Devyani Khobragade

A year on, I thank my nation: Devyani Khobragade

Today is a momentous day for me. Exactly one year has passed since I was illegally arrested and jailed in New York on completely false
charges brought in by my former Domestic assistant in order to get permanent residence in the US. This day last year turned out to be
historic for our country also. The illegal arrest and humiliating treatment of India‘s Acting Consul General in New York fuelled protests and anger throughout this proud nation, which endured for  nearly a month up till the moment of my home coming. The arrest united the Indian government, bureaucracy, civil society, and ordinary citizens, from elite to subaltern, in a manner which may perhaps have been unprecedented, with people across party lines and ideologies decrying it.  While now this incident  has become a small piece of history for diplomats, lawyers, international relations scholars and other academics to contemplate, for me personally it remains a life changing event in many respects.

This day last year triggered a chain of tense moments and a series of tough decisions, culminating in my return home after a month. Throughout that month, as I was holed up in my 24th floor apartment, I watched the world go by and followed my own life partly as an onlooker, as it was surreally narrated in headlines of Indian and international newspapers. It was not just the love of my family and the support of my brave colleagues that helped me with the myriad tough decisions that I had to take right up till the minute I boarded the flight to Delhi, but equally paramount was the surge of pride that I felt for my own country as it protested the treatment of its envoy.

I was not only proud of India’s response, but also profoundly in awe of it. As someone familiar with international relations and the dynamics of east-west power, I knew western opinion makers would spin this into accusations of Indian nationalism and jingoism. But the outrage was for the most part proportionate. While some people suspected that India’s response was orchestrated by the Foreign Service for its own institutional benefit, for me it seemed rather that it was spontaneous and autonomous, reflecting the emerging zeitgeist of our nation with a clear self image that demands the respect it deserves.

As someone familiar with international relations and the dynamics of east-west power, I knew western opinion makers would spin this into accusations of Indian nationalism and jingoism.

In the one month following the arrest, while I found myself at the centre of a professional and political crisis between India and the US, with international and domestic press haunting me, I remained locked up in my apartment under virtual siege. I recall this period as being one of personal crisis also, under constant threat of being arrested again on trumped up charges of human trafficking. Thus I was also filled with anger and despair at the unfair and horrendous treatment that I had undergone, and the thought of not getting justice: at my human rights  having been violated; at being denied the privileges and immunities to which I was entitled under international law; at being used as an instrument by someone to realize her American dream.

Today, I find myself proud of having done the right thing for my country, and having done right by my colleagues by not accepting the
easy way out. I could have taken the offer of the US prosecutor to admit guilt in a closed courtroom only in front of a judge, and then to be completely free and suffer no consequences, not even a fine –this is the strange legal practise that the Americans call ‘plea bargaining’. This would have extracted me personally from this situation entirely, but what a precedent it would have set for all Indians working at their posts abroad! It would have inverted the fact that we held the moral high ground, that it was our sovereignty and rights that were violated, that we were the ones owed justice and recognition. And equally important, it would have made a mockery of the month-long protests undertaken by so many sectors of Indian polity and society, that had served to convey our nation’s pride and also to give me strength throughout.

Today, I find myself proud of having done the right thing for my country, and having done right by my colleagues by not accepting the
easy way out.

But It was an incredibly tough year nevertheless, inaugurated by having to wait almost three months before my children — confused and traumatized by the inexplicable events — were able to join me in Delhi. Slowly, and especially lately, I have found myself more and more able to deal quite well with the anger, despair and helplessness that I had felt while holed up in my NY apartment. As I have begun to own this struggle to find justice for myself, I have learned to appreciate my own strength and confidence to deal with this adversity, to conduct myself with dignity under pressure, to speak up and ask for what is right, without fear of judgement and adverse consequences. I have also learned to accept and be grateful for the help that has come from unexpected quarters and unknown people with no return expectations. I have begun to learn how to slough off the emotional pain that derives from unfair criticism, both from known and unknown quarters alike, and to develop compassion for those who have betrayed my trust and confidence, and not taken responsibility for their part.

It would have inverted the fact that India held the moral high ground, that it was our sovereignty and rights that were violated, that we were the ones owed justice and recognition.

My difficult decision to uphold this pride and these values and thus to speak out for what I believed was right — what we all believed was right — has translated into a newly-found strength. A year on, I find myself a stronger, deeper, more courageous and more forgiving person. For their actions a year ago and for these results a year along, I wish to salute and thank the people of my nation, and express my gratefulness to my colleagues in the IFS, and to my loving family, who put in all their strength to do the right thing — by me and by our country.

(Devyani Khobragade is an Indian Foreign Service Officer. The views expressed are her own and should not be taken as official views of the Government of India or that of IndiaFacts.)

  • MARUTHI RAKETLA

    The fact is, that US immigration laws stipulates that minimum wages to be paid. Every H1B immigrants know this.

