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Arrogance of Pigmentation

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Arrogance of Pigmentation, Devyani Khobragade, Diplomatic immunity. How else do you explain the arrest of the diplomat Devyani Khobragade with full diplomatic immunity in the United States.

As somebody who travels rather regularly to Europe and United States, I cannot help sensing the latent arrogance of officials at the airports and elsewhere due to pigmentation of the white skin. Though the world is free of it by and large, still one cannot help tracing the ‘racial’ overtones in some countries.

How else do you explain the arrest of the diplomat Devyani Khobragade with full diplomatic immunity in the United States? Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York was arrested last week for allegedly underpaying her domestic help Sangeeta Richard and committing a visa fraud to get her into the United States. She was released on $250,000 bail after pleading not guilty to the charges and surrendering her passport, and faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted on both counts.

We mortals who are less known or not known altogether are put to inconvenience and humility regularly at all these airports. But how can anyone explain the embarrassment put to our erstwhile First Citizen of India, A P J Abdul Kalam, not once but twice at these airports. And what about our matinee idol Shah Rukh Khan? He, himself, mentioned later that after a grueling strip-search and long interrogation, the official concerned said cryptic ‘thanks’ when Sharukh Khan said, “Fine, can I now have my underwear please!’’ On several occasions the official at the security check (particularly at Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport) tells you with threatening command, rather brashly, as though you are a labeled hardcore criminal : “DON’TI say DON’T touch your bag. I will do it!’’. And then he goes through it as though he is sure of finding an AK 47 in it and then throws it on you and says: “Thank you’’ and then as though he is constrained to do it adds ‘sir’. It is very humiliating.

The age-old British dictum of jurisprudence that a man is not guilty until it is proved otherwise perhaps was not taught to these officials. Brashness and rudeness cannot be termed as uprightness, if one may say so. This is not about the rules. Procedures. Or for that matter the legal wrangles. It is mainly about the attitude. It is how they look at the Third World. Can they dare do it to China, Germany or for that matter to the United Kingdom? In contrast we have the smiling and inviting faces in Nepal, Mauritius and Maldives etc. Forget about the legalities of the case.

It is an inhuman treatment meted out to a senior diplomat of a country for - even granting that there is prima facie case – mere violation of rules. Here is a senior diplomat who was arrested while she was dropping her child at school, was handcuffed in public glare and strip-searched, cavity searched and a humiliation for anybody in the world and she was subjected to DNA swabbing before she was kept in a cell along with lowly criminals, drug addicts and prostitutes. Thanks to the abject drubbing of the ruling party at the recent polls, as a face-saving exercise and to salvage its tarnished image by whatever little it can, the government started taking retaliatory measures, asking the US officials to provide the details of the salaries paid to the Indian staff working in the consulates in India, withdrawing airport passes to US diplomats, priority parking privileges and stopping import license to the US embassy, even removing the road barricades to regulate traffic before their embassy in Delhi.

Somebody commented that the Indian mindset is that of servant culture. But the treatment meted out to the servants in India in their US consulates surely reminds us of their highhanded culture towards slaves. What is more, the Indian authorities now charged the US of conspiracy and immigration fraud by allowing the family of Sangeeta Richard, the domestic help of the diplomat on whose complaint Devyani was arrested and who has gone underground ever since.

The arrest happened exactly after two days of the family flying to the US. Is there any underlying plot in all this? It is very gratifying to note that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Speaker Meira Kumar, National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon and Narendra Modi refused to meet the US Congressional delegation to mark their protest. A Pakistani newspaper ‘The News International’ reacted to the reaction of India saying “It shows very clearly how a proud nation fights back in every possible manner… We must learn a lesson from India.

” While everybody in the country whether he belongs to one party or another reacted sharply condemning the act, there was one reaction by BSP Supremo Mayawati that is slanted and weird. She said that the government acted belatedly in Devyani Khobragade’s case, because of her caste! This is perhaps yet another instance of homemade ‘racist’ syndrome of a different kind. One could never forget the accusation by our national hero and former Indian Captain Mohd Azharuddin when he was debarred from the game for match fixing. He said he was targeted because he belonged to a minority! These are surely unwarranted comments and can be surmised as a new low in Indian politics.

Now we are told that Devyani Khobragade has been transferred to the Indian Permanent mission to the United Nations where she gets full diplomatic immunity. Also the Secretary of State John Kerry called Shiv Shankar Menon expressing his regret for the incident. But considering that this is the fourth time that our diplomats are put to such a shameful, humiliating treatment is it enough? The Hans India in its editorial has rightly commented that many Indians were illtreated earlier, with India scarcely protesting. The lack of reaction might have emboldened the US government to believe that it could get away with anything where Indians are concerned. Diplomatic docility, after all, is not an answer when it concerns the human dignity, individual freedom and importantly the honour of a nation. It is not negotiable either.

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