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Khobragade’s Arrest – Labour Law Violation Issue, Not Foreign Policy Issue: Gharelu Kaamgaar Sangathan and NTUI

December 19, 2013

Guest Post by GHARELU KAAMGAAR SANGATHAN, (GKS) Haryana & New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI)

We express strong outrage at the Indian government’s reaction to the case of visa fraud and exploitation of her domestic worker against Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade in the United States. In its dealing of the case, the Indian government is only seeking to protect the dignity and honour of Ms. Khobragade, and has shown a complete lack of respect for the underlying issue – that of the abuse and exploitation of a domestic worker by a senior official. Ms. Khobragade’s father, Mr. Uttam Khobragade, is a politician and has a played a harmful role in suppressing the facts of the case and in diverting attention from it.

What Ms. Khobragade has done is not an uncommon practice among diplomats and government officials.  It is difficult to expose such crimes as domestic workers, in their vulnerable and terrified state, are unable to bring such employers to justice.  Minister Shashi Tharoor commented that Ms. Khobragade is being singled out.  Instead of protecting such shameless employers, Minister Tharoor should be congratulating investigating agencies who have exposed this common practice.

While we condemn the alleged strip search and cavity search that Ms. Khobragade was subjected to, it is our belief that the outrage over her arrest and mis-treatment by officials cannot camouflage the deeper questions raised by the case. In only speaking up for the deputy consular general, the Indian government has belittled a grave and serious concern of labour rights violation, by turning it into a foreign policy issue. We believe India needs to be equally outraged for the plight of the exploited domestic worker, who is also an Indian citizen, and deserves a fair trial. The Indian government has turned a blind eye to similar cases before.

Media reports have only focused on interviewing Indian diplomats and officers and have not engaged with the domestic workers organisations in India.  We strongly condemn the one-sided media reporting and the narrow-minded Indian government’s selfish protection of official employers of domestic workers.  It has even been said that Ms. Khobragade was not paid enough to pay the domestic worker a decent wage. Ms. Khobragade and employers like her can ask for a salary raise or not hire a domestic worker if they cannot afford to pay for one.

We immediately demand:
1) Prosecution of Ms. Khobragade to send a warning to other similar employers
2)  Indian government to publicly recognise that the rights of the domestic worker in question have been violated and compensate her and her family in India
3) Enact a Comprehensive Legislation as recommended by the National Platform for Domestic Workers
4) Ratify the ILO Convention 189, Domestic Workers Convention 2011

Contact: Anannya Bhattacharjee, anannya48@gmail.com, +91-9810970627
Gharelu Kaamgaar Sanghatan (GKS), Haryana
New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI)

23 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2013 2:33 PM

    I am honestly clueless about the fuss. We definitely should help her. But not by turning a blind eye to a serious crime.
    Also, the strip search is a standard procedure in US jails. Why condemn that. I agree that US Govt should come up with another way of searching a person. Strip search is so archaic and surely in this age of cutting-edge technology, finding a non-violating alternative is not impossible?

    • ren permalink
      December 21, 2013 11:16 PM

      You are right. Strip search is done to mke sure no body is hurt, including self by the possession of a weapon or something similar
      strip search/similar nature of frisking is standard in Indian jails too. However, it may be applied selectively based on other factors. Most likely, if Ms Khobragade is arrested in India (if at all, she is for the disproportionate wealth she and her dad has accumulated), they wont do it. If it is standard in Indian jails and we talk all the way for equality what is the issue here?

      • Vernon Gonsalves permalink
        January 6, 2014 3:10 PM

        I do not know what is the basis for concluding that “strip search/similar nature of frisking is standard in Indian jails too”. I recently spent over 5 years 10 months in various jails in Maharashtra and Gujarat and during this period met a number of prisoners who related experiences of jails in Delhi, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Chattisgarh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and other states and Union Territories. What I have experienced, seen and heard about as regards standard frisking practices does not match at all the strip search and cavity search allegedly meted out to Khobragade.

