Devyani row exposes US –India inequalities
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he messy DevyaniKhobragade episode has come to a tangled closure, with many untied loose ends. The US has shown unrelenting obstinacy in treating her as a felon, has hastily indicted her for visa fraud and underpaying her maid, contrary to international conventions and good political judgment in dealing with a country that it touts as a key strategic partner for the 21st century. To end the impasse, the US has agreed, ungracefully, to conferment of full diplomatic immunity to her following her transfer to India’s UN mission, accompanied by effective expulsion from the US. There is no US apology for arresting and maltreating her in the first place and no withdrawal of the cooked-up case against her by the US State Department in connivance with the US Embassy in New Delhi. Threatening to arrest her were she to return to the US without immunity shows that the US has no desire to close the diplomatic wounds opened up by its high-handedness towards an Indian diplomat.The US may derive satisfaction that in this case it has upheld its labour laws and made the point that foreign diplomats violating them are liable for legal action, but the price has been alienation of India. It is baffling why the US should prioritise empty moral posturing over substantial political interests. For quite some time it will be very difficult for the US to mouth its heady rhetoric about the importance it attaches to its relations with India, and for India to take it seriously.
This incident has exposed the inherent inequalities in India-US bilateral relations, with Indian feelings further exacerbated by US mockery of India’s judicial system by “evacuating” the maid’s family from India on “T” visas associated with severe sex or labour trafficking. Such US interference in India’s judicial system should not be tolerated and those in its missions involved in the issuance of such visas should be legally proceeded against.
The US has been trying to shift the focus from Devyani’s maltreatment to India’s decision to withdraw the security barriers “surrounding” the US embassy, which is a canard because only a public road that had been taken over by the US embassy and incorporated into its compound to make it comfortable for its personnel to access the embassy club has been re-opened to traffic, but with security barriers alongside the embassy’s walls and police presence still in place.
The decision to control misuse of diplomatic privileges by the embassy is being termed as “petty” and unbecoming of a democracy and a would-be great power. Such condescending editorials in the US mainstream press show how self-centred, narrow-minded and insular Americans can be.
All sensible persons would agree that this incident should not disproportionately damage the bilateral relationship. India and the US are dialoguing on numerous key strategic issues. Yet, on this sensitive issue the dialogue between the two countries has stumbled badly. Looking ahead, it is necessary to have a bilateral agreement on immunities for diplomats working in consulates. The status of domestic staff accompanying our diplomats has to clearly defined through a bilateral agreement.
By being petty-minded on a minor legal issue the US has neither conducted itself as a great power nor as India’s strategic partner.