Clint Eastwood’s classic line comes to mind as the storm surrounding the saga of Ms. Khobragade unfolds. The Indian reaction is evocative of the Ramayana; it is as if Sita herself had been abducted by Ravana. Unless these rakshasa Americans recant, Hanuman himself will be on a MiG-29 to New York, tail blazing and all. The US liberal media, moderately condescending in its attitude, is taking the moral high ground and gently chiding India for not recognizing worker rights, and of course pointing out that the rakshasa in this case is in fact a Punjabi desi boy. Meanwhile, new facts about the protagonists are dredged up by the minute. Ms. Khobragade is a real estate tycoon, speaks German, and her husband is a “wine philosopher”; evidently a true renaissance couple. Ms. Sangeeta Richards, the silent victim at the center of the storm, is allegedly a CIA agent.
My own take, aside from being in awe of Ms. Khobragade’s dazzling portfolio of smiley photos, is that while the Indian over-reaction is symptomatic of a country still coming to terms with its place in the new world order, the US handling of the matter raises some serious issues. To start with, the blanket arrest protocol – handcuffing and strip searching – for an offence of this variety is pointlessly humiliating and completely out of line with practice in most civilized societies, including India. In the UK, handcuffing is classified as a “use of force” and justifiable only when the accused poses a threat; likewise a strip search needs to be authorized by a senior officer, and only for the purpose of searching for a concealed weapon or drugs. The comparison with the arrest of Dominic Strauss-Kahn, put forward as a shining example of the even-handedness of the US justice system, is rather ludicrous. Monsieur Strauss-Kahn was accused of sexual assault, while this lady allegedly underpaid a domestic helper. Moreover, the entire episode smacks of an underlying political agenda involving New York District Attorney Preet Bharara, perhaps part of his transformation from Preet to Peter to fulfill his political ambitions. Clearly, Ms. Devyani exercised extraordinarily poor judgment for someone in her position, and her “drama queen” act seems right out of Bollywood. But by the same token there is no evidence of maltreatment of her housekeeper, or at least none that has come to light. Wtf, Sangeeta even had an iPad!
The Indian reaction is of course shockingly immature; I personally would have loved to see India claim the moral high ground. While lodging an official protest, which prima facie seems entirely justified, I would simultaneously apologize for and take disciplinary action against Ms. Khobragade. Perhaps assign her to the Frankfurt consulate, which might be punishment enough, where she can speak German and her erudite oenophile husband can sniff spatburgunder and study Schopenhauer. Which might then have opened the door for the US Justice Department, its misguided Punjabi crusader notwithstanding, to back down under pressure from the State Department which presumably had nothing to do with this sorry mess in the first place? As for Ms. Richards, she should be given a Green Card. Armed with her Apple device, she can now be every bit as American as Preet Bharara. Next step the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Meanwhile, if India beats South Africa today, all will be forgiven and forgotten. After all, we are like this only.