December is a month Indians will begin to dread every year from now on, and not without reason. Last year in December the nation was put through the agony, the travails of the aftermath, and eventual death of a girl who was the victim of the most inhuman form of rape the county has ever known. This December, something of a similar nature has happened to yet another Indian lady, this time an Indian diplomat on foreign shores, at the hands of the Administration of supposedly the “the most civilized nation on earth”, the US of A. Last year’s gruesome crime in Delhi took months of civilian protest and uncountable debates in and off the courtroom to finally come to a decisive climax in the form of death sentences to the accused (barring one who escaped punishment due to his “tender age”). This year’s equally appalling crime by a bunch of thoughtless, racist individuals in the US State Department and the US Police has evoked similar scenes of protest and animated debate across the country, but is yet to reach an end that will restore the dignity of the diplomat and will repair the veritable affront the Indian tricolor has been subjected to as a result. The infringement upon the dignity of Dr. Devyani Khobragade, - a 1999 batch IFS officer, and a senior Indian diplomat to the United States - which has rocked the very foundation of US-India relations, must be considered not just a molestation of feminine dignity, but also a blatant example of the prevailing undercurrent of vitriolic racism and unscrupulous abuse of human rights in a country which proclaims itself to be the ultimate protector and preserver of human rights and liberty. This statement of fact can be averred without the least sense of unfairness, knowing that similar cases of arrest and interrogation of diplomats from “white” countries in the USA have been undertaken without resorting to the despicable and beastly “standard procedures” such as strip search and cavity search applied in the case of Dr Devyani, just because those diplomats were of a fairer origin. Even as the facts of this case begin to unfold every minute, it is now emerging with greater and greater clarity that Devyani has been the unfortunate object of a sinister American plot, the details of which are yet to be fully unraveled, to insult and humiliate her, and in the process, humiliate our nation, its judicial system and its polity. Yet, there may be more to this case than meets the public eye, and it would hardly come as any big surprise if it turns out to be another instance of America’s notoriety in meddling with the affairs of other nations and acting self-righteously to protect its own interests all over the world in the vicious garb of a universal cop with the ostensible intent of erasing injustice and unfairness on the planet. The greatest irony of the whole forgettable episode is perhaps the fact that the man who has now emerged as the architect this foul plot, the US Attorney Mr Preetinder Bharara, is a man of Indian origin, now looking up in reverence to his masters in his adopted country, in an attempt to prove his loyalty to the US flag (and his contempt for the country of his origin)
While it is yet unclear as to the substantial measures and steps the Indian government is taking through diplomatic channels to address the issue (other than the removal of barricades in front of the US Embassy and other cosmetic actions to alleviate the angst and anger amongst the media and general public), there can be little doubt in anybody’s mind as to the necessity of initiation of the following actions without any dithering whatsoever: (1) demand of the US government a full investigation into the details of the arrest of Dr Devyani Khobragade and the justification thereof as well as of the procedures adopted by the US marshals post the arrest, (2) full investigation of the role of the US Attorney Mr Preetinder Bharara in evacuating the maid Mrs Sangeeta Richard and her family from India without the permission of the Indian Government while criminal proceedings were undergoing against the family in Delhi High Court (3) immediate dropping of all charges against Devyani Khobragade pending a full investigation of the case and (4) adequate compensation to Ms Devyani for the trauma that the indignity has caused her.
However, Indian foreign policy has been always weak-kneed in the face of pugnacious posturing of powerful countries such as USA and China, and it is only the relentless pressure from the media and social activists that has always goaded our politicians into acting on behalf of our country and our citizens. This time, India is confronted with an arrogant nation disdainful of the laws, customs and principles of any other country but its own, especially of countries in the Third World, with whom it is okay for America to do trade and earn moolah for its citizens but is also okay to maintain its stance of condescension and veiled racism towards the citizens of these countries. This is amply exemplified by the deafening silence on the part of the US President, who has considered this episode not worth even a mention in his press statement before he left for his weekend getaway.
The Devyani episode will be an acid test of India’s assertiveness in the international arena. It has brought us to a cross-road in our march to prominence in the international field; and may well prove to be an inflexion point in our ascent to a point of recognition as a power that matters. Whether that inflexion is for the better or for the worse, so far as our stature in the world is concerned, will depend on the firmness (or absence of it) in our response in this matter. India can either chose to assert its intolerance to any violation of human rights and dignity, and stand firm in its resolve to support one of its own in a foreign land, which it can do by not budging on its just demand for an apology from the United States government, and in ensuring justice and adequate compensation for Devyani, or it can chose to let this affair disintegrate with time, swallowing all the hurt and humiliation in the process, in a bid to protect its trade and military relations with Uncle Sam. In the latter case it runs a major risk of causing irreparable damage to its image in the eyes of the world and to its credibility in the minds of its own people.