        As for the handcuffing (which was admittedly done as per standard US law and practice), I have yet to see or hear of women prisoners being handcuffed in India. In fact handcuffing of any prisoner is prohibited (except in exceptional circumstances) as per Indian law as laid down by the Supreme Court in http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/imgst.aspx?filename=4535 and in http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/imgst.aspx?filename=19781

        To quote the Supreme Court:-
        “7. Handcuffing is prima facie inhuman and, therefore,
        unreasonable, is over harsh And at the first blush,
        arbitrary. Absent fair procedure and objective monitoring to
        inflict “irons” is to resort to zoological strategies
        repugnant to Article 21. Surely, the competing claims of
        securing the prisoner from fleeing and protecting his
        personality from barbarity have to be harmonized. To prevent
        the escape of an under-trial is in public interest,
        reasonable, just and cannot, by itself be castigated. But to
        bind a man hand and foot, fetter his limbs with hoops of
        steel, shuffle him along in the streets and stand him for
        hours in the courts is to torture him, defile his dignity,
        vulgarise society and foul the soul of our Constitutional
        culture. [872 F-G]
        8. Insurance against escape does not compulsorily
        required handcuffing. There are other measures whereby an
        escort can keep safe custody of a detenu without the
        indignity and cruelty implicit in handcuffs or other iron In
        contraptions. Indeed, binding together either the hands or
        feet or both has not merely a preventive impact but also a
        punitive hurtfulness. Manacles are mayhem on the human
        person and inflict humiliation on the bearer.
        857
        The three components of “irons” forced on the human person
        are: to handcuff i.e., to hoop harshly to punish
        humiliatingly and to vulgarise the viewers also. Iron straps
        are insult and pain writ large, animalising victim and
        keepers. Since there are other ways of ensuring safety as a
        rule handcuffs or other fetters shall not be forced on the
        person of an under-trial prisoner ordinarily. As necessarily
        implicit in Articles 14 and 19, when there is no compulsive
        need to fetter a person’s limbs it is sadistic, capricious,
        despotic and demoralizing to humble a man by manacling him.
        Such arbitrary conduct surely slaps Article 14 on the face.
        The animal freedom of movement, which even a detained is
        entitled to under Article 19, cannot be cut down cruelly by
        application of handcuffs or other hoops. lt will be
        unreasonable so to do unless the State is able to make out
        that no other practical way of forbidding escape is
        available, the prisoner being so dangerous and desperate and
        the circumstances so hostile to safe keeping. [872 G-H, 873
        A-E]”

        I am of course aware that the law on handcuffing is breached in practice in large parts of the country in the case of male prisoners. But yet, it nowhere matches up to the brutality of the law and practice of handcuffing in the US.

  2. December 19, 2013 4:09 PM

    You raised the neglected issue here.. good one

  3. Vernon Gonsalves permalink
    December 19, 2013 8:27 PM

    Is this an official statement of the NTUI? Seems so far away from what I though NTUI stood for.
    How is the issue NOT a foreign policy issue? How is it that NTUI is so sure that the strip search and cavity search are only “alleged” (perhaps until Preet Barara does his inquiry and presents his findings to us) and how is it that the admitted handcuffing (a barbaric practice that the US insists upon) doesn’t seem to deserve any comment from NTUI. And how is it that the charges of the American prosecutors get accepted by NTUI as gospel truth, undeserving of the adjective “alleged”?
    There are sections of the media salivating for American funds that find it difficult to question even in the slightest way the actions of US authorities. And who love to serve up the absurdity of a US government committed to rule of law and protection of workers’ and immigrants’ rights.
    Experience of actions of the US government, historical and contemporary, are sufficient to doubt the motives and factual background of any action it purports to take in defence of the defenceless.
    And again, is it an official statement of the NTUI? it does not appear on http://ntui.org.in

