04 20 2015
  11:36 pm  
40 Years of Service
Indian Consulate in New York

 NEW DELHI (AP) — In New York, it looked like a straightforward case: an obscure young diplomat at the Indian consulate was accused of lying on visa forms so she could bring her maid to the U.S., paying her less than $3 an hour. The diplomat was arrested, processed through the legal system like anyone else and quickly freed on bail.

In India, though, the hours that Devyani Khobragade spent in custody have set off a diplomatic storm. Government officials roared about her public arrest, particularly her strip search. Cabinet ministers warned of international conspiracies. An Indian official compared the search to a gang rape. Heavy concrete security barriers were dragged by police from around the U.S. Embassy. The Indian media fumed over the country's humiliation.

Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid summed up the feelings of many people here. "It is no longer about an individual," he told Parliament in an angry speech Wednesday. "It is about our sense of self as a nation and our place in the world."

Because what happened in New York was not just about an arrest, or about one young woman. Instead, the incident pinballed through a series of cultural land mines, causing an uproar in a country where a woman's honor is supposed to be publicly defended, insults are profoundly felt and the treatment of one's maid is, for most, considered no business at all of the authorities.

As for the arrest itself: Only the powerless and poor would face arrest for lying on a government form. For someone in the educated elite, a strip search would be unthinkable.

"There's an expectation here that if you speak English in a certain way you will be treated with a certain deference by the authorities," said Mihir Sharma, a New Delhi writer and associate editor of the Business Standard newspaper.

It's an expectation that means police rarely harass drivers of Mercedes, and wealthy Indians convicted of brutal crimes can spend years free on medical leave.

Then there's history. The arrest mingled with long-harbored worries that the U.S. condescends to India, treating it as a poverty-wracked nation with poor sanitation instead of as the world's largest democracy and a nuclear power. Also, while New Delhi and Washington have become close allies over the past decade, that followed many more years of Cold War distrust, when India had close ties to the Soviet Union, the United States had close ties to Pakistan and the U.S. Embassy here was regarded as little more than a walled CIA encampment.

Among the Indian elite, and particularly among senior foreign service officers, it's not hard to find people who still look at the United States with deep-rooted suspicion.

"For (so) long these Americans ... have taken us for granted, and we loved to surrender every time they insulted us, interfered in our affairs and humiliated our citizens," Tarun Vijay, a Hindu nationalist and member of the upper house of Parliament, wrote in the Times of India. "Our ministers are subjected to humiliating searches and we kept quiet."

But what does he mean by "humiliating searches"? Vijay is referring to basic security checks at American airports, and his description says a great deal about the cultural gulf that can separate the U.S. and India. It's a gulf that can leave people from both countries adrift in confusion.

Americans are raised to view elitism with distaste, or at least to pay lip service to the everyman ideal. Presidents are celebrated for carrying their own luggage or chopping wood for the fireplace. Sitting members of Congress must go through airport security. Warren Buffett, the second wealthiest man in the world, is known for his unelaborate suburban house in Omaha.

In explaining the arrest, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara — who was born in India but raised in the United States — highlighted that difference.

The "sole motivation in this case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law - no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are," he said in a statement.

In India, though, elitism is nothing to be embarrassed about. Instead it is something to be proud of, and its perks are openly flaunted.

A boss in many Indian offices wouldn't dream of carrying his own briefcase to his car at the end of the day, and no self-respecting Indian Cabinet minister would be seen waiting at a security checkpoint. Mukesh Ambani, India's wealthiest man, built his family a 27-story tall Mumbai tower thought to be the world's most expensive private home.

Largely unexamined in India is the life of the maid, Sangeeta Richard. If most Americans believe the case revolves around a mistreated woman, a maid who authorities say was paid a tiny fraction of the minimum wage in one of the world's most expensive cities, most Indians see it far differently.

"Nobody likes talking about our domestic help situation, where there's usually a great deal of exploitation," said Sharma, the writer. "'They're a member of the family,' we're always told."

In some cases, this can mean employers provide their staff with good salaries, free food and housing, and schooling for their children. But Indian rights activists say there is rampant mistreatment of household staff across the country, with millions of people working 12 hours a day, six days a week for less than $100 a month, often sleeping on mats unrolled on the kitchen floor.

And what of Khobragade?

She has been defended by the prime minister, the foreign minister, the political opposition and dozens of news anchors. She has been upheld as the image of the sophisticated modern Indian, a woman working in a far-away nation on behalf of her nation.

But almost no one has mentioned her caste. Khobragade comes from the bottom of Hinduism's complex social ladder, from a community so low that traditionally it was seen as not having any caste at all. A couple of decades ago, she probably would not have had such a plum diplomatic posting, if she had made it into the foreign service at all.

