Prosecutors say Khobragade claimed on visa application documents she paid her Indian housekeeper $4,500 per month but that she actually paid her less than $3 per hour. Khobragade has pleaded not guilty and plans to challenge the arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity.As an Indo-American, let me be the first to acknowledge a sad and truly outrageous reality in our community: what is being alleged here is commonplace. Individuals - mostly women - are brought to the United States, paid under the table, and paid much less than the minimum wage. Sometimes it happens to those who are brought here without a visa or whose visa has expired, sometimes to undereducated women who are unable to find other work or access social services and are kept in isolation.
What's unfortunate is that this type of exploitation of Indian women and other domestic workers (often brought here by employers who are diplomats) in the Untied States, while commonplace, is rather benign neglect when compared to some of the worst kinds of exploits via human trafficking, sexual assault, and exploitation.
Just last year, the family of an Indian diplomat was ordered by a New York judge to pay $1.5 million in penalties for enslaving an underage girl. In 2011, four women brought here by a Quatari diplomat sued alleging domestic abuse and sexual assault. Last year, the Kuwaiti government settled with 3 domestic workers on whose behalf the ACLU sued, making similar charges.
With respect to the current diplomatic "incident", there is cause for outrage. But the Indian government has managed to turn the cause for the outrage completely on its head. The outrage shouldn't be that a privileged socialite had her pleas of "diplomatic immunity" fall on deaf ears - as it should under international rules - the outrage should be that said socialite had the galls to raise diplomatic immunity as an excuse for exploitation of an underprivileged Indian woman. But to my dismay, I have heard not a peep about the Indian government promising an investigation of the alleged crime.
If you read news coverage of this incident, a common theme you are likely to come across is how in Indian culture, humiliation of women is condemned, and it is (although one may argue it is important for India to have some introspection with respect to how modern Indian society treats its women). But where is the Indian government's concern about the alleged financial exploitation of the domestic worker - also a woman and also an Indian national? Where is the outrage over the possibility of one of the governments' own privileged employees exploiting one of its own citizens?
The implications for the woman who seems to have been exploited isn't just much larger than the implications for the woman who was picked up under a legal arrest warrant valid under international law for her level of diplomatic staff - and not just for the sensibilities of American law but for the sensibilities of India's own traditions and culture. The exploitation of domestic workers should greatly offend Indian traditions - it should outrage a culture whose oldest traditions put mothers at a higher place heaven itself.
How can it be that a culture built on respect for all things - living and non-living - could be anything less than crying out at the possibility of human trafficking and exploitation committed by a high ranking member of its government? How can it be that the outpouring of rage is not directed towards this abuse of power?
It can't be. Not without politicians seeing this as an opportunity trumpet Indian nationalism over the lives of those they are entrusted to protect and safeguard. Not without a disgusting level of government culpability and indifference at the crimes its own representatives may be committing.
I am no longer an Indian citizen. But I did grow up in India for a rather significant part of my life, and I know what this smells like: the Indian government and political parties finding election time hay (parliamentary elections are coming up next year). That disgusts me as an American. That disgusts me as an American of Indian heritage who has never forgotten my cultural groundings. But much worse, this disgusts me as a human being. It offends my sensibilities as a member of the world community.
And so to my former country, and to the homeland of my parents and grandparents, I ask: who are you kidding? Stop playing politics with human trafficking and human exploitation. You want to claim diplomatic immunity? Then investigate the crime yourself and punish the guilty instead of promoting the suspect and sweeping the outrage of human exploitation under the rug of political firestorm. If you want this to be about respect for India, then start by respecting the rights of your own citizens who are exploited at the hands of your own government first.