that turned into murder, the women in the Shakti Mills case is alive. For those against capital publishment per se, neither matters… Still, it is heartening to see that India’s justice system can move fast if it wants to…”
The Asian Age (April 6) said referring to two judgements on rape in different parts of the country on the same day that they “have rendered signal service to the cause of women of our land”. The paper said that the death sentence pronounced on three double rapists “sets a frightening precedent for any repeat offender of such a heinous crime”. Said the paper: “Deterrent punishment is the only way to get the message across that crimes against women will not be tolerated in our society. The two judgements carry that message in strident tones.” In conclusion the paper said: “A lot more remains to be done on the count of women’s safety but the judiciary has shown the way in tackling a menace that has singed the national mood. The matter of how to treat juvenile offenders when they commit heinous crimes like rape has to be tackled firmly.”
-The writer is a Senior Journalist and Editor of Illustrated Weekly