Now, as India changes and its caste system frays, this surprising fact is possible: The diplomat is a dalit. The woman who has inspired such outrage on the part of fellow Indians — the woman whose handling, both in principle and physically, has touched off a diplomatic row — is a member of the outcast community once known as "untouchables."

And in India of 2013, where dreams of global respect can often trump even the strongest of traditions, no one seems to care.

Pacific NW Carpenters Union

Commenting Guidelines

  • Keep it clean: Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually oriented language
  • No personal attacks: We reserve the right to remove offensive comments
  • Be truthful: Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything
  • Be nice: No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person
  • Help us: If you see an abusive post, let us know at info@theskanner.com
  • Keep to topic: We will remove irrelevant posts and spam
  • Share with us: We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts; the history behind an article

Recently Published by The Skanner News

  • Default
  • Title
  • Date
  • Random
  • When should we use military to enforce US goals? NASHUA, N.H. (AP) — Rand Paul lashed out Saturday at military hawks in the Republican Party in a clash over foreign policy dividing the packed GOP presidential field. Paul, a first-term senator from Kentucky who favors a smaller U.S. footprint in the world, said that some of his Republican colleagues would do more harm in international affairs than would leading Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. "The other Republicans will criticize the president and Hillary Clinton for their foreign policy, but they would just have done the same thing — just 10 times over," Paul said on the closing day of a New Hampshire GOP conference that brought about 20 presidential prospects to the first-in-the-nation primary state. "There's a group of folks in our party who would have troops in six countries right now, maybe more," Paul said. Foreign policy looms large in the presidential race as the U.S. struggles to resolve diplomatic and military conflicts across the globe. The GOP presidential class regularly rails against President Barack Obama's leadership on the world stage, yet some would-be contenders have yet to articulate their own positions, while others offered sharply different visions. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose brother, President George W. Bush, authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq, declined to say whether he would have done anything different then. Yet Jeb Bush acknowledged a shift in his party against new military action abroad. "Our enemies need to fear us, a little bit, just enough for them to deter the actions that create insecurity," Bush said earlier in the conference. He said restoring alliances "that will create less likelihood of America's boots on the ground has to be the priority, the first priority of the next president." The GOP's hawks were well represented at the event, led by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has limited foreign policy experience but articulated a muscular vision during his Saturday keynote address. Walker said the threats posed by radical Islamic terrorism won't be handled simply with "a couple bombings." "We're not going to wait till they bring the fight to us," Walker said. "We're going to bring the fight to them and fight on their soil." South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham addressed the question of putting U.S. troops directly in the battle against the Islamic State group militants by saying there is only one way to defeat the militants: "You go over there and you fight them so they don't come here." Texas Sen. Ted Cruz suggested an aggressive approach as well. "The way to defeat ISIS is a simple and clear military objective," he said. "We will destroy them." Businesswoman Carly Fiorina offered a similar outlook. "The world is a more dangerous and more tragic place when America is not leading. And America has not led for quite some time," she said. Under Obama, a U.S.-led coalition of Western and Arab countries is conducting regular airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. also has hundreds of military advisers in Iraq helping Iraqi security forces plan operations against the Islamic State, which occupies large chunks of northern and western Iraq. Paul didn't totally reject the use of military force, noting that he recently introduced a declaration of war against the Islamic State group. But in an interview with The Associated Press, he emphasized the importance of diplomacy. He singled out Russia and China, which have complicated relationships with the U.S., as countries that could contribute to U.S. foreign policy interests. "I think the Russians and the Chinese have great potential to help make the world a better place," he said. "I don't say that naively that they're going to, but they have the potential to." Paul suggested the Russians could help by getting Syrian President Bashar Assad to leave power. "Maybe he goes to Russia," Paul said. Despite tensions with the U.S., Russia and China negotiated alongside Washington in nuclear talks with Iran. Paul has said he is keeping an open mind about the nuclear negotiations. "The people who already are very skeptical, very doubtful, may not like the president for partisan reasons," he said, and "just may want war instead of negotiations."
    Read More
  • Some lawmakers, sensing a tipping point, are backing the parents and teachers who complain about 'high stakes' tests   
    Read More
  • Watch Rachel Maddow interview VA Secretary Robert McDonald  
    Read More
  • Some two thousand people pack halls to hear Trayvon Martin's mom speak   
    Read More
load morehold SHIFT key to load allload all
Carpentry Professionals



About Us

Breaking News

The Skanner TV

Turn the pages

Portland Opera Showboat 2
The Skanner Photo Archives