This is a storm in a tea cup story in the USA, but in India this was major news and the reaction of the Indian Government and the loudest voices is appalling.
I wrote about what makes someone a fanatic, whether it be the sort of man who could callously order his starving soldiers to charge an enemy and die killing as many of them as possible or visiting the most awful violence because you believe another person is inferior and not human… All of it stems from an ethical code that is not flexible and a systemic belief that you can do no wrong. Your actions are good otherwise you would not be doing it.
To the Indians reading this? A simple game. If I offered you as a professional Rs. 100,000 a month to work for me in the UK, how many of you would accept? Considering most people earn less than that and this would be double what many professionals earn, a lot of people would say yes. Except for those who are aware that costs of living vary from place to place and that Rs. 100,000 in India MAY not be as large a sum of money in the UK. It’s not, it’s just £1000. Way below minimum wage. Considering this would be above the starting salaries of some of India’s “upper-middle class jobs” such as Law, Medicine and Engineering this would be a major temptation for people who are unaware of the issues with exchange rates and cost of living. To prevent this abuse we have laws with regards to the minimum wage. A wage below which I CANNOT hire someone on a professional capacity.
The UK is “expensive” not because it is but because when Indians compare exchange rates their currency doesn’t go far. To them a bottle of Pepsi is Rs 30, not Rs. 100.
But there exists such a trade in a place where labour laws are lax. Poor people are enticed with promises of large amounts of money before being transported to places like the Middle East where they effectively work horrific hours for minute pay that can barely support them locally. The exchange rate makes the money look big but they are getting conned out of it.
Devyani Khobragrade knew this, she was not uneducated. She was the Deputy Consul General of India and was in New York when she was charged with visa fraud in order to bring Sangeeta Richard, her domestic worker or “servant” to the USA.
This lead to the diplomatic stand-off that’s been dominating news stories and frankly I have not heard one voice of sanity. See, I think India should have let Devyani face the music.
She was strip searched? Okay. It may sound horrid to you but in the USA this is a routine procedure for anyone going to prison. And it is done by female officers. The reason for this is people smuggle things into prison via body cavities and it is important for the safety of prisoners and to reduce prison contrabrand. This is standard procedure be you king or knave.
She was kept with drug addicts? I know that’s a real tragedy. Drug addicts should not be in prison, that’s the real tragedy.
She didn’t “lie” to the visa authorities, she broke major international and American laws and humanitarian ones.
Then the stupidity began, India demonstrated that it only really cares about rich people by transferring her to the UN Mission in New York giving her full diplomatic immunity as her previous post only gave her consular immunity. The US requested for a waiver of immunity to prosecute her which was denied, and on January the 9th, she returned to India. She was indicted for Visa Fraud and false statements.
So, what was the false statement?
Khobragrade hired Sangeeta Richard as a nanny and domestic worker in India. This is commonly called a “Servant” in India and is a common practice. There is a fair amount of abuse inherent in the system and I have repeatedly spoke out against it but with increasing education the wages of such servants has gone up to a more living standard.
A common excuse is “well she lives in our house, eats our food and enjoys our fancy luxuries too” which is an excuse to pay them less. Many servants do not have beds and often sleep on floors. This is not as terrible as it sounds since many Indians prefer sleeping on floors too (it’s cooler) but rest assured the quality of floor varies (think sleeping in a bedroom on a mat vs. sleeping in a kitchen on a mat. Bonus? Food in kitchens attracts vermin. There is nothing much you can do to stop roaches and rats in India apart from keep things clean and kill them when you see them..).
This was in November 2012 and Khobragrade brought Sangeeta to the USA as part of her diplomatic staff using an Indian Diplomatic Passport with an A-3 Visa which permits the holder to work for a specific employer.
As part of the Visa Application, one has to provide details of the contract including wage rate and working hours. On the Visa application, Khobragrade applied for a rate of $4,500 a month. However this was not the what Devyani was paying Sangeeta.
A verbal contract was made in India which would have seemed attractive. For Rs. 25,000 a month plus Rs 5,000 for overtime. Which is “not bad” in India. To tell you the truth? First year doctors here make Rs. 8000 a month and then Rs. 16,000 a month after their houseman year. So this would be tempting for any woman who would normally be making around Rs. 1500 for a week.
This in the USA would work out as $490 a month. In effect she was being paid a tenth of what she should have been paid.
Sangeeta Richards was told not to say anything about the verbal contract and to instead say that she would be on $9.75 and a 40 hour working week with normal overtime bonuses (going to assume time and a half). This alone is problematic because it doesn’t match the income written on the visa application. Let us assume the deductions were for living costs and this was what she was getting to keep in hand. This proposed pay is still much higher than what she actually received.
