Home » Uncategorized » The State Department’s Role in the Arrest and Mistreatment of Dr. Devyani Khobragade, Foreign Diplomat, and The Predictable Consequences to America

The State Department’s Role in the Arrest and Mistreatment of Dr. Devyani Khobragade, Foreign Diplomat, and The Predictable Consequences to America

Start here

Narayanan Komerath

January 25, 2014

Starting in 2012, the family of Mr. Richard, an Indian worker in the US Embassy in New Delhi, appears to have been enticed into a scam on the promise of US Green Cards. His wife worked as a domestic assistant to Ms. Uzra Zeya at the US Embassy in India in 2002-2007[1]. His son worked as a chauffeur[2] for the Mozambique Embassy in Delhi. The daughter-in-law, Sangeeta Richard, applied as a live-in maid for the Indian Deputy Consul-General in New York, Dr. Devyani Khobragade.

Dr. Khobragade is married to an American university professor[3], and a mother of two kids, 6 and 3 years old. She is a living counter to many stereotypes. She was born in a so-called “Scheduled Caste” (aka “Dalit”) Indian family. Her father started as a manual laborer, but earned an education and retired at the top of the Indian Administrative Service. Perhaps both father and daughter were helped by India’s Affirmative Action laws – that was certainly intended by the voters who approved those laws. She graduated as a medical doctor. She then sought to repay her nation, working in India’s Foreign Service, devoted to empowering women.  Before coming to the USA she was posted in Pakistan, hardly a luxury posting!  She was a friend that the US should have treasured, and an example of everything in which we Americans believe.  Clearly this made her a target for some people.

From all accounts, Ms. Richard who came to America as a domestic assistant2 in November 2012, was (a) trusted with all freedom of movement and association, (b) treated as a family member, (c) paid what she was promised and (d) paid well beyond the prescription of US laws.  In addition, she had complete employer-paid  healthcare coverage, on par with the diplomat herself. As we all know, this is a huge expense, and many employers of people in hourly-paid jobs in America do not provide that. The kids treated her with great affection and trust2. In addition to her US pay, and her life of comfort in the diplomat’s home, she was also guaranteed an after-tax monthly saving[4] of 30,000 Indian Rupees (then estimated at $573) deposited directly in India. Even in the wealthy suburbs of America, many of us are not able to put away $573 a month after taxes and all expenses from a single income.  A British newspaper [i] reports that she was indeed paid per US laws. Indian diplomats in the US, far from disregarding our laws, have followed them in letter and spirit trying their best to work with the State Department and local police.


[i] Saurabh Shukla, Documents suggest that Devyani ‘overpaid’ her maid Sangeeta. MailOnlineIndia, Daily Mail, UK, December 27, 2013. “http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2530144/Documents-suggest-Devyani-overpaid-maid-Sangeeta.html#ixzz2rhPKQrVq  “Documents available with Mail Today show that Richards was getting more than the US-stipulated $1374.75 she was to be paid.”

Indian diplomats in the US, far from disregarding our laws, have followed them in letter and spirit trying their best to work with the State Department and local police. The hostility that elements of the Obama administration has used in targeting them, is out of all proportion to any perceived offences. It is clearly hostile propaganda, and its victims are all of us.

Most of us can agree that it is important to protect the civil rights of domestic workers. The law is clear on that too, and conscientious, thoughtful law enforcement should be supported and applauded. Cynically misusing law enforcement powers and access to public media on this pretext, and bringing our nation into disrepute, is quite a different thing.

A careful reading of the timeline and facts leaves little doubt that this was orchestrated from the start as a propaganda ploy, with no regard for the human costs. The high-profile ruckus was timed to resonate with the recent White House release of the Federal Strategic Action Plan[5] on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking.  This appears to be pandering to the worst xenophobic and racist sentiments that politicians  and their appointees solicit without any signs of introspection or parental guidance.

In March 2013 Uzra Zeya was appointed[6], acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, after serving as Executive Secretary to the State Department’s Accountability Review Board[7] probing the September 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack. In March/April 2013 Ms. Richard demanded to be allowed to work outside the Consulate on her “off days”, which is illegal for her visa status[8]. This should be compared to her later claim[9] that she had no “off-days” and was exhausted from over-work on her “on-days”. On June 21, 2013, the diplomat left her two kids in Ms. Richard’s care while she went on a 2-day trip. Ms. Richard chose this time to desert the kids and disappeared with money given for groceries and the diplomat’s cellphone. The disappearance was not discovered until the diplomat returned1 on June 23; a missing person complaint was eventually accepted by NYC police on June 25. An investigative report in the UK Daily Mail[10] details the clear, deliberate complicity of the State Department in ensuring that all efforts of the Indian diplomats to follow the law and cooperate with US authorities were ignored.

