India Minister Warns Of "The Return Of The Ugly American"

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Shashi Tharoor (India's Minister of State for Human Resource Development), originally posted at Project Syndicate,

Nearly a month after American authorities arrested India’s deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, outside her children’s school and charged her with paying her Indian domestic worker a salary below the minimum wage, bilateral relations remain tense. India’s government has reacted with fury to the mistreatment of an official enjoying diplomatic immunity, and public indignation has been widespread and nearly unanimous. So, has an era of steadily improving ties between the two countries come to an end?

Judging from Indian leaders’ statements, it would certainly seem so. India’s mild-mannered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that Khobragade’s treatment was “deplorable.” National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon called her arrest “despicable” and “barbaric,” and Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid refused to take a conciliatory phone call from US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Emotions have run high in India’s Parliament and on television talk shows as well. Writing to her diplomatic colleagues after her arrest, Khobragade, who has denied the charges against her, noted that she “broke down many times,” owing to “the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping, and cavity searches, swabbing,” and to being held “with common criminals and drug addicts.” A former Indian foreign minister, Yashwant Sinha, has publicly called for retaliation against gay American diplomats in India, whose sexual orientation and domestic arrangements are now illegal after a recent Supreme Court ruling. The government has not taken him seriously, but his suggestion indicates how inflamed passions have become.

Some retaliation has occurred. The initial American rationale (that foreign consuls in the US enjoy a lower level of immunity than other diplomats) led India’s government to re-examine privileges enjoyed by US consular officials that are unavailable to their Indian counterparts in the US. These privileges – including full-fledged diplomatic ID cards, access to the restricted customs areas of airports, tax-free shipments of items for personal consumption, and no questions asked about the terms of their employment of local domestic staff – were swiftly withdrawn. The cardinal principle of diplomatic relations is reciprocity, and India realized that it had been naïve in extending courtesies to the US that it was not receiving in return.

Likewise, the police have removed bollards and barriers that the US Embassy had unilaterally placed on the street in front of its complex in New Delhi, creating an obstacle to free circulation on a public road that India had tolerated in a spirit of friendship. (The government has, however, reiterated its commitment to the US Embassy’s security, even reinforcing the police presence outside.)

Tempers remain inflamed, with US Ambassador Nancy Powell, in a New Year’s message to Indians, ruefully acknowledging that ties have been “jolted by very different reactions to issues involving one of your consular officers and her domestic worker.” Kerry has also expressed “regret” over the incident. But the US has shown no signs of moving to drop the charges to defuse the crisis.

Indians remain bewildered that the US State Department would so willfully jeopardize a relationship that American officials had been describing as “strategic” over a practice routinely followed by foreign diplomats for decades. Most developing-country diplomats take domestic staff with them on overseas assignments, paying them a good salary by their national standards, plus a cost differential for working aboard. In Khobragade’s case, perquisites included a fully furnished room in a pricey Manhattan apartment, a television set, a mobile phone, medical insurance, and tickets home.

The cash part of the salary may be low by US standards – Khobragade herself, as a mid-ranking Indian diplomat, earns less than what the US considers a fair wage – but, with the other benefits, the compensation is attractive for a domestic helper. More to the point, Khobragade did not find her maid in the US labor market and “exploit” her; she brought her from India to help her in her representational duties, on an official passport, with a US visa given for that purpose. In almost no other country are local labor laws applied in such a manner to a foreign diplomat’s personal staff.

Privately, US diplomats express frustration at their helplessness in the face of theatrical grandstanding by the ambitious federal prosecutor, Preet Bharara, an Indian-American who has launched a series of high-profile cases against Indians in America. For once, however, the zealous Bharara seems to have slipped up, because Khobragade was arrested at a time when she enjoyed full diplomatic (not just consular) immunity as an adviser to India’s United Nations mission during the General Assembly. The State Department’s handling of the matter – which included approval of Khobragade’s arrest – has been, to say the least, inept.

Worse, just before the arrest, the maid’s family was spirited out of India on US visas for victims of human trafficking. The implication that an Indian diplomat in a wage dispute with her maid is guilty of human trafficking understandably riles Indian diplomats as much as the treatment of Khobragade after she was detained. The American habit of imposing its worldview self-righteously on others is deeply unwelcome. To most Indians, common discourtesy cannot be repackaged as moral virtue.

