My Take

Maid in USA row reeks of hypocrisy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 4:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 6:49am

The maid in USA row between Washington and New Delhi rumbles on with media on both sides adding to the din with some shrill voices and jingoistic claims.

The few facts that have not been disputed so far are that India's deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, had employed a live-in maid from India and did not pay the minimum wage as required by US law. The New York police acted on the basis of the maid's complaint and Khobragade was arrested, strip searched and put in jail.

Employing a live-in maid is regulated more stringently and is a more expensive affair in Western countries than in Asia. The problem arises when families take their maids along to countries like the US or Canada where employers can be deemed as aiding human trafficking if the stipulated conditions are violated.

Not too long ago, a court in Canada convicted Hong Kong emigrant Franco Orr Yiu-kwan of human trafficking in relation to his employment of a Filipino maid he brought with his family when they moved to Vancouver. The Canadian federal police also issued a warning against taking maids along during holidays.

The number of hours that a live-in maid works can sometimes put unwitting employers in contravention of anti-slavery laws.

Khobragade should have been aware of these regulations and her diplomatic status was not a licence to override such laws. But the New York police and prosecutors who went after her should likewise have been aware of her status and alerted the US State Department of the case. There has been an apparent disconnect regarding the case, with Secretary of State John Kerry expressing regret over the incident and a few hours later US Attorney Preet Bharara defending the arrest and strip search.

What is interesting in the US prosecution's stand is that diplomatic immunity is not a licence to escape the clutches of law. Very true.

Many countries complain that foreign embassy employees get away with a lot, thanks to their diplomatic immunity. Just ask Pakistan. Two of its citizens were shot dead by an employee of a foreign embassy. But he left the country without facing a trial as his country was adamant that he had diplomatic immunity. Guess which country he came from.