The current issue of the Indian diplomat being arrested in the US gives one of the clearest pictures of a cultural clash that doesn’t have a good solution.
Here are just a few of the skeleton facts in case you haven’t followed along:
An Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested for visa fraud, essentially because her Indian domestic staff was paid far below the amount stipulated on her visa application. Ms. Khobragade was handcuffed in public and subjected to a private strip-search by the US law authorities as per their norms. A later development was that the domestic help’s husband and children were evacuated from India with the help of the US.
What India Thinks:
Core Issue: One of our diplomats was arrested and humiliated by a friendly country
What India Wants: Drop all the charges and fully apologize
Values at play:
- India wants to be treated like an equal country, and this treatment feels like they are a second-rate country that can be pushed around
- This is an issue of national pride for a diplomat to be treated like this
- The diplomat’s father has said this is an example of racial bias
- The Indian Minister of External Affairs has said that one should not be handcuffed in public because it “lowers their dignity”
- When you treat one of us like this, you are treating all of us the same.
- She is one of us, and particularly one of our elite, and you should not demean her like this
- Ms. Khobragade happens to be the daughter of a very influential retired IAS officer
- India only wants to interact with the Secretary of State, and not any junior people in the State department
- We are being treated like this because we are not a real superpower
- Domestic help is impossibly expensive in the US, and one has to do what is necessary to get it, despite what is written on forms
Backlash in India:
Here are a few of the responses of India, some more political posturing than anything else
- US diplomats have had their special airport rights revoked
- The Indian government removed the barricades around the US embassy in Delhi which help control traffic. This is apparently a soft act to say that India will not go to any great effort to protect the embassy
- Several high level politicians refused to meet with US congressmen on a delegation
- One political leader suggested that all US diplomats should be stripped in public
- The same man thought India should arrest all US diplomats with homosexual “partners” (homosexual acts were just reinstated as illegal in India – this is more a jab than a serious request)
- India had stopped importing liquor and food shipments coming from the US as well as imports for diplomats
- There has been a request for seeing all the specific copies of contracts, PAN cards, etc of US diplomats
- Burning effigies of Obama
What the US thinks:
Core Issue: Someone broke one of our laws, lied about it, and in the process took advantage of another human being. One official said “this is really a law enforcement issue”.
What the US wants: Let us handle this and accept whatever decision we make
Values at play:
Equality (at least in theory)
- You don’t care about the maid in this whole situation; and Indians don’t have a good reputation for how they treat their househelp
- We can’t understand how most Indians identify closely with a diplomat from a well-off family (a small part of the population) and completely distance themselves from the treatment of the domestic help (a much larger part of the population).
- High standards of comfort – Some reports say that she was treated like a slave because she worked 7 days a week.
Apathy to the rest of the world’s opinion
- You can pass any resolution you want, it doesn’t change our opinion
- This event has had very minor press coverage in the US
- One writer has said that India’s reactions show that it lacks the maturity to be a world power.
- The fact that Ms. Khobragade’s father is a very influential person and that she has been involved in previous incidents makes us want her to get caught all the more
- You lied on your visa application. We don’t care who you are; you will pay the consequences.
One of the more interesting parts of this story is that the US Attorney in charge of this case was born in Punjab in India. As one article points out, these stories usually are ones that India loves to highlight, but in this case, the values he suggests in his rhetoric clearly show that his thinking is fully American.
What will happen?
More than likely, time will be the biggest factor here. Over time, India will settle down and move on and the US diplomats will play a bigger role in lessening any punishment for this offence. Within a few months, this probably won’t be an issue. There will be a bit of lingering animosity on both sides, but that will be unavoidable. Just my guess though.