In effect Sangeeta had signed two contracts, one in India which was the one that was being honoured at Rs. 30,000 a month with no time off, no working hours and no holidays and one that was displayed to the USA’s Visa Service at $276,000 a month. Naturally, Sangeeta probably learned about the local rates and compared her life to that of the native domestic workers and smelled a rat.
Now here is the problem. The Indian Media has bought into a conundrum. Servants do steal the silver sometimes, but the Indian media being run by middle class people won’t notice that while “some servants steal, most do not and while some employers are mean most are not”. So it’s portraying Khobragrade as either an ingrate who was offered a large sum of money and instead wanted stupid things like holidays or the same wage as the locals. Or as some sort of cunning fiend who conned the innocent Khobragrade and put her through such horrific harassment at the hands of the American Coppers who were all leering men.
On June 21st 2013, Sangeeta left the house when Devyani Khobragrade was out and “hid”. There is a practice in Hindu and Sikh temples where we feed the poor. Well feed everyone who comes irrespective of their wealth. Sikhs adhere to it very strongly and I have helped cook at the Golden Temple. This kept her alive for a few days when she finally approached Safe Horizon who helped her take the case to the State Authority.
Sangeeta tried to get back to work by trying to renegotiate the contract to the 19 hours a day she was working since she was expected to be on call at all hours of the day.
The Indian Consulate resisted any and all attempts to investigate Sangeeta Richard’s employment. If a law had been broken it was broken on American Soil and the laws of America hold true. Sangeeta Richard’s employment is not a state secret nor is it vital to the functioning of the Consulate. She’s a servant, not James Bond. All that was needed was proof of payments, something the Embassy was unable to provide.
In response the Indian Government revoked Sangeeta’s passport and demanded her return to India. She has a non-bailable arrest warrant out. Her husband Phillips Richard alleges that threats were made against him and his family. Last September, the US Embassy to India provided him with T-Visas. Traffic Visas, these are used to provide witnesses and victims of Human Traffic safe transit to the USA in order to testify.
On the 11th of December, Khobragade was charged with visa fraud. The charges allege that she committed visa fraud willfully and under penalty of perjury under Title 28, United States Code, Section 1746. It also claims that Khobragade submitted an employment contract to the U.S. Department of State, in support of a visa application filed by Khobragade for another individual, which she knew to contain materially false and fraudulent statements. The visa fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and the false statements charge carries a maximum sentence of five years.
In layman’s terms this is a case of human trafficking.
At noon, she was escorted to the federal courthouse and transferred to the custody of the US Marshal’s Service and strip searched by a female Deputy Marshal in a private setting. And later she pled not guilty to the charges and was released on bail for $250,000 and she surrendered her passport.
She says that she broke down many times owing the indignities of “repeated handcuffing, stripping, cavity searches and swabbing” and she was “being held with common criminals and drug addicts”.
The Indian media echoed her claims, but the US Marshals service stated that she was no subject to a cavity search. Anyone in a NY Federal Courthouse holding cell has to be strip searched if they are in a common prison environment and DNA swabbed too. In addition, I must point out that drug addicts should be more insulted by their association with someone who abuses the humanity of their fellow man.
A drug addict harms only themselves. Most drug users are harmless and just have fun with it. I don’t think it’s a crime.
Not like slavery and it is slavery. It’s the utilisation of power to con or force someone into working for you are a rate that is unjust and unfair. And despite the media portrayal of “terrible conditions” we must remember that Kobragrade was treated much better than many locals and if she was in India and jailed she would have been in a lot worse condition. No, while we jest that the law in the USA means different things for the rich and poor, the reality is the USA at least is TRYING to eliminate such biases. In India not only is the law different but people are so much more open about why.
Khobragrade was allowed to keep her phone and arrange for child care and sort out personal matters which is a lot more than what most people arrested get. We must remember she was arrested for lying about her servant’s wages and effectively working her 19 hours a day rather than 40 hours a week for a much much lower rate than $4500 that she had signed on the Visa.
The Indian government gave her a post that gave her full diplomatic immunity then brought her home. She still faces trial in the USA and the USA has asked that she be extradited to face trial. The Indian government has refused.
The tragedy is Khobragrade (from the sound of things) is completely oblivious to the charges and what she has done wrong. She simply doesn’t think that the laws of the USA should apply to her. To which I must ask…. what is the Indian diplomat service teaching their diplomats? How did you think this was not going to be an issue? It’s a problem in India too but in the USA there are mechanisms to fight it and she thought she would never be caught.
