This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
Maid in India….
Like everybody else in the country, I was shocked out of my skull when I read the early reports about Devyani Khobragade’s arrest and the horror story that followed. So many days after the incident, we are still seething, spluttering and swearing revenge. “ Let’s fix America,” nationalists are boldly demanding. And what is our idea of ‘fixing’ America? Oh…. one neta ( Yashwant Sinha) threatens to arrest same sex American couples, Dilliwalla Babus create dramatic photo- ops for the press by removing barricades and cutting a host of privileges enjoyed by the staff at the American Embassy, Ms. Khobragade’s father appears across channels and gives his gorgeous daughter( Freida Pinto lookalike) a clean chit,then a sister appears with the maid’s good conduct certificate for her boss, Sushil Kumar Shinde says he knows the family well ( her dad worked for Shinde) and promises to salvage the diplomat’s honour, RaGa and NaMo refuse to meet a visiting U.S. delegation, Kamal Nath roars “ We can’t be treated like a banana republic,” Salman Khurshid wants an apology from America.The outrage grows and grows. Meanwhile, we quickly nail the main villain of the piece – a certain Preet Bharara, who is a U.S. attorney. We accuse him of targeting his “own’ countrymen, quite forgetting he owes allegiance to another country – the one he belongs to – America. Detailed accounts appear ( how Devyani was hand- cuffed, strip searched, cavity searched, DNA- swabbed and locked up with criminals and drug addicts). All of this sounds – and is – pretty awful. But wait a minute, has anybody focused on the maid’s version of what really happened inside the diplomat’s home? Or is that irrelevant, because of our loathsome mindset towards domestic help – “ she’s only a bloody maid! How dare she betray her boss?”
This column is not about Khobragade and her trauma. It is about our attitude to a large segment of our population – the hard working but under privileged tribe we still refer to as “our servants”. We treat them like dirt, show no respect, and think we are doing them a favour by employing them.A lot has changed within this tribe. But the urban classes have refused to wake up and acknowledge the new rules of employment. Our minds are still stuck in a previous century, when ‘servants’ were treated like slaves. They had no rights, zero privileges, and were expected to stay mutely loyal and obedient towards their masters forever. One doesn’t know too much about Sangeeta Richard , who was employed by the 39-year-old diplomat to babysit her two kids. But clearly, the maid was well aware of her legal position in America.Was she tutored? By whom? Why? Is there a bigger, more sinister conspiracy?Who knows?Point is, Devyani has indeed flouted local laws . As, I am certain several other diplomats ( not just from India) also must have . We don’t consider Devyani’s error of judgement a serious crime. Most would say, “ Big deal! Did the maid really think she would be paid $4,500 as a salary? What cheek! Even her boss’s official, take home salary ($4,120) is less than that….” Well, our Deputy Consul General in New York, should have either paid what was agreed upon in the contract, or done without a maid. Most NRIs who insist on employing domestic staff from back home arrive at a convenient( but illegal) arrangement (“setting” in Mumbai lingo).In this case, the baby sitter refused to play ball! That was something Ms. Khobragade had not factored in nor bargained for. One can scream, “ Racial discrimination!” Would U.S. marshals dare to treat Saudi Arabian diplomats in this shocking manner? The bald truth is Devyani made a huge mistake which is considered a crime in America. It kills us to admit as much. Because we really don’t think there is anything all that bad about short changing a domestic. The argument being, “ The maid was taken to America! She should consider herself lucky! Ungrateful wretch! Bet she is a black mailer, asylum seeker and an extortionist out to exploit the situation. ” Hardly anybody will say, “ Well, given her high position, as an important representative of India, Devyani should have known better.
Yes, it’s a nasty mess out there. While India rises as one to defend its beleaguered diplomat,remember Sangeeta Richards, is also an Indian. Just as Preet Bharara was once an Indian!