Upstairs Downstairs Inside Out

‘This story is experiencing some longevity. Here’s more.

Devyani Khobragade, Indian consul general in the US

I previously posted on the saga of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who was arrested earlier this week on charges of visa fraud. She had brought from India a woman, Sangeeta Richard, to work as a nanny, and on the visa application she stated the nanny would be paid $9.75 per hour for a 40-hour work week. Khobragade required Richard to sign a contract for $3.31 per hour. The contract had a stipulation that this matter would not be disclosed to the authorities. I posted at the time:

What was not clear to me at first is why Khobragade was arrested in the first place. Diplomats are supposed to receive what is called “diplomatic privilege,” making them immune to arrest. Closer reading reveals there are exemptions, including activities not related to their diplomatic service. This appears to be one of those exempt activities.

What’s more about this story is that the uproar generated back in India deals a lot with the humiliation suffered by Khobragade. Back at the detention center she was strip searched. Strip searched! The indignity!

Here is more of what’s more:

Disregard for a moment the strip search is standard before anybody is put in the slammer with other detainees. The strip search is conducted in private by a woman marshal. This is somewhat less indignity than first imagined, but indignity, non-the-less. But here’s the problem. How do we know Khobragade was strip searched? I am quite sure the US Marshal’s Service did not put out a press release saying the woman had been strip searched. This news came from Khobragade, herself. She is the sole source of her own embarrassment. I am thinking that she was thinking.

I am thinking that she was thinking that she would extract a little payback for being charged with a crime. She certainly knew what the reaction would be back in India when it was learned that an Indian woman, a prominent Indian woman at that, was subjected to such an indignity. Class means a lot back in India, and it’s likely Khobragade played that card deliberately.

Included in the what’s more of this story is Khobragade’s version. Some parts are reasonable. Others not so much. Here is Khobragade’s father:

Uttam Khobragade, father of Devyani Khobragade, alleged his daughter’s former maid Sangeeta Richards could be a “CIA agent”. He said her daughter had been made a “scapegoat” and the possibility of a conspiracy behind the visa fraud allegations against her could not be ruled out.

Absolutely! Where the CIA is concerned, nothing can be ruled out. Remember the Twin Towers!

Wikipedia provides some additional background:

… Khobragade alleged that Sangeeta Richard and her husband Philip Richard approached her for a job as they needed money for their children’s education. As per their agreement, it was decided Richard would go to New York with Khobragade to take care of her household work for a monthly salary of Rs. 30,000. Richard went to New York in November 23, 2012 and began working for Khobragade . In March 2013, problems started between Khobragade and Richard when the latter allegedly started pressuring her employer to allow her to work outside on her off days. Khobragade turned down Richard’s requests citing the fact that it was illegal according to her visa status and also since she had an official passport. On June 21, Khobragade went to New Jersey and when she returned two days later, Richard was found to be missing.

I don’t have a link to this, but Khobragade’s attorney, interviewed on CNN, has stated the underpayment is misconstrued. He told viewers that Richard agreed that part of her $9.75 per hour be allocated to her husband, implying the $3.31 per hour mentioned in the criminal complaint was just the remainder. Additional details are reported on The Hindu Web site:

The Indian telling of the tale has drawn attention to alleged improprieties by Sangeeta Richard, the Indian national who was in Ms. Khobragade’s employment as a babysitter and housekeeper between November 2012 and June 2013.

These included Ms. Richard asking for permission to work in another residence before June 23, and then “absconding” from the premises of Ms. Khobragade from that date onwards, allegedly “taking” a mobile phone and SIM card, around $200 in cash and some documents, all said to belong to Ms. Khobragade.

However, this narrative has avoided referencing the alleged visa fraud that the criminal complaint against Ms. Khobragade details, including the claim that she effectively paid Ms. Richard $3.31 per hour whereas the New York minimum wage is $7.25.

The Hindu further touches on some points I made in my previous post:

It is at this point that the second narrative arc becomes relevant. And it is centred squarely on the U.S.’ long history of combating the abuse of foreign domestic workers by diplomats on its soil.

The full import of this battle waged by multiple federal government agencies may not always be visible when observing a proximate issue such as the Khobragade-Richard dispute.

Yet it may have been at the back of [U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet] Bharara’s mind when he said on Wednesday, “One wonders whether any government would not take action regarding false documents being submitted to it in order to bring immigrants into the country…. where the purpose of the scheme was to unfairly treat a domestic worker in ways that violate the law.”

He asked, for good measure why there was “so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?”

Sadly, this story is bringing additional dirty linens to light:

Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat who is at the centre of a diplomatic row with the US, is one of the 25 allottees who have been found ineligible to own a flat in the controversial Adarsh Housing society by a judicial panel which probed the scam.

According to Maharashtra government rules, an official applying for a flat under a government quota has to give a signed affidavit stating that they do not own any other flat. Devyani had an apartment in Oshiwara locality in the city which too she had got under the government quota.

Her father Uttam Khobragade, a retired IAS officer, was alleged to have facilitated extra floor space index (FSI) to the upscale 31-storey Adarsh society in Colaba by transferring an adjoining Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST) plot to the society.

Uttam Khobragade has, however, denied any wrongdoing in the scam.

The news item also mentions Devyani Khobragade owns ten additional properties.

As the owner of this blog I always get to have the last word. Mine is this: Assuming the US government’s case is valid, we have to wonder. India is a modern, 21st century country. They have nuclear weapons. Earlier this month they launched a spacecraft to Mars. While there may be many people in India living in abject poverty, the Indian government is not stone broke. So why is it that Khobragade needs to shave expenses and pay her maid/nanny barely $3 an hour? That should be embarrassing to somebody.


One thought on “Upstairs Downstairs Inside Out

  1. Pingback: Upstairs Downstairs Inside Out | Skeptical Analysis

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