    • Venkat T permalink
      December 20, 2013 7:44 PM

      Gonsalves sir, I dont understand what your anger is, the statement condemns the actions of the police. it is ‘alleged’ because only one side is saying it happened, the other side that is the NYPD has not accepted it. So it remains an allegation unless proven otherwise..so one should be happy that the accused is given the benefit of doubt untli proven guilty. The problem with the statement though is a certain acceptance of the guilt of the diplomat even prior to investigation. While many in the know of working class conditions in India do know the rampant abuse of wage acts and pathetic conditions to which a vast majority of our workers are subjected informal and formal, one cannot use that as a case to argue that criminal violation has been commiitted in this particular instance. What is neccesary is as the statement rightly points towards, not to miss the primary issue of violation of work contract and wage laws, in this clamour for respect and justice. In India, we give a go to such laws. THe lady (domestic worker) does nt stand a chance under labour laws in india, so it is essential that immunity is not sought and a fair trail is conducted in US under US immigration and visa laws as the alleged crime occurred on US soil. If the accussed is found guilty, it has a bearing on all Indian diplomats and on Indian foreign service as a whole. These diplomats are paid from our taxes to protect us from exploitation in a foreign land… it will be very unbecoming if the guilt is proven. As for as the US is concerned.. yes they have no moral right to speak of morality…thy should be accorded no extra privileges but a government that had no spine to take them on global snooping would hardly be expected to do any thing more than a knee jerk action.

  4. December 19, 2013 8:54 PM

    Hi,
    While I appreciate your looking at the larger picture and I even agree with your opinion,Let’s not forget the treatment meted out to a deputy consulate of our country by USA .The same country which a few years ago demanded that Allen Davis a murderer be extended diplomatic immunity(and cited the Vienna convention) and his relationship with the embassy was a lot weaker than Devyani’s.
    So USA can try, punish and even give death sentence to Devyani for all I care but if it expects us to accept it by bending over, well, I am sorry at least some of us won’t.

    P.S They can go for her extradition and then punish her

  5. Shourav permalink
    December 19, 2013 11:05 PM

    I’m sorry but i do not agree with this petition. The allegations of labour law violations are being contested by the diplomat; what is not being contested is the fact that she was strip searched by US authorities. Moreover it is not clear to me why US labour laws should apply, are they any allegations of Indian labour law violations?

  6. Venkatesh Karandikar permalink
    December 20, 2013 12:05 AM

    To add to my previous comment – Keep in mind that minimum wage in the US is $7.25. That works out to be $1160 monthly. This is taxable. Now medical insurance will cost you $200. Further expenses on account of rent, electricity, gas, food. Airfare to India will cost you $1600 round-trip. So, it is not a completely heartless salary by American standards. Now if Richard were to ask for more money, then that’s understandable, but to threaten to sue if her visa type was not changed sounds like extortion to me. All I’m trying to say here is that we can’t assume that the employer is in the wrong. Perhaps we need to await more details.

  7. December 20, 2013 9:30 AM

    There seems to be a need to act with restraint and not jump to conclusions on this case. Mr.Uttam Khobragade, the father of Ms.Devyani Khobragade is not a politician as stated in the post, but is a retired bureaucrat. It is indeed necessary that the issue of the exploitation of the domestic worker be probed thoroughly, and the concerned people have to be brought to book if found guilty. However media reports also show that there is clear racism involved here. Consular officials from other countries accused of similar illegalities have been treated much more humanely. In general, whether standard procedures were followed or not – one must raise the essential brutality and human rights violation involved in arrest procedures, and in strip search and cavity search, especially for women. The blogosphere is also replete with many casteist comments as Ms.Khobragade is a dalit. In view of the gender, caste, class, race, and nationalism issues involved, rather than take sides, let’s criticize the essential human rights violations that seem to be taking place at several levels.

  8. Jay permalink
    December 20, 2013 9:49 AM

    No better time than now- for the US to reconsider its pervasive policegiri but more importantly for India to address its feudal domestic help scenario.

  9. December 20, 2013 11:29 AM

    I agree with Karandikar’s comment above which I consider balanced.

    Certainly handcuffing and dramatic arrests are the extreme condemnable acts here. Not just that, the US has jumped into a civil dispute between two parties and even arranged the evacuation of the Indian domestic helper which is uncanny. The actions speak volumes, and heaps contempt on the Indian judicial system (whether deserved or not and to what extent, is debatable, just as who is calling the kettle black!).

