Sunday, December 22, 2013

My stand on the Devyani-Sangeeta issue

A few friends have contacted me regarding my recent comments on social media regarding the Devyani-Sangeeta issue. Some were worried that I will be "made to pay" for being so openly critical of the government's stand. One very close friend (you know who you are!) even called to enquire if I am on the rolls of the CIA. I am not.

I am not a foreign policy expert and I don't know Devyani or Sangeeta personally. So why do I have such a strong view on this topic? 

Let me try to break down my thoughts into the following points:

  1. I agree that this matter could have been handled differently. Devyani Khobragade is a representative of the Indian government and her arrest is a bolt on India.
  2. This "issue" started in June. In five months what could have been done to resolve this matter? From what I read, Devyani's side was busy threatening Sangeeta's family and filing cases against her in India. Sangeeta was busy getting lawyered up. What was the MEA doing? A senior officer is on the verge of being taken to court/arrested - isn't five months enough time to act? 
  3. This is not the first time. In 2011, the Consul General himself was embroiled in a similar case with his house help. No lessons learned? 
  4. Why take house help from India in the first place? Is it an entitlement? We are used to this in India so we need it everywhere we are posted? Sadly, millions of ordinary Indian citizens working abroad can't afford this luxury.
  5. +Gargi Rawat, in response to a comment I made on Facebook stated, "She left India agreeing to being paid Rs30,000/month (more than she cud manage earning in India), official passport, travel, stay, food, spending money. That she smartened up to the US system, figured she could get a good lawyer to cry human rights, AND have her family 'evacuated' by an over zealous DA, to join her in the US is nothing short of amazing." 
  6. Whatever Sangeeta's motivation, why put yourself at risk? Why put India's name at risk by trying to jugaad your way to have a cheap live in maid? If you can't afford one, tough luck, people do get on with their lives. 
  7. Coming back to Gargi's point about Sangeeta salary and how it's much more than she is getting in India. Is Devyani's salary the same as she would get in India? She is also getting free housing plus other benefits accorded to her status for serving overseas. Isn't that much more than she would have got in India? 
  8. Sangeeta's family wasn't "evacuated" by some US special operation. Her family were issued visas and they flew out on an Air India flight. If they were criminals, why didn't our immigration stop them? 
  9. Deyvani's husband is a US citizen. A wine expert who has worked with Indian Grape Board (Yes, there is such a thing!) and is advising the Indian government on wine. A very cosy arrangement. 
  10. In 2009, I was told by an European diplomat that his country's request to open a consulate in Bangalore is put on hold because of action his government took against an Indian diplomat on, wait for it, mistreatment of a house help. No official reason was given, it's being "considered". That's the extent to which our officials will go to retaliate. 
  11. Are we going to put our foreign policy and our strategic interests on the line for the sake of our diplomats having the luxury of having an affordable live in maid? Let's be very clear, Devyani's list of declared assets make it very clear that she could have afforded a maid or two from the US itself!  
  12. How many of our diplomats in the US, Europe and other nations have such arrangements with their maids from India? Hasn't this episode put all of them at risk? Any NGO, Human Rights group in any of these countries can now ask their governments for details and to investigate. 
  13. Is the answer to pay our diplomats and foreign officers more? Amongst the lower ranks of the MEA, there is a desire to be posted aboard to do moonlighting jobs. One such officer told me that he likes postings in the US because he makes some extra cash by delivering newspapers in the morning before work. Isn't this harming our nation's reputation? Our consular staff delivering newspapers to make extra cash. 
I grew up in Saudi Arabia and like many non resident Indians, I have first hand account of how the Embassy treats us. It's not a very good experience. If  the MEA is surprised why there is so much support for Sangeeta and why its spin and outburst is not finding traction amongst non-resident Indians, perhaps they should do a satisfaction survey about its services.

My very good friend, +Nitin Pai asked on Facebook the other day whether those supporting Sangeeta would have reacted differently if she was not Indian. Firstly, I am not supporting Sangeeta, she could very well be the blackmailing, manipulative, American dream seeker some are making her out to be. My point here is, why is the MEA and its officials busy making official passports, filling dodgy forms and spending their time abroad under the risk of litigation?

Is a cute rate full time maid the lal baati?

Jai Hind!

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