India Diplomat Row: Who really is the victim, Devyani Khobragade or Sangeeta Richard?

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By Johnlee Varghese | December 19, 2013 7:29 PM EST

The arrest and mistreatment of Indian Diplomat of the New York Consul, Devyani Khobragade, has lead to tempers souring in India that has severely affected its relations with the US. While much mayhem has been raised, Indians have uncharacteristically been silent about the nanny cum housekeeper - Sangeeta Richard.

There are several questions that the Indian government should be asking themselves - whether Khobragade actually misused her power and denied the rights and privileges of her Indian maid? Is Sangeeta Richard actually the victim of ill treatment, who finally took a stand against her powerful employer under the 'just' US laws?

Following the revelation that the Indian diplomat was strip-searched in the police custody, the Indian government flew into fury, cancelling all meetings with US delegations and taking away the Special privileges issued to US diplomats in India. However, till now there has been not one attempt made to understand and to hear the side of the house-help, Richards.

The statement by Preet Bharara U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York on the Devyani arrest does throw some insight into the case. Talking about the visa fraud and the treatment of the Richard, Attorney Bharara said: "Ms. Khobragade was charged based on conduct, as is alleged in the Complaint, that shows she clearly tried to evade U.S. law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers."

"Not only did she try to evade the law, but as further alleged, she caused the victim and her spouse to attest to false documents and be a part of her scheme to lie to U.S. government officials. So it is alleged not merely that she sought to evade the law, but that she affirmatively created false documents and went ahead with lying to the U.S. government about what she was doing," he added.

Stating what the 39 -year old diplomat did was fraud Bharara explained: "One wonders whether any government would not take action regarding false documents being submitted to it in order to bring immigrants into the country. One wonders even more pointedly whether any government would not take action regarding that alleged conduct where the purpose of the scheme was to unfairly treat a domestic worker in ways that violate the law. "

Making a strong case for Richard, he added, "And one wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?"

It is true that there has been much hullabaloo in support of Khobragade,  but the Indian embassy when it comes to Richard ends up highlighting her as a 'petty thief' and a 'fugitive.' There seems to be more to the story that suggests it as a fight between a 'helpless' maid and her powerful employer.

If one makes an honest attempt and closely reads between the lines of the statement issued by the Indian Embassy, the long legal battle between Devyani and Sangeeta is evident.

The Indian Embassy's statement on behalf of the case filed by Devyani against Sangeeta sought US assistance in taking "action against blackmailing by Ms. Richard,[who had demanded] that she be permitted to change her passport, visa status and to work elsewhere, which would be in violation of U.S. regulations."

It is interesting here to note that Khobragade basically had a problem when Richard wanted to leave her employer, but she had no problem making the maid sign false documents and paying her low-wages. In all probability, this is where the entire dispute between the two began.

It also alleged that Richard had stolen cash, mobile phone and documents from the residence of her employer, but those familiar with Indian domestic household would know such petty allegations by employers is a prevalent practice.

"On October 8, a written response was sent by the Indian Embassy to the State Department rebutting the allegation(made by Sangeeta against Devyani) and bringing out the facts of the case whereby Ms. Richard is seeking to subvert both Indian and US laws. The U.S. side was also requested to assist in implementing an injunction issued on September 20, 2013 by the Delhi High Court against Ms. Richard restraining from initiating any legal action against Dr. Khobragade outside India," the Indian Embassy's statement adds.

In short, her powerful employer with all her diplomatic and family ties left no stone unturned in making Richard, a 'thief and a fugitive' in an unknown land. What were her options? If not to fight back, one wonders.

While the Indian government has gone ahead and made Khobragade 'immune' against the US laws, the battle for Richard seems to have just begun.

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