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The curious case of the missing maid
In New York, a maid (Sangeeta Richard) goes missing. The maid’s employer, a suave diplomat, (Devyani Khobragade) files a missing person complaint with the Police. Nothing happens. Then, one day, New York’s hotshot attorney (Preet Bharara) dramatically arrests the diplomat. In distant India, all hell breaks loose. The relationship between the two nations nosedives even as the India’s Minister (Salman Khurshid) thunders, “I will not enter Parliament until her dignity is restored.

There are just too many things in the Devyani Khobragade case that doesn’t add up.  Let me first begin with the math.

We are told that the domestic help, Sangeeta Richard, needed to be paid $4500. Somewhere we are told that against an hourly rate of $9 plus she was paid just a third, $3 plus. My math tells me that this would mean working about 500 hours (4500/9) a month. At 25 days a month, its 20 hours a day; at 30 days a month it’s about 17 hours a day. Elsewhere, we are told that she was paid $1500 (a one third pay). This translates into Rs 90,000. And yet she is said to have received Rs 30,000. Somewhere along the line, I guess, I am missing something.

Next, the visa fraud. Are they suggesting that the Dy. Consular General signed the visa application document? I doubt; of-course I no means of checking. If she did she could be held guilty of fraud if that application did say the payment would be $4500. If she didn’t and merely entered into a separate agreement I am not sure whether a fraud actually happened. Yes it would mean that she wasn’t paying the minimum wage but it can’t be said she committed a visa felony.

Let’s move on to the consideration.  I am no lawyer but I have a few questions. Can two consenting adults not enter into an agreement to be paid differently from what the law might mandate? A domestic help who gets a net saving of Rs 30,000/- per month, aside of gifts and other perks, would be jumping at the offer because she knows that a pay of $4500 aka Rs 270,000/- is impossible.

Remember the Rs 30,000 is straight saving as she gets free accommodation, free food and free gadgets. Okay the notifications may say that these are not addable although any sane person would like it to be added to constitute a “cost to company”.  It’s ridiculous that $4500 needs to be paid irrespective of whether you provide boarding and lodging facilities.  There are young CAs in the USA who draw $6000 a month with no freebies thrown in.

There are a few things here, which are inconsequential. Like: the Khobragades having an apartment in Adarsh. Like: as is alleged the rules being altered in 1999 for Khobragade to pick a foreign language of her choice. Like: the fact that Sangeeta Richard told her daughter that she was being treated well in the house of the Khobragades.

What matters is the ridiculousness of the situation. I am not neurotic but I smell conspiracy. Surely, the US is not the home for impeccable human rights treatment. Their own conduct in the bail out of their journalist who shot down two Pakistanis, ostensibly in self-defence, then in the bailout of a consular in a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and of rising the din in the case of a petty theft by an American in a mall in Singapore, is pathetic. That America should to fight for a non-decrepit housemaid, fly down the family of the ‘victim’ surreptiously before arresting Khobragade, foolishly slam the Indian judicial system all shows that there is more to this than what meets the eye. And this ‘more-to-this’ is not something that is going to be palatable.  Richard’s background could give us some sensational clues.

Now none of this is to suggest that laws can be broken. In fact, we Indians have the tendency to be elastic with law. If we don’t like a law, let’s lobby for its modification. Also it’s time we withdrew the privileges accorded to all American diplomats. Search their baggage on arrival and frisk. This is the only language Preet Bharara’s adopted country understands. For often, these men have their brains and butt interchanged.

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