In mid-July extortionary demands were made, leading India to cancel Ms. Richard’s official passport and demand her return. In mid-September, responding to the State Department, the Indians pointed out that Ms. Richard was seeking to subvert both Indian and American laws.  In mid November, an Indian court issued an arrest warrant[11] for Ms. Richard. On December 10, the US BDS officials in Delhi violated Indian laws by acquiring tax-free diplomatic tickets[12], and American law by issuing “trafficking” visas apparently ordered (illegally?) by Secretary Zeya’s office[13], to Ms. Richard’s husband and children, and brought them to America to add to our numbers of illegal aliens. Compare this to the months that the US Embassy takes to issue visas to professionals to attend conferences in the USA!

Two days later, the diplomat was arrested in a publicity stunt that would put the Keystone Kops to shame, as she dropped off her kids at school[14], based on charges filed by an agent of the BDS[15].  They then proceeded to have her manacled, stripped and “cavity-searched”– Orwellian-speak for custodial rape – and tossed in jail, and their achievement  publicized[16].  I ask the same question that outraged villagers asked in the 1970s movie “Ryan’s Daughter” set in 1916 Ireland[17]: “Whose idea was the stripping up?”  This was much worse here, in 2013 America!

I have read the “indictment” that the US attorney’s office in New York appears to have railroaded through a Grand Jury[18]. With all due respect, it is asinine, describing the natural role of a live-in family member in a home with two small kids as “109 hours per week of work with no overtime pay” etc.  Any school-teacher, policeman and I am sure lawmaker, works even longer hours than that, because we care about those entrusted to us, and think about our responsibilities all the time! While looking after 2 school-age kids and keeping up an apartment are certainly full-time jobs, they are not slavery or abuse any more than “Alice” in the American Brady Bunch[19] TV show who looked after six children was a slave.

From the facts that I can ascertain[20], I assume that any reasonable US court will dismiss all charges against the Indian diplomat. The gratuitous brutality inflicted on her offends us all as human beings and makes me ashamed as an American that it was done in the name of my country by employees paid with our taxes.

After pleas to reason fell on deaf ears and inflated heads, the Indian government, responding to widespread outrage, is now proceeding to figuratively strip, expose and “cavity-search” our government’s duplicity and stupidity in no uncertain terms:

  1. They expelled the BDS official[21]. A Facebook search conducted by Indian and American kids revealed the shockingly offensive racist, bigoted and gratuitous public postings by the BDS official and his wife[22]. Note that India could easily have tossed them in jail to face non-bailable criminal charges for ticket and visa fraud, and offending religious sentiments. A senior US Congressman has aptly described[23] the couple’s actions as “offensive and moronic”, and pointed to the damage done to all the professionals in our Foreign Service.
  2. India requested details on how the US Embassy pays and treats Indian employees. Not surprisingly, our Embassy is foot-dragging on that[24], but the prognosis is bleak as Indian employees and ex-employees come forward with the truth. We wait to hear of the salary and working hours of the elder Mr. Richard.
  3. We now see that the American Embassy School, located on property provided to the US Embassy, has been deliberately[25] and systematically violating both visa[26] and tax laws for decades. Indian officials have cited this as “institutional fraud”[27] and I cannot fault that description. The State Department’s lame claim[28],[29] that the school is not run by the Embassy (with 2 Board members appointed by the Ambassador and many employees giving the tax ID of Embassy employees to deposit their pay) is further evidence of the lack of leadership.

More is to come, I am sure, and will not be pretty.  We as citizens would appreciate the leadership of the US Congress in demanding common decency and accountability at the State Department and the White House. Even school teachers know better than to post racist rants on Facebook pages. Is the US Bureau of Diplomatic Security headed by someone who is unaware of basic Internet common sense? Has he not endangered all our diplomats? Who hired this man? Was it the recent Presidential appointee famous for having (literally) shot himself in the foot? Who employed the BDS official’s wife as an expert on international community relations, given her gross lack of sense? Are State Department appointments now done on nepotism? How did the Board of the American Embassy School, with two members directly appointed by the Ambassador, allow and even order its employees to blatantly dodge taxes and lie on visa forms, and give false ID numbers to deposit salaries? Should these people not be prosecuted under US racketeering and money-laundering laws?