Indian-American relations had been strengthening, owing to both sides’ shared commitment to democracy, common concerns about China, and increasing trade and investment. The Khobragade affair suggests, however, that all of this is not enough: sustaining a strategic partnership requires, above all, mutual respect.

India had handled American diplomats with a generosity of spirit that it felt the bilateral relationship deserved. Now, with the same spirit shown to be lacking from the other side, the friendship has suffered. Until the US displays appropriate deference to the sensitivities, pride, and honor of other peoples and cultures, it will continue to be resented around the world.

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Headbanger's picture

Good luck!    Americans have the most self righteous attitude from being told how great they are and have it by the government and media to help placate them from seeing what deep trouble they're in.

Pladizow's picture

The Americans did this to accomplish a desired result.

Perhaps like Bengazhi, it wants its Indian Embassy attacked?

Scarlett's picture

The real "shining city on the hill" is the one with the gold.  India.

TerminalDebt's picture

Indians buying too much gold, must shut them down.

First you break ties, then you bomb them and mine their gold

Pegasus Muse's picture

"...theatrical grandstanding by the ambitious federal prosecutor, Preet Bharara, an Indian-American who has launched a series of high-profile cases against Indians in America."

Old Preet would get a lot more mileage from prosecuting and jailing any of several thousand Wall Street Gangster Banksters who thieved, defrauded, and stole America blind over the past decade.  He ought to start with this PigMan, and continue right down the list

Oh regional Indian's picture

THis whole thing is so ludicrous, it smacks of a set-play...pure social engineering....get everyone angry with America...

Very strange till you see the bigger picture.


disabledvet's picture

25 billion in hard currency taken out by the Indian Government this past year as iron ore production is declared "illegal." timing couldn't be more predictable. Gotta love those crazy moves in Thailand.

I am more equal than others's picture




When Obamaclown stops the car, the other clowns get out, the circus has arrived, and you never know what the clowns will do next to get the laughs they so deserve.  India just got pranked by the clown running this show.  Who will run the hotels and convenience stores if they presist in the manner and the Indians leave?

TBT or not TBT's picture

Who will write and test our code? A lack of convenience stores is just an inconvenience.

Vampyroteuthis infernalis's picture

Dear Indians,

     We as Americans have laws in our country that EVERYONE is to obey. Just because you think you are better than us does not give you permission to break them. If you don't like it, go back to your 3rd world hole.

-One Ugly American

Abitdodgie's picture

This all happened in the Indian embassy so it was still in India not in Amerika thats why you have diplomatic imunity.

ronaldawg's picture

HA HA HA - Indian royalty treat their home help and nannies like SLAVES.  And this is going to cause an international problem.  What a joke - they have been doing this for centuries.  The Caste system still survives.

If she was Muslim we won't be hearing about it.

disabledvet's picture

you are free to smuggle all the gold you want into America....but you have to get away with it. In short "don't used the hired help." Bring it in yourself...or use an American who dresses well and looks the part. Or "just buy a place on the Bay in San Francisco with a dock and go on your usual week long fishing expedition."

kalki1234's picture

Caste System


Once the eighteenth-century European scholars had invented 'Race Science', colonial administrators were quick to recognize the potential of this emerging field and utilized it as an effective governing tool. Employing imaginary racial categories based on vague Biblical reference points, they imposed these racist categories like signposts on top of the many distinctive regional and linguistic communities in India. These imported classifications led to greater fragmentation and conflicts within the country. Max Müller's interpretation of Vedic literature in terms of a clash between two racial groups, led him to search for physical features in the Vedas that would identify the groups physically. And so, Müller tentatively interpreted nose-length as one such differentiating feature. 


Sir Herbert Hope Risley (1851–1911) was a powerful colonial bureaucrat at the Royal Anthropological Institute, and developed the Nasal Index based on Max Müller's speculation. This Nasal Index, much like Phrenology, became a tool of Race Science in an effort to classify the traits of Indian communities. During the four decades of his stay in India, Risley made an extensive study of Indian communities, based on the Nasal Index. His goal was to separate the Aryan communities from the non-Aryan communities. 


