Khobragade Arrest: Of Laws and Traditions


One thing anyone who wants to understand Indian politics must know is that a diplomat is a highly honoured position in the Indian political hierarchy. This veneration of an individual who seeks to resolve issues through dialogue is a skill that is looked upon fondly by Indians as it is part of the rich cultural tradition of India’s vast history.

That is why there was such hue and cry in India after a diplomat, a woman mind you, was reportedly arrested in public while she was dropping her daughters to school, strip-searched at the police station and tossed into a cell crawling with ruffians and low-lifes. It was ‘disrespect’.

Celebration of ‘Diplomats’

Diplomacy works for India. Argument and reasoning are two skills, if acquired, propel you to the top of the food chain in any Indian system. Remember it was diplomacy that got us independence in 1947. It wasn’t an armed rebellion or a coup de tat. It was hardline diplomacy and civil disobedience. The lesson is still taught in middle schools across India. The heroes of 1947 were not military leaders, but politicians. They did not wield guns, they swung tongues.

Though it is true that the work of a modern diplomat is nothing like that of a politician or a religious leader, it is the image that matters to Indians. Bottom line in Indian societal hierarchy – Honour and Respect. 

You’re a diplomat? Wow!
You’re gastronomist? What’s that… Can’t you be a diplomat?

Honour and respect.

The Unwritten Rule

Back to the issue at hand. It is the unwritten rule in diplomacy. You scratch my back…

So when Devyani Khobragade was arrested for visa fraud, hiring an Indian immigrant for a slavish salary no less, it is expected that the issue be treated sensitively. Remember, this is a high-ranking Indian diplomat in the ally’s country and she is a SHE, which makes her position even more sensitive for an Indian audience.

Why should the government care if the audience is affected? They’re not anyone to say what’s right and what’s wrong on a diplomatic level right? Oh wait! It’s election year. Suddenly, everything’s a lot more sensitive. Especially if you’re government’s been decimated in three states and defeated in the other during the recent assembly elections.

The words ‘strip search’ may seem like ‘procedure’ to the New York police but it comes across as ‘disrespect’ to a largely conservative state. It’s got a particularly uneasy ring to it considering the ‘strip search’ automatically links to words like ‘rape’ or ‘indecency’ to the average Indian mind. Is that something to look down upon? No, of course not. It’s only reasonable considering the vast majority of the population, who are Hindus, probably think of Duryodhana and Draupathi from India’s epic, Mahabharata.

The unwritten rule here was, don’t strip search a female diplomat from a largely conservative society during an election year! I admire the Americans and empathise with them. I have no love for Khobragade or the people in India making a big deal of the situation. The New York police were simply doing their job. But, if you’re going to treat Indian diplomats the same way you treat the ordinary folk. Do so with great caution and legal advice. You know what’s at stake here? Honour and respect.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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