It is clear from the above that the purported basis for the prosecution of the Indian diplomat, is a grotesque and malicious distortion of the law set out to protect domestic workers from exploitation and virtual slavery. The law is well-intentioned and commendable, but in the hands of the cynical, the arrogant and the zealously thoughtless, as only government can be, it is been turned into a disaster for working mothers, children, domestic workers and the United States alike. New York set a minimum wage of $9.73, considering the plight of American fast-food workers who must pay to live 2 hours away and commute to Manhattan. Can the authorities not discern the difference from live-in nannies who are treated like family members in a luxury household in downtown with all her living expenses paid? The State Department decided arbitrarily that no in-kind payments could be subtracted from the $9.73, which may be admirable to prevent extreme cases where all of a worker’s salary may be deducted, but which was certainly not the case here. The prosecutor here has pursued a completely senseless interpretation of that law, taking cynical advantage of a situation where a woman diplomat with a clear record of taking active interest in the plight of women workers, went out of her way to treat her own domestic assistant as a family member in every way.  The Indian diplomat was targeted because this was a case of a woman living in a home with a woman boss and two small daughters: the nanny was clearly a member of the family with the full run of the household, and as such was naturally “on call” as much as a family member would be. By no fair standard was this person a victim of mistreatment or exploitation, it was the other way around.

In retrospect, the charge of “human trafficking” and bringing unqualified illegal aliens into the US, fits much more appropriately on those who misused the “T” visa by approving them for the Richard family, those who bought illegal tax-free diplomatic tickets for citizens of a foreign country and illegally “evacuated” them when there were charges pending in lawful proceedings against them, and those who enticed a foreign worker on a non-immigrant official passport, to jump ship. Were these done in good faith, or was the intent to bring cheap foreign labor to act as domestic help for US government officials? Where are the Richards today?

Is the New York Federal Prosecutor too competence-challenged to see this, or did he deliberately ignore the obvious, in pursuing his bungling? Why did he ignore the fact that there were complaints on both sides, the one against the maid for dishonesty preceding the retaliatory complaint by the maid and her gang of coaches?  In any event, we are left with a mess that makes people wonder if the United States of America, far from being a protector of the weak, is run by cynically hate-filled entities, intent on destroying alliances between free democracies. This calls for an in-depth Congressional investigation and accounting.

A few long-term consequences may be predicted:

1. Yes, foreign diplomats will be “sensitized” to the need to follow the letter of American state law in employing domestic assistants, whether imported or local. This outcome could have been achieved through far less sensational or clumsy means.

2. Most diplomats will decide not to hire anyone of the sort. Their children will either stay back, or they will get grandparents to accompany them. The net loss is to the American tax base, and probably to the quality of upbringing that these children will experience, a loss blamed on America, creating resentment against America.

3. Many foreign missions will simply choose to replace the domestic assistant headcount with other designations covered by full diplomatic immunity. The population of undeclared and declared foreign secret agents, media experts and trade coordinators in America may thus be expected to rise, and with it, foreign influence.

4. The arrangement to deposit part of the US-earned wages directly to savings in the home country, will be abandoned, and the assistants left to fend for themselves in saving for their families.

5. Families all over the USA will recoil from the reports of this incident, and from any plans to hire domestic help if they can in any way avoid it. News reports already cite the extreme difficulty that many Americans have in finding enough hours at the wages that they can command, to make ends meet. This will be aggravated. Childcare quality will also suffer.

6. Any prospects of “live-in” domestic workers will be greatly reduced, since those benefits are not counted in hourly wages. Workers will be forced to commute long hours, and pay for their own quality of life. Childcare quality will suffer.

7. Governments all over the world will re-examine the operations of the US Embassy and Consulates in their countries, for tax evasion, visa fraud, giving out trafficking visas illegally, and various other nefarious activities. The credibility of the United States has been crippled by the revelations from the American Embassy School.

8. Employers will respond to extortionary pressures  by cutting back the hours of hourly-paid employees to stay within their own fixed budgets, with negative results all round.  Dictating both an hourly wage and a regular guaranteed number of hours per week for these workers is going to fail in most cases. Further, categorizing any call on live-in workers beyond a fixed working day as overtime, when they have probably been idle most of the day, will only destroy prospects for live-in arrangements.  Children may now be subjected to different “specialists” coming for a couple of hours a day, instead of a caring, beloved person whom they remember as “aunty”  through their early years.

9. In 2011, American farmworkers, grocery store cashiers, park attendants etc earned around $1600 per month,  averaging around $9.3 per hour, from which they had to pay all expenses and taxes.What I do not see is the prospect of childcare/ domestic worker monthly income rising above that earned by these workers.  Perhaps the market for childcare/cooking robots will rise rapidly, if those robots can be imported from China to help the present administration destroy yet another caring human service in the USA?


