(Above) The employment contract between the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade and her domestic help as filed as part of her US visa application.
(Below) The actual personal contract whose terms were in effect. (Source: Exhibits E and F from the formal grand jury indictment)
Let us for a moment treat as a sideshow everything other than the two separate employment contracts between the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade and her domestic help Sangeeta Richard.
By everything I mean everything, including the Indian government’s show of unprecedented vehemence and anger as well the assertions by the diplomat’s voluble father Uttam Khobragade that her daughter “was fighting to uphold the sovereignty of this country. When alternatives were offered she sacrificed the personal comfort." I also include the retaliatory removal of the traffic/security barriers outside the US Embassy in New Delhi, the significant scaling down of non-obligatory diplomatic courtesies accorded to the American diplomatic personnel there and the general strain in Indo-US relations. Add to that mix an extraordinary show of what has been grandly called “national pride” by the Indian media. In this case “national pride” means the pride of a few thousand members of the establishment elite. Of course, the U.S. assertions of upholding the law of the land are equally questionable.
Once you do that, the crux of this epic incompetence shown by both sides is really the two contracts. That they exist—and their veracity has not been questioned by Dr. Khobragade herself—is what is at the heart of this issue. India’s sovereignty, Dr. Khobragade’s personal comfort, the media-defined national pride, American hegemony, Indian cultural heritage are all extraneous to this debate. If these two contracts did not exist in rather routine but cheaply devious violation of both the law and norms of civility, we would not throwing about these grand terms.
The diplomat’s attorney has been quoted as saying that she left the U.S. yesterday with “her head held high”. I don’t see the high part of it. What this case is really about is the creation and perpetuation of a socioeconomic order where both the perpetrator/beneficiary and victim/beneficiary are weirdly treated as equally complicit. It appears to be true that Sangeeta Richard willingly and voluntarily—albeit under the force of her personal economic circumstance—chose to go along with these two contradictory contracts. One can argue that she had a choice in the matter and chose to exercise it. But was it really a choice? One can equally argue that Dr. Khobragade chose to be practical by rationalizing in her mind that she was still helping Richard’s lot even if it meant paying her exploitative wage. In short, everyone decided to feel comfortable with or willingly reconcile with low benchmarks of human conduct. We are all undone by low expectations in the end.
On the U.S. side the hypocrisy is equally, if not more, staggering. For an entire economic/political system that is built on institutionalized exploitation of anything and everything that can be exploited anywhere in the world, it is a bit thick to cast this case as a matter of taking a principled position on human rights of the marginalized. It is fairly clear that Dr. Khobragade is being made an example against a system of exploitation that has been happily disregarded in others as well as within itself.
I suppose my point is that there is far less glory and nobility to the execution of this affair than parties on all sides are pretending. Let me put this in sophisticated terms which is my hallmark. The human race has progressed by stepping on each other’s dicks until someone decides that their dick is no longer meant to be stepped on. So there. That’s what I think for now even as Dr. Khobragade has left America with “her head held high” and after fighting for India’s sovereignty, no less.