    I have no doubt that if every other group jumping into the fray reacts in a partisan way, the facts will be brushed away leaving no room for dialog nor justice. I mean the fact that the employer is a woman, the fact that the complainant is a domestic worker, or even the fact that the employer and her father were connected to Adarsh housing scam and thus to the ruling party, are all being dragged in as bias factors.

    I condemn the US action even if the Khobragade’s are no angels.

    Nor does the Dalit status of the Khobragades entitle them to any superiority in what is essentially a labour dispute. Let us not mix up these matters, and let the Indian courts decide on the matter. They are competent enough but extremely slow thanks only to continued budgetary neglect and elitism.

    If US visa laws have been violated, let that be tried separately but without dramatic arrests. Where was Preet Bharara and his cavity searchers when certain large IT companies were alleged to have violated visa rules on a larger scale ?

  10. pacman permalink
    December 20, 2013 12:31 PM

    This petition strangely seems to attempt to take advantage of an unreasonable deal made of an insignificant event. If the state of domestic workers in India is abominable (which I think it is) then this case is surely not the best means to better their plight. It feels like the only significant contribution this laughable event provides is confusing everyone’s ingrained loyalties. People who defend human rights while railing against imperialist liberal countries like the United States must be feeling pretty weird.

    In New York City there have been numerous protests and strikes over the despicably low minimum wage provided to a majority of the city’s population, and here we have the same administration adopting a moral high ground with regard to labor laws.

    Both countries have a horrific record on protecting the powerless. Both countries exploit large portions of their population. Honestly, given the United States’ relatively greater means, their oppression seems worse (and yes, typing that sentence was really depressing). It’s honestly a hoot to see America and India fight over labor issues. I can’t think of an analogy but please, can someone (preferably a good comedian) come in here and provide one …

  11. anurag permalink
    December 20, 2013 8:23 PM

    in my opinion you have raised a good and valid point. media is mostly class centric, even our Prime Minister reacted for violation of rights of an IFS officer in US but not a single word uttered about the alleged right violation of an Indian maid. so much hue and cry about the archaic strip search of that officer but this has happened to many Indians, even few politicians suffered such humiliation in US. At least for the first time Indian government showed spine against US (the international “Gunda”) but again for the sake, dignity, respect of an officer from a premier institute (which represents Indian establishment) but not for the sake, dignity and respect of a maid who is also an Indian citizen but does not have an influential ex-bureaucrat father.
    I was surprised to read US attorney’s statement that Indian maid’s family has been ‘rescued’ and brought to US, rescued from whom? From the clutches of government of her own country, this is shameful and odd and again shows the dominant behaviour of US as if they are the saviours of humanity as shown in their masala Hollywood movies.

  12. December 21, 2013 1:38 AM

    With due respects allow me to say that I disagree with the torrent of emotional and irrational reactions from officials and Indians living in India and middleeast on la- affair-Khobargade. The basic reason for the outbursts of my countrymen is the fact that their society continues to be a very feudal society where only the upper and middleclass people have rights, access to protections of civil society. The lower and poor class people who are in the servant category are considered chattel – supposed to be always available to their masters, 24 hours a day without regard to how many hours they have to work in a day or what hardships they have to bear. In fact if you bring up the rights and hardships of servants, most upper and middleclass people question if such a thing exists.

    We all grow up watching that servants are always on our beck and call; there is no such thing as those folks having legal rights. Thus in this affair the fact that Khobargade blatantly abused and violated the system – one contract for the authorities showing higher hourly pay and the other contract with one-third of the former hourly rate for her maid – is something that does not bother anyone in India. Also that the maid was asked to work late in the night etc without additional compensation is not something that offends anyone. Hence no one has expressed any sympathy for the maid but lots of sympathy for the upperclass official Khobargade.

    As the news has played in US, most Americans are wondering why the Indian society has such double-standards and why no sympathy for the maid?

    The fact that in this case the senior law official in New York who applied the law to Khobargade is an Indian-American (Preet Bharara) is poetic justice indeed. If he was a White American, folks in India would be crying out that it was a racist action.