[2] Arpita De, Times News Network, “Who is Sangeeta Richard?”  Times of India, online article December 20, 2013. “The whole family is very nice. I don’t feel that I am their domestic help. The children call me ‘tai’ (aunt)” http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-12-20/india/45416020_1_visa-complaint-delhi-police

[7] US House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Chairman Royce Calls on State Department Inspector General to Focus on ARB’s Flawed Investigation of Benghazi Attacks. May 10, 2013. http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/press-release/chairman-royce-calls-state-department-inspector-general-focus-arb%E2%80%99s-flawed

[8] Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, How India left gates open for ‘evacuation’. Devyani filed complaint on July 3 but officials waited and did little to plug loopholes.” The Telegraph, Kolkatta, December 20, 2013. http://www.telegraphindia.com/1131220/jsp/frontpage/story_17701442.jsp#.UuQD2_ZOnfQ   “In mid-March 2013, Sangeeta asked Devyani whether she could work outside on her off-days, to which the diplomat told the nanny that her position as a domestic assistant on official passport with dependent visa did not entitle her to such work, according to the complaint.” ..”On June 18, Sangeeta went to Devyani’s office at the consulate-general of India for the first time and said that that she felt overburdened by work at home and would feel happy to stay and work outside her employer’s house from 7pm to 7am,” the complainant said.

[9] Dana Sussman, Safe Horizons attorney representing Sangeeta Richard, quoted in Time of India, Dec. 20, 2013. “She worked seven days a week with a few hours off on Sunday

[15] Zeenews.com, Dec. 26, 2013: Devyani Khobragade case: Screenshot shows US officials misread info The last question on the page is regarding the monthly salary of the employer and the screenshot shows the answer was given as USD 4,500. Based on the same information, however, the 11-page complaint filed by the agent of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security alleges that Khobragade promised to pay USD 4,500 to her maid. “The Visa Application stated that Witness-1 was to be paid USD 4,500 per month in US dollars,” alleged Mark J Smith, Special Agent of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.” http://zeenews.india.com/news/nation/devyani-khobragade-case-screenshot-shows-us-officials-misread-info_899626.html  (Note: The State Department denied that there was any misreading)

[17] Wikipedia.  “Ryan’s Daughter is a 1970 film directed by David Lean. The film, set in 1916, tells the story of a married Irish woman who has an affair with a British officer during World War I”. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryan’s_Daughter

[19] Wikipedia, “The Brady Bunch is an American sitcom created by Sherwood Schwartz that originally aired from September 26, 1969 to March 8, 1974 on ABC. The series revolves around a large blended family which includes six children.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Brady_Bunch

[21] Al Jazeera.com: Expelled US diplomat criticised for comments. US State Department distances itself from online remarks made by diplomat expelled amid row over Indian envoy’s arrest. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/southasia/2014/01/expelled-us-diplomat-criticised-comments-201411552816225387.html

[23] Leslie Larson AND Corinne Lestch.  State Department removes 2 from posts in India after ‘vegetarians are doing the raping’ comment. New York Daily News, January 15, 2014. These social media posts are as offensive as they are moronic, and are in no way a reflection of United States policy or the dedicated employees of the State Department,” said a spokesman for Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.” http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/state-department-removes-2-posts-india-article-1.1580867

[26] Sandeep Dikshit. American School e-mail raises suspicion of illegal postings. The HINDU, January 17, 2014.  “An internal e-mail sent by the American School to its teachers here, asking them to be economical with the truth about their visa status”…”So, if you are a teaching couple, we usually have the male spouse apply for the ‘employment’ visa and the female spouse be noted as ‘housewife’ on the visa application.http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/american-school-email-raises-suspicion-of-illegal-postings/article5584642.ece

[27] “US Embassy School Under Scanner for Visa, Tax Violation”. Outlook India, January 18, 2014. http://news.outlookindia.com/items.aspx?artid=824984

[28] Rajeev Sharma, US claims on American Embassy School in New Delhi are wrong. FirstPost World, January 25, 2014. www.firstpost.com/world/us-claims-on-american-embassy-school-in-new-delhi-are-wrong-1359059.html?utm_source=ref_article

Advertisements

10 Comments

  1. Dear Mr.Komerath
    Fantastic write up. There should be congressional investigations. Indian Americans should demand it. Let Truths Triumph.

