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Deyyani Khobragade: A Stand-Off Between India & America
The last time I saw Dr. Devyani Khobragade the setting was festive, the event a celebration of the newly installed India Chair at Stony Brook University in New York. Since the consul general of India was out of town, Khobragade as acting consul general was one of the chief guests at this gala event, feted at the head table with all the major donors.
It was indeed the lull before the storm.
Four days later the storm broke and what a turbulent storm it’s been!
The scene is very different from that glamorous, congratulatory evening. As Khobragade left her children to school, she was arrested on the streets of New York, handcuffed, allegedly strip-searched and put into jail with common criminals. The result has been a maelstrom of an international incident with India outraged over the grave mistreatment of its diplomat, and by extension, insult to India’s national image.
I picked up the phone and called Khobragade whom I had known in a formal setting since her arrival in New York. She was present at all events at the Indian Consulate and had also held a symposium for the social and financial empowering of South Asian women by gathering all the advocacy groups together. She had been the chief guest at a women’s luncheon I helped organize over the summer for the girl child. Whenever you met her, she had ideas and projects for assisting underprivileged women in India.
This time our conversation was brief, joyless and to the point. She said she couldn’t do any interviews and I’d have to talk with her lawyer or the ministry
So what’s the mood here in New York? Drowned out in all the national indignation is the fact that a law was indeed broken. But is this suitable punishment for visa fraud? Does Khobragade’s outrageous treatment fit the crime? Earlier, similar cases at the Consulate have not received such draconian treatment.
The Twists and Turns of the Devyani Khobragade Tale
The reactions of the Indian-American community are confused, animated and quite vocal as one can see from social get-togethers, and online social interactions. The feeling is that a crime was committed and that that should be recognized. But the punishment, people feel, is far too harsh, and makes them wonder what is the true story, and what the many layers are hiding.
“Probity in public life remains paramount and law must execute its mandate,” observed Suchita Vijayan on Facebook, one of the many people voicing their opinion on social media. “But these allegations could have been dealt with in a manner that fits her position as a diplomat and the crime. The theatrics of the arrest, the press conference that coincided are gross outreach of judicial authority and unacceptable.”
It’s indeed a many-headed hydra, a case with many twists and turns and we’ll have to wait and watch to see what develops.
(This article first appeared in Daily Mail and India Today. )
The Photograph That Launched a 1000 Newspapers Around the World
Anybody who has been following this evolving story has seen one particular photo of Devyani Khobragade again and again with the headline news and their morning tea or coffee. In fact, it has been published in newspapers all over the world from the US to India, Australia and Japan.
According to the photographer, Mohammed Jaffer, it has probably become the most published photo in the world in 2013, since it was used by Press Trust of India, Associated Press, IANS and Reuters. Jaffer, who hails from Hyderabad, is a dedicated photographer in New York and is carrying on the the company Snapsindia which was founded by his father, the late noted photographer M. A . Rahim, 75 years ago.