    In Southasia and middleeast laws are mostly meant for the lower classes. For sure they are not applied to the upperclasses and also often not applied to middleclasses. Most lower level policemen in India are treated like peons – who can be scolded or given a tip by the sahibs – if they ever point out a violation of the law. The famous dialogue from an Indian movie – “Jaanta nahin main kaun hoon???”

    In the last half century since the fall of colonial rules, societies in many European countries have become much less feudal, yet the unspoken class system exists. It is mostly in the White countries of US, Canada, Australia where the feudal social system has almost disappeared. Thus in these countries almost everyone including poor class colored immigrants from the third world, are given rights and laws are applied uniformly. In these countries the lowest level policeman on the street has been given all the authority to apply the laws and is encouraged to do so. He is trained so he does not indulge in racism etc, but he has the authority. If for instance that policeman gives a traffic ticket to someone for a traffic violation, that ticket can not be overturned by even the Chief of Police in the city or the mayor of the city or the governor of the state. Only a judge in a court of law has the authority to overturn the ticket after listening to the policeman.

    It is this delegation of the right to apply laws to the lower level govt officials that makes most citizens obey the law and the lower level govt officials. In these countries if you start acting tough with the ordinary policeman, he has the authority to arrest you, handcuff you and put you in a jail cell. Then a judge is summoned to decide if you should be released on bail.

    One year ago Dr Strauss-Kahn, Chief of International Monetary Fund, Washington DC, a very top position, who was actually running for the position of President of France at that time, was arrested in New York because a black maid in the hotel where he stayed in the hotel’s most expensive suite, complained that he sexually molested her when she went to the suite to clean it. By the time the maid complained to hotel front desk who called police, Dr Strauss-Kahn had left for Kennedy airport for his flight to Paris. Police went to the airport and entered the AirFrance plane where Dr Staruss-Kahn was sitting and arrested him, handcuffed him and took him to a jail cell in New York city. It took Dr Stauss-Kahn’s high paid lawyers about a week to get him out on bail. Then he was put in house-arrest in his daughter’s apartment for about a month until police made sure that he will not flee the country.

    We Indians and people of middleeast who talk so highly of our rich civilization and divine scriptures, fail to read in the same sources how much they have emphasized the rights of the poor people and the need to respect laws and justice for everyone. Using all these sources selectively and manipulating them has become standard practice and is applauded in our society as smartness!

  13. JP Singh permalink
    December 21, 2013 3:44 AM

    There is boslutely no doubt, that we Indians particularly mostly dont recognised Hous servant with their dignity and always mis handle and mistreat them.. Its a crime. Some strickt Law and streamline of their contract with Hours or overtime and Holidays and Medical , all should be streamlined and the culprit should be Punished heavily. This NGO is doing very good. I heared it first time….. In india we have also a minimum day salary and it should be applicable to Domestic servant also….

  14. Anjali Noronha permalink
    December 24, 2013 12:47 AM

    I agree totally with the article and with the balanced and detailed analysis of Mr. Kaleem
    Khwaja -thanks for giving the example of the IMF chief – puts the whole issue in perspective. Instead of giving justice to the maid and punishing Khobraagade – the Indian
    government has rewarded Khobragade by putting her in a full immunity UN post and has registered a case against the maid. It thoroughly exposes the class character of the Indian
    State – though I am yet to come to terms and decide my own stand on the dalit status of Khobragade. Perhaps I need to understand the co-option of the into the caste and class hierarchy through the structures of of the establishment and power – the IFS and IAS being some of them –
    Its also strange to see so much support for such wrong doing on the part of Khobragade among the Indian public.

  15. jalabala permalink
    December 25, 2013 9:36 PM

    A live-in servant is a luxury even to millionaires of USA. Indians, esp, Babus wanted live-in servants and they cannot break the shell of their feudal mentality

  16. January 5, 2014 8:17 PM

    ”As an American lady recently stated: India will be much better off having more Preet Bhararas less Devyanis!”

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