His taxonomical classification and massive documentation of Indian jatis froze the dynamic quality and mobility found in the jati system within the varna matrix.1 Various colonially inspired studies transformed jatis into racial categories rather than identities based on occupation. The Nasal Index not only separated the jatis into Aryan and non-Aryan, it also classified those considered non-Aryan as distinct from mainstream Hindu society. Risley compared the black plantation-workers in America with the so-called non-Aryan communities in India. This foreshadows the Afro-Dalit-Dravidian projects of today, which are essentially the expansion of Risley's project of ethnic fragmentation of India.



Rajiv Malhotra; Neelakandan, Aravindan (2011-04-12). Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines

overmedicatedundersexed's picture

vampy a little too much hubris, everyone does not enclude corzine and big banks, so get off the high horse.

Overfed's picture

They'll have to start paying American programmers full price again. Can't have that now. /s

NotApplicable's picture

Nah, they'll just line up the next batch of script kiddies to half-ass it, all while blaming it all on glitches.

After all, it isn't like there's any meaningful commerce left to support.

zerozulu's picture

Love affair with India was over the day bankers (i'm not antisystematic) found India is not going to be their escape destination when SHTF. Now should we remove "slum dog millionaire" billboard from Time-square?

Harbanger's picture

It's actually consistent with this Admnistration's punishing of American allies and supporting of it's enemies.  The Obama administrations official position is that this is routine treatment of a foreign diplomat, no apology required.

TBT or not TBT's picture

Obama, undermining America worldwide.

insanelysane's picture

Not defending anything the Americans have done, but the India Minister might want to look into the roving gangs of rapists terrorizing his own country.


akak's picture

I would think that the average Indian would be more concerned by their government's attacks on and suppression of their right to own gold than this very minor diplomatic bruhaha.

Ghordius's picture

the Indians I talk to are all quite upset, and don't see it as a very minor diplomatic bruhaha. in fact, they are mightily pissed off. no, not the average Indians, only part of the not insignificant diaspora of Indians living all over the globe (and travelling)

interestingly, a counterquestion to you, akak: who do you think has more influence, worldwide, the average American which does not travel and has no passport, or the roughly 6 millions that are abroad (not counting military)? just as a small reminder that every nation has it's diaspora, businesswise and ex-patwise

I still don't understand why they had to arrest her instead of calling for a meeting at the prosecutor's office. there must be a reason, but it escapes me, and this article does not help me

Dark Space's picture

They should be quite upset, but the problem is broad and affects all Americans. She was arrested for filling out a form wrong and it carries a 5 year sentence, and the visa fraud carries a 10-year sentence - in what bizarro world do those sentences match the crime? Fill out a form wrong and you should pay a fine. Visa fraud should result in your expulsion from the country at absolute worst. To your point, the prosecutor likely could've have sent her an email and she would have voluntarily come to their office to discuss it and likely even turned herself in if ultimately charged (though she would not have been charged and diplomacy would have forced common sense into the equation).

However, this is not some scheme to pit the two countries against each other, as some others have suggested. We see it every day in America. In my state this week a swat team was serving a warrant on a prostitution charge, raided the wrong house and killed the family pets that were fenced in their back yard... In what bizarro world would ever send a cop to arrest a prostitute? Who cares, issue the warrant and the next time she gets pulled over for speeding pick her up - or legalize it, I don't care, this is either not a crime or a minor crime. Shoot a dog who is fenced in? WTF? Every week we see another report where swat teams are raiding homes and killing innocent people, destroying property, and killing all pets by default all in the name of serving warrants on extremely minor crimes. This is not moral. And its a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.

gmrpeabody's picture

Fill out the form wrong..., and it should be corrected.

No crime meant, no crime charged, and no fingers up their ass.

CHRIST America..., can you be this stupid?

TBT or not TBT's picture

Yes, we can be. We had another fascist period under Wilson around a century ago. Scary part is now the technology and the far more pervasive government tentacles than existed then have permitted it to settle in for the full course. It can happen here, folks. When and if the regime throws out the constitution as we have under obama, Wilson, and FDR.

trader1's picture

the constitution is dead.  


