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Devyani Khobragade Episode

Posted by Shreyans Jain Friday, 20 December 2013 0 comments

Through its international invasions in various forms, including cyber warfare and mass surveillance, drone attacks and regime change, the Unites States of America (USA) has set a bad precedent for the world even as it avers support for strengthening international rules and institutions. Ironically, superpowers that clamour for fair and rule-based order for international peace and security have themselves been caught on several occasions using international law against others and even re-interpreting multilateral rules to further their political and economic interests. The arrest, strip-search, cavity-search and handcuffing of a New York based Indian woman diplomat, Ms Devyani Khobragade on December 12, 2013 for allegedly underpaying a domestic help she had brought with her from India and fudging her visa forms, epitomise the unilateralist approach of USA to international relations. 

Ms Khobragade, even under her limited consular immunity, was entitled to be treated with dignity. Unfortunately, the inhuman and barbaric treatment meted out to her is not only discriminatory against India’s citizens settled abroad but also calls for a rethinking of India’s policy of turning the other cheek instead of taking decisive action. Perhaps the indifference shown by the Indian government in similar incidents in the past involving eminent citizens like Mr. George Fernandes, former President APJ Abdul Kalam, Ambassador Meera Shankar and celebrities like Shah Rukh khan and Amir Khan has resulted in hostilities and indignities being showered upon Indians abroad. Our lackadaisical approach towards such humiliations and our failure to take a strict stand in retaliation has made our bureaucrats vulnerable to detention on false pretexts and made the ‘soft’ foreign policy of India a subject of ridicule. Even after several accounts of humiliation, we boast of our ‘high status’ and ‘self-importance’ in the world which is nothing but a mirage. However harsh it may be but the reality is that the western nations look to India for only the best of what we have to offer in terms of technical and intellectual expertise in various fields and unrestricted markets for their products.


Ms Khobragade enjoyed only limited immunity under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. But this convention guarantees freedom from detention until trial and conviction except for ‘grave offences’. The offence in the case in point was a wage dispute between a diplomat and her domestic help! This prejudice in interpretation of the convention has reiterated the fact that rule makers are seldom rule takers.

The need of the hour is to take strict diplomatic action against the perpetrators of this humiliation. Let the superpowers realise that they cannot circumvent the international law to their advantage. Instead of giving a political colour to this episode, the Indian lawmakers should take steps to strengthen India’s foreign policies and practices that are practical and not based on some imagined or exaggerated sense of self-importance. At the same time, it must be ensured that the ties between India and the rest of the world are not severed.

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