Devyani Khobragade Case: An Unfolding Story with Many Layers
Talk about Devyani Khobragade in New York, and you get many opinions, some vociferous, some guarded. While Khobragade has not yet been tried, she has certainly been tried in the court of public opinion in the US.
Ask any ‘community leader’ worth their salt about Khobragade and they have plenty to say but many don’t want their names to be mentioned. This is indeed a case of divided loyalties and differing world views. As one woman told me, “At this point no one knows what the truth is. We care for both India and America and since this involves both countries, it’s best not to intervene.”
One organization which has come out strongly in support of Khobragade is the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO International) which has issued a statement unequivocally condemning the disrespectful treatment meted out to the diplomat. Says Thomas Abraham, founder president of GOPIO, “Both the governments should have taken precautions not to let this happen – this could have been avoided. People are very unhappy about the way this has been handled.”
Devyani Khobragade: In her own words, speaking in NY at an AAPI function, six months after her arrival.
The many Indian-Americans who have seen Khobragade at work in the consulate and have socialized with her at events are particularly affected by the way she was dealt with. Ranju Batra, a community spokesperson and a frequent visitor to the consulate is disturbed by the way Khobragade has been mistreated: “I met her first at an event at the Permanent Mission of India. She was carrying one young daughter and holding the hand of the other. That’s the picture I have in my mind,” says Batra. “I feel this arrest was uncalled for – they have done it in a very shameful way.”
The general mood in the US, however, is still that the crux of the matter is the violation of US labor laws and the fraud which occurred. Tiffany Williams, the advocacy director for Break The Chain Campaign, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies, writes: “The treatment of Khobragade during her arrest raises serious concerns for us, and our international allies, but it is our belief this cannot be used as an excuse to ignore the deeper questions raised by the case. Congress, media, activists, and workers should stand by this worker, and stand by the State Department for taking action against the employer.”
In fact, the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the United Workers Congress organized an International Day to Support Domestic Workers (Khobragade and Indian Consulate Case) right outside the Indian Consulates in New York and San Francisco, with similar events being held in India and Hong Kong too. The objectives are to demand the Indian Government to prosecute Khobragade, recognize the rights of domestic workers and ratify the ILO Convention 189, and also compensate the worker. While not condoning the mistreatment of Khobragade, the organization notes, “we want to make sure the exploitation of the worker and her case are not forgotten.”
As the discussions get more frenzied on social media and public places, Parul Kapur Hinzen, a writer in Atlanta, GA, notes that there seem to be many layers to this story and just as many motivations: ” Everybody seems to have their own agenda in it – it’s almost like a novel! I’m having a hard time believing the nanny was an innocent victim of exploitation by the diplomat, though everyone involved in this case from the politically ambitious DA Preet Bharara on down seems to have a self-serving agenda.”
Indeed, there seem to be many different motivations in there for all the protagonists in this drama – victimization, opportunism, ambition, greed. Says Hinzen, “Depending on the perspective you’re coming from, you read your own story or sympathies into it. Who knows what the real facts of the case are but people bring their individual background perspectives to what’s happening. I do understand and identify with India’s feelings and I think this rush to judgment is very simplistic. You have to see what are people’s motives – everything is not what it seems and to be taken at face value.”
(A shorter version of this article first ran in Mail Today)