TBT or not TBT's picture

Elian Gonzalez. Gibson guitars. These are not atypical. The cases of preposterous militarized assault regarding nonviolent crime are legion now. The state wants you to know you are little people. Theyve got over ten thousand felonies defined, libraries of unreadable regulations for you to follow, millions of unelected unaccountable nforcers, massive spying apparatus, and courts where the prosecutor has got you fucked ahead of time, to make you plea bargain. Hardly any cases are tried anymore. The militarized cagouled assaults on accountants and families with small children is part of the show. So just submit already.

silvermail's picture

This is not moral.

It's just fascism.

RaceToTheBottom's picture

It is just another sign that America is sliding.  Treating this "diplomat" as an American used to be a treat for them.  We have slid somewhat since then....

Actually it might be a good sign.  No change will occur when Americans complain; Maybe TPTB will listen more when their profits via H1Bs, etc start getting affected by everyday attrocities that Americans now put up with.

PS, as for why the article did not answer your question, you should read who the author of the article is and his/her position.

TBT or not TBT's picture

The Indians you talk to may also be passionate about some events in cricket, Bollywood soaps, or whats up in their own life. They aren't changing their behavior over the rape-search of the diplomat one iota, probably.

isudas's picture

We do not have all the facts in this case.  One article said that the DA had informed the Indian side in September.  The domestic help had left back in June.  It is not a case of completing the form wrong, their was intent to deceive on the Indian side. Your reading an article written by a career Indian diplomat that is written to twist the case for his side.  She was in the USA to support the rights of Women while simultaneously cheating the very women she had in her home.  Tell her to leave the USA.

TerminalDebt's picture

Hide yo wife, hide yo kids 'cause they rapin' everybody...

kralizec's picture

What did one caste society say to the other?

Look in the mirror, bitch!

ronaldawg's picture

I want a lower caste girl to do my dishes and wash my clothes - I'll pay her double minimum wage - she has to have big titties though.

kalki1234's picture

Plenty of those where you live.

Agent P's picture

This was definitely done on purpose for some other desired result (whatever that may be).  You don't get strip searched and corn-holed for underpaying a worker even if you don't have diplomatic immunity....though I hear Bill de Blasio is looking into making this standard procedure. 

Grinder74's picture

Isn't there a Tom Clancy plot about a war with India???

akak's picture

"The Sum of All Telephone Call Center Fears"

Agent P's picture

"Hello, this is 'Steve'.  How may I help you?"

zerozulu's picture

Hi, my name is Lincoln. How may I help you?

Ha, Licoln! who?

Abraheem Lincoln, Sir.

pupdog1's picture

On the left is a video of me writing to my congresscritter, taken by an NSA-cam somewhere in my office.

Tom_333's picture

I want to hear more about that Bharara guy. Let me political ambitions...

Tom_333's picture

Gimmie the low-down ...the real dirt on the guy.Someone´s gotta know...NSA...?

midtowng's picture

The real crime was the way she was treated by police - like a common American - with the unnecessary strip searches and cavity searches.

  These sorts of things should be against the law except in certain conditions.

Fish Gone Bad's picture

Until the US displays appropriate deference to the sensitivities, pride, and honor of other peoples and cultures, it will continue to be resented around the world.

Yeah, tell that to the american indians.

ElvisDog's picture

Deference to cultural sensitivies, pride, and honor? Fuck that.  Here's the non-politically correct truth. Indians do a lot of stuff Americans think is stupid or weird (like praying to multi-armed elephant men). Americans do a lot of stuff Indians think is stupid or weird (tatooing, Miley Cyrus). We don't have to like or respect something we think is stupid. That's just how it is. 

MeBizarro's picture

So who cares what their ridiculous beliefs are whether they are Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh.  There are plenty of b@tshit crazy religions in the US.  Hell, over 70% of evangelicals in the most recent Pew survey believe the world will end in their lifetimes and Jesus will return to Earth. 

The main cultural issue is that human life in India is cheap and if certain people die in India it means less than a cow doing.  There essentially worthless.  I have seen this first hand with people who get hit by cars in India and things going with a stop unless it significantly impedes traffic.