    Khobragade’s maid servant must be knowing the American Legal system. If anyone brings the facts to the table and become Approver in supporting US Government for any legal pursuance against any individual or Organization, Asylum will be given. In due course the Approver gets Green Card and all support from the US Government.

    Her servant Sangeetha Richards, manipulated Khobragade to hire her and be nice one until she landed US shores. Later she joined hands with may be her Christian Evangelist’s, who helped her to expose her Employer.

    Indian Government should ask for return of Sangeetha Richards and expose her and Christian Missionaries. Instead of trying her in Indian courts, sabotaging already humiliated Mrs.Khobraged would not help Indian Embassy officials or to keep our pride in oversaes particularly in USA.

    • Radha Rajan

      Not only Sangeetha Richards but her parents-in-law and her husband and children were all smuggled out of the country by the American embassy. I am not just horrified but scandalised that Modi sarkar did not demonstrate the necessary sensitivity and outrage to deamdnan explanation from this terrorist state. Noam Chomsky has described America as the world’s leading terrorist state. And it is this state which Modi has invited as chief guest in January 2015 for the Republic Day.

  • NK Sarma

    Good write up, our deepest sympathies for what you and your family are having to go through. Please also clarify the questions on nepotism, promotions and posts, adarsh corruption etc alleged against you and your father?

    • Radha Rajan

      That would be true of several politicians, judges and others in government and administration. But in this country we do not strip search them and cavity search them not men and certainly not women. Let’s stick to the core issue here – the vile treatment meted to a woman.

  • Kalavai Venkat

    Dear Devyani Kobragade,

    We appreciate the equanimity with which you’ve handled this sensitive and traumatic experience. All reasonable Americans should be concerned about the treatment meted out to you because, as the shootings in New York reveal, this is symptomatic of the way law enforcement agencies exercise disproportionate force sometimes endangering civilians. One would also be concerned about the sheer lack of sensitivity when dealing with women and children, e.g., the case in which a Mexican woman was branded illegal and forcibly deported from the U.S. after taking her child away under the pretext that the child is a U.S. citizen. One hopes that your child draws inspiration from the courage you’ve shown and is able to handle the trauma she must have suffered while witnessing the travails you were put through. Bravo!

  • IndiannotAmused

    We salute your bravery and wish you a great future-may all those dark days be behind you and may you be safe and happy in future.

  • Radha Rajan

    This nation removed you from American soil Ms. Khobragade but nothing more. This nation has not demanded answers from the American government for strip searching and cavity searching you which I maintain is legalised American government rape which they reserve for non-white and non-christian people who may be located on their soil. This nation which you thank sold you down the river because it has not demanded any answer from the American government for treating a woman in this fashion, who is moreover a diplomat. America had the effrontery to send to India as ambassador a homosexual lady knowing full well that homosexuality has no legal sanction in India and also knowing well enough the generally conservative nature of Indian society. So America has one standard for its woman diplomat and another for Indian women diplomats. No woman in Indian tradition is defiled even if she is Putana or Tataka. This nation which you thank, condoned your defilement and has not made America pay for its sin. Look around you Ms. Khobragade before you thank this nation again. There are enough scum around us who justified the treatment meted to you by raising questions about your integrity and that of your father. But as I said, rape, whether real, virtual or digital is still rape. The American government invaded your body but the government of India stated that Indo-american relations cant be reduced to one individual – America’s treatment of Modi or to one episode – the legalised invasion of a woman diploamat’s body. I wonder what affront will be big enough for India to stand up to America.

    • NK Sarma

      Raising questions on her and her father’s integrity doesn’t mean someone is justifying the strip search. Don’t mix these two different things. Indian response to US on strip search is independent of integrity of these father-daughter duo.

      • Radha Rajan

        So why were these questions not raised when she was sent to the US or even after. Why raise them now after she has been defiled? And raising it now is only piggy backing on the humiliation inflicted by the American government. And if Indian response to US on strip search is indeed independent, why is there no response. And raising questions of integrity now is like the SC suddenly discovering there is conflict of interest in being BCCI chief and IPL team owner. Doesn’t wash.

        • NK Sarma

          oh, so nobody can question her now? Just because the issues were not raised earlier, does not mean all those suspicious events are sacrosanct. Law doesn’t specify time limit for justice. This sound like those illegal occupiers of temple lands claiming ownership of land just because they were not evicted 20 yrs back. Doesn’t wash for me.

          • Radha Rajan

            Not at all. The scumbags I referred to in the beginning are wearing the fig-leaf of raising issues of integrity – one to hide their abject cowardice to take on America frontally on the vile treatment meted to a diplomat and two to demonstrate a bogus manhood in beating down a person who is already down. These self righteous scumbags should have raised the issue before she left for America and bayed for her blood on a matter of principle. The same scumbags who are baying for her blood are also silent about a serving IAS officer in TN who is openly proselytising. As I said our manhood is reserved for weak women; not for America or for the church.