India is currently awash with outrage – one of us was handcuffed in public and strip searched, and thrown into jail along with common criminals – by those upstart Americans. The reaction to this ‘insult and humiliation’ of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade was swift and vocal – the Prime Minster said this was “Deplorable”, our diplomats canceled meetings with their American counterparts; several consular privileges were either withdrawn or truncated.
The general view has been that this is the Americans getting some well deserved comeuppance; that India for once had a fitting reply to what is seen as international incident. I humbly suggest that this is not so for several reasons.
This is an Overreaction not a Reaction
Firstly the Americans did nothing that was extrajudicial – they followed procedure; the law of their land, which the diplomat should have known about. What they did was refuse to give preferential treatment to one individual.
I generally have a lot to say against American neo-imperialism and their invasive and intrusive foreign policies. As disapproving of the US’s general Big Brother attitude as I am or anyone else may be, in this instance I think they have acted justly and within their rights. And even if I concede that the Americans acted in way that is disproportionate to the misdemeanor, what is the point in responding to overreaction with more overreaction?
Granted that by Indian standards a woman being strip searched, handcuffed in public and being locked up with common criminals can be considered shocking – but did the protest for to be so forceful? Could not one be made that was commensurate with the perceived wrong? The Indian reaction was overreaction – it was far in excess of the perceived wrongs it sought to remonstrate with. The diplomatic immunity granted to this particular diplomat was not blanket immunity – in any case why should any diplomat choose to commit wrongdoings under the cloak of this immunity? And why should they be allowed to get away with it?
This Displays Our Feudal Mindset
The fact that all this noise is being made about what happened to Devyani Khobragade and not so much as a whisper is being heard about the maid who was underpaid, speaks to our feudal mindset. So what if a lowly maid was underpaid? We all do it – all of us who have hired domestic help doing the sweeping, swabbing and washing for us. For us, exploitation of this sort is not only excusable; it is a way of life. To think that someone could be arrested and punished for it, amazes and horrifies us.
We are also used to treating the high and mighty differently – very differently than the common person on the street. Those in positions of power can get out of any trouble and this we perceive as normal. We expect that those in power will be treated differently; be given special treatment. The fact that the Americans chose not to do so, is something that appalls us.
And why is no one speaking about the Visa fraud that is alleged; no one is speaking out against the fact that misstatements were made on a Visa application; that a person (Khobragade’s maid) was being exploited according to the law of the land. For us these transgressions are a mere bagatelle; when the poor are exploited this is not really perceived as a problem – it doesn’t impinge on our own smug reality.
We Should Pick Our Battles
The alacrity and the swiftness, with which our government has acted in this case, would have been admirable if it had been for a just cause. The Indian government has acted to shield someone who is in the wrong. We have far weightier issues that we should raise our voices against. By contrast this is a non-issue. We need to pick our battles – if we want to lodge a protest, next time let it be for an issue that deserves it.