Khobragrade’s remarks while leaving the USA were alleged to be “You are losing a good friend and gaining a maid and a drunk” to which I must respond with “If my friend keeps slaves, then they are not going to be my friend any more”. And when she came to India her remarks were heartbreaking if we didn’t realise what she has done. I fear her remarks were designed to garner sympathy.
I wonder if I will be able to ever reunite with my family, my husband, my little kids. I miss them… What if I can never return to the US, which I cannot now. Does it mean we will never be able to live together as a family again?”
This is sad, no family should be split up for no reason. If there was no reason for this then Khobragrade has a reasonable gripe.
The reality is that she broke the law and she broke the law spectacularly by committing Visa Fraud and False Statements, which have a 10 and 5 year sentence respectively. And despite the fact it does happen, the law should not give pretty and rich people a free ride when they fuck up.
This was a crime, it was effectively utilising her wealth and power to gain domestic help in the USA that was cheap and was willing to work longer hours.
India should be ashamed. Rather than protect the weak it defended the strong, it decided to tar and punish the weakest members of society and try and threaten the Richard family in order to silence Sangeeta. The irony is that there would have been way more respect for India as a country with integrity and honour if it stood against the major crime of people smuggling, human traffic, modern slavery and indebtured labour that plague it so much rather than trying to hide it.
And this is where things get “Songun Bloggy”. Songun Blog was a North Korean propaganda channel on Youtube with hilarious videos accusing Americans of crimes such as “Making children cry by stealing lunch money” and “Poking Children with needles for fun” and “Stealing the Walls from Schools in Iraq”. Well one has popped up for this issue.
Well the real problem is “remember the people who got the Visa for the Richards Family”? India removed the diplomat’s visa and sent him home.
Wayne May had helped get the Richards the T-Visas and transfer to the USA. And dear Indians, you fucking know they would have little to no chance here. We can accept the local politicians and their goons playing the thug but when they get to power in Delhi they suddenly mend their ways? Dream on. You know you are only siding with them because they are drumming the flag of nationalism and made this an India vs USA issue.
And India is not benefited by protecting those who abuse her citizens. I bet Khobragrade was not being paid a salary equal to someone in India.
Wayne May has effectively become the scape goat in all this. The public face of the mob beast that brays at whatever the politicians have chosen to wave a flag at without realising what their actions mean. And to denigrate him a tumblr was set up involving posts from his and his wife’s facebook pages where he and her are claimed to be racist and disrespecting India.
The Tumblr is here and I have read through it. Most of it is just her and him being home sick and an Indian going “AHA! SEE! SHE HATES INDIA!”. This ignores the fact that this seems to be in the hands of someone rich and well educated enough to not only speak and write English but also have a Tumblr account that they update with regularity. In addition? It’s just stupid as fuck. There are posts claiming that their hayfever/asthma means they hate India, that pointing out India has cows on the street means they hate India, that complaining about a lack of beef means that they hate India, and that being sad they are leaving the USA for India means they hate India. And that they have a cushy lifestyle of being in an embassy. I think the only statement that is possibly racist is the “Vegetarians Are Rapists In India”. I know what it’s in response to. A textbook was in the news that blamed rape and sexual assault on non-vegetarians. In many places I cannot own a flat or a house because I eat meat and anti-meat biases exist within India. The rape in Delhi was a time when the perpetrators were blamed for being “non-vegetarians” and this was in a school text book. So naturally people were in an uproar over such a fallacious claim. This was part of that.
So I have a response to that. Delhi where they stayed is has the third worst air quality in India and is one of the worst on the planet. Do you think there are no asthma and allergy cases in India? You should deport them. They hate India so much that their lungs stop working because of the smell of azad. Or you know. They are allergic to dust, pollen and the pollution issues and don’t try and say there are no pollution issues.
If you think there are no pollution issues then please by all means, drink from the Yamuna. Take a cup of that pure, clean water and drink it. If you think India is hygenic then by all means, please eat at that chat shop, if you think there are now cows on Indian roads then please explain what on earth is outside my house (It’s got 4 legs, horns, gives milk and goes Moo). There are real problems in India and they won’t go away if you simply ignore them.
And I must add to the problems of India. Let’s add blind stupid patriotism to the list. India does not teach History properly. It is so busy with the sanitised view of Indian independence (Please tell me why Subash Chandra Bose was a good thing considering his allies were the Nazis and the Empire of the Sun and why you think Japan would have set India free rather than repeating their actions in China and East Asia?) that the ideal flogged to children is blind obedience. In this case the Indian diplomat’s honour was more important than whether or not she lied to another country and tried to keep another Indian as a servant at an insulting wage.
And this is a problem too. If you really love your country you can see what is wrong with it and not hide the flaws.