This post was written a few weeks back just when the “diplomat incident” was hogging all media time and headlines. I did not post it then but am doing so now. However some of the facts may be somewhat incorrect since recent developments have not been taken into account.
The news have been mostly around the diplomat incident for the last few days and till date I don’t see very few balanced opinions on this subject. I personally feel a sense of outrage and think that this cannot be taken lying down. I do hope that this issue does not die down with any conclusion like so many of the recent issues. (ed: it has died down since I wrote this post)
Being curious of other points of view I did read a couple of non Indian journals and see a very wide gulf in our view of this whole incident versus that of Non Indians.
To make this very simple we need to acknowledge the fact that there are 4 different issues here
1) The alleged crime committed by the diplomat
Now the facts are not very clear so it is difficult to form an opinion. It seems that the diplomats maid has made a complaint based on which the arrest was made. There is no evidence to suggest that the diplomat was questioned or asked her opinion or what evidence was examined to arrive at the conclusion of a crime. There could be 2 crimes here, one of paying less than minimum wages and one of “lying” to a USA federal agent. Further discussion on this subject is not very productive without any of the facts and some knowledge of USA law. The line of argument that “everyone does it” is not a defense. However the facts around granting a visa to the maid and her family and the hurry and timing with which they flew out of India is something without precedent. It is a complete mockery of Indian law and I wonder what Americans would feel if India spirited out an American Citizen against whom there was a criminal case pending.
2) The manner of her arrest and subsequent treatment
This is a difficult one. I briefly glanced through the Vienna Convention and am convinced that there has been a gross violation
Article 41 is quite clear on this:
PERSONAL INVIOLABILITY OF CONSULAROFFICERS
1. Consular officers shall not be liable toarrest or detention pending
trial, exceptin the caseof a grave crime and pursuant toa decision by the competent judicial
2. Except inthe case specified in paragraph 1ofthis Article, consular officers shall not be
committed toprison orliable to any other form ofrestriction on theirpersonal freedomsave in
execution of a judicial decision offinal effect.
As a layman, this seems quite unambigious and should be the focus of all further discussion. This is really the crux of the issue and deviating from this dilutes the crux. Unfortunately a lot of discussion is going on about the diplomats background, her connections. All this might be true but still does not justify her arrest. As has been pointed out by many people, this is not an attack on Devyani but an attack on India.
3) Indian Media Response
The Indian media have provided a stellar service in ensuring that the news get maximum exposure. Much of the reporting since is quite inaccurate and portrays wrong perception. In general the quality of journalism has been on a rapid decline which is a result of a battle to capture viewers. More of this on a later post. The interesting comments are from western columns. They feel that India is over reacting on this. One reason of course is the dilution of discussion on the core issue as pointed out above. Indians certainly have an issue in expecting VIP treatment for celebrities and “VIPs”. The word VIP is a very Asian concept. One thing I found interesting in discussions with some Americans on some new channel was the fact that they did not seem to be aware of international law or felt it was subservient to American law. I am not making any editorial comment on this for now.
4) Indian Government response
For once, the Indian government has done absolutely the right thing. The opposition has strangely behaved in a responsible way by uniting with the government on this front. Reciprocity should be followed by us strictly. We by and large have a servile attitude to non nationals which galls me at least. I have personally seen (15 years back) Indian security staff at the US consulate at Chennai beating up auto drivers who drove by slowly waiting to pick up passengers and have always wondered how this was tolerated. Any sensible person would know that while it is important to assuage a furious public, real diplomacy happens through back door channels. Both are important. It would help if the media and public on the real issue at hand, viz apparently a false arrest and a clear violation of international law. The steps taken by the Indian government are in the right direction but should certainly by upped. It is gratifying that India is following reciprocity very strongly as is evident from the withdrawal of privileges to USA consular staff. Some papers have reported that the US Ambassador to India cancelled her vacation after removal of certain airport privileges, a fact that has not been confirmed. However it is certainly very plausible.
An interesting point is what would be closure in this case. I think there would be 3 points for closure
a) Respecting the rights of an Indian official. If there is a strong case that American laws were willingly violated, then she should be deported. The USA diplomatic community who don’t have immunity should be ready to expect the same treatment in India in case they break any law.
b) An apology for the wrongful arrest.
Given that the USA has not apologized for killing civilians in Pakistan, it is very doubtful that this will be acceded to.
c) An assurance that this will not be repeated
d) An immediate return to India of the maid who is legally absconding..
Not sure about whether any of this will happen
What in most likelihood is going to happen is some “behind the scence” negotitions which are diametrically opposite to public posturing and waiting it out till something new grabs mind share.