    I would very much like you to add one very very important fact in your write up. I request you to revise your write up and include the fact the maid had health insurance coverage ( A HUGE EXPENSE as you know) at par with the Diplomat as required by law! 40 million Americans do not have health insurance. Where is the cost of this? And how many Americans who are paid >9 $per hour but are not provided health insurance. It runs to several million US citizens. Thank you Sir.

    • oldn3 says:

      Thank you sir. Excellent point and I have added it. At that level, that is indeed a huge and very tangible benefit, hugely increasing the compensation beyond the “prescribed minimum” wage. For instance, in my experience, that would amount to something on the order of 1000 to 1800 dollars per month, regardless of whether the employee was working or simply monitoring the TV in her room all month.

  2. mkfaruk says:

    why not people are commenting here? Where those “Safe Horizon” workers?

  3. sudhir says:

    WOW Narayan well researched and aptly put details. Double standards followed and our meek Indian government at last rose to the occassion ( mean bureocrats). There should have been a more aggressive stand taken earleir which we failed to do.

  4. Sugrutha says:

    Very well analysed and put together. As always.

  5. amber g says:

    Excellent article which needs more visibility. Can the author give us the permission to share it with interested parties?

    Thanks.

  6. dev says:

    Mr. Komerath, you made good effort to write this blog. I believe that as a citizen you could request the court to be a party to present evidence. You should pursue this matter to give it a go to what you believe in.
    I am as much outrage as anybody who’s motherland is India, but not for wrong reasons.

    If i was to give wages and benefits as demanded by contract required by the host country as part of visa rule and grant of entry to the country, i would not write parallel contract (no matter how it is) and ask to sign my employee for any reason, and when employee goes hostile, intimidate family of employee using power, influence and connections.

    I just wonder, what is the need to hide behind immunity if someone was so right and prosecutor so wrong? You must be aware that in this country if you are arrested, prosecuted or jailed wrongfully, not only you would come out victorious but you can sue perpetrators for billions of dollars.
    Remember the case of Morarji Desai Vs Hersh?
    There, there!

    • oldn3 says:

      Thank you, Dev. I know nothing of this affair except what I have read in the open media and discussed with people casually online and in person. All I have to contribute is the summary of the reported facts, and my own analysis/opinions. No role for me in any court here.
      To the other questions:
      a) My understanding is that a promise made on a US visa form is not a binding contract in Indian courts, for a contract between two Govt. of India employees on official passports. So if I were in their place, I would definitely draw up an Indian contract, valid in India. For that matter, I hear that even a Will drawn up in a foreign nation may not be valid in India (haven’t had to put that to the test..)
      b) In my opinion, the GOI has to insist that the issue of immunity be paramount. News reports indicate that Dr. Khobragade very much wanted to stand and fight in the US courts, she certainly showed plenty of fight in rejecting all the extortion attempts. However, her first duty is to her nation, and she rightly went along with the GOI’s insistence that she stand on the well-established principle of diplomatic immunity. Why not? Did the US’ contractor Raymond Davis stand and fight in Pakistani courts against the murder charges against him (he killed two people, apparently). Did the US agent Mr. Lady (that’s his name) stand and fight in Italian courts against the charge of kidnapping (“rendition” is the Orwell-speak there) – or did the US fight tooth and nail and extract him from Panamanian jail and return him to the US? Mr. Dev, the conclusion that I have reached since posting the article, is that this whole thing is a very simple event: a mugging. Just like the Central Park muggers, except in this case by State Dept employees. They did it twice to Indian diplomats, the GOI showed no spine, so they did it again. It is extortion, and when the victim resisted, they went to extreme physical measures, far outside the bounds of international law. The proper legal proceeding is against the muggers, and that need not involve Dr. Khobragade. The evidence is available in plenty to the US Govt and Congress to pursue. Yes, I remember Morarji vs. Hersh. Did Hersh pay a dime as damages? I don’t see the lesson there as good advice to Indians to depend on justice from US courts. Any more than Bhagat Singh got from British courts. Anyway, that is just my opinion, thanks for the opportunity to present it to you. Thanks!

  7. Vivek says:

    Sir, I salute you for a fantastic article.
    The paid minions of the NGO Safe Horizon are running riot on websites of Indian media, posting inane comments.
    The US consulate officers were running a liquor smuggling operation – by selling at a profit to outsiders, the liquor imported duty free for personal consumption.
    They were running a club, beauty parlour etc. with fees of thousands of dollars.
    The teachers in the embassy school have engaged in wilful visa fraud.
    The India baiters are not commenting as to what should be done to the above.
    The very first day the US officers were asked to follow traffic laws, ten cars of the US embassy were caught breaking traffic rules.
    Thanks again for a very well researched balanced article.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: