BY ABIR G. THAKURTA
So, I have been forced to read all about Indian Consular diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, who was arrested by none other than our own Indian American DA, Preet Bharara, on charges of visa fraud and exploitation of her housemaid. It’s in the news everywhere.
In India, it is in the news not for what she has done, but how she has been insulted and ill-treated and how it has been a smack in the face of the nation. So much so, that all the parties have found common ground (which rarely happens) to generate a major diplomatic row and take it out on US officials in India. One leader even said that arresting same sex companions of US diplomats in India was the way to go. This issue is now a national pride issue – and an issue about how we should stand up against the US.
But the reality is – she committed a crime according to US laws. Whether she should have been treated as a diplomat on a blue collar crime or as a pure criminal is a process issue. However, why are we refraining from the basic issue here at hand baffles me- and that is, as Indians we love to have others do our work.
We may fight for injustice or inequality, we may fight for women’s power, we may fight to keep the streets of Delhi safe, but when it comes to doing our work, we would rather have someone else do our mundane work – the deeply ingrained averseness of socially superior (!!) Indians to do household or lowly chores!
On my recent trip to India; I could see why that maybe the case – especially after having seen different parts of the world – it becomes more obvious now than ever. My kids were enjoying not only the adulation of the grand parents, but were being managed and loved by our own house maids and domestic helps.
Not to mention the fact that our teas were being delivered to our bed in time, our meal requests were being met, our clothes were getting washed and we never had to figure out how to reach a place – since we were chaperoned and driven around. As much as it was so pleasing and stress free for us, we knew we would have to give it all up in a matter of days and come back to reality in the US.
As much as we would love to bring someone over, we know the paperwork will be difficult and the equivalent wages would not make it a worthwhile investment. Yet many I know try to do it by underpaying the help simply because they think these helps will convert the dollars to rupees and make it worth their while. Or they simply play on their ignorance. However, they don’t realize that like them as immigrants who would not want to be underpaid in the US, their helps should also have the same rights. And just by that token, the helps would become unaffordable.
When you came to the US my Indian immigrants, did you not want to be paid fair and did you not want to tout the US legal system when you felt you were not being treated well, especially when you saw the difference? Then why should these helps be doing otherwise and considered exploiting their employers (who by definition may be more like masters).
Assuming Ms. Khobragade faced a similar situation (assuming that an Indian diplomat cannot afford a domestic help on his/her wage), being in the US, she should have tried to be like any other immigrant professional. There are plenty of mid-career Indian professionals in the US who work and clean their toilets and make dinner for their children on their own precisely because they cannot afford cooks and nannies. We cannot have the old world (aka Indian) convenience of domestic help in the United States and not be prepared for the inconvenience of the price tag it comes with.
Ultimately, the problem is we come from a country where labor is cheap, no one raises an eyebrow that millions of Indians come to our homes to cook and clean or take care of our children, 24 x 7 x 365 and still get yelled at for messing up something with no iota of gratitude of their service. However, that does not mean that our cultural and social attitude towards domestic help will not cause a stink in other parts of the world, especially a world where laws around equality and respect for human beings are as stringent as they can be.