Author : Rohit Bansal

Originally Published 2013-12-18 11:36:29 Published on Dec 18, 2013
When tempers have cooled down, and the plateau regained, we should rethink IBDH, enforce strict set of "Devyani Guidelines," and derisk an entire gamut of ties - sadly, the US one being the only legacy Manmohan Singh might have had!
Can maid fracture plateau with US?
"On Monday (December 16) morning, 70 of us tackled dense fog to be at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) for the India launch of "Beyond the Plateau in US-India Relations," a joint study** with The Heritage Foundation.

Trading tricks to skirt "post-2010 logjams," including the one to reach ORF that day, many discussants dwelled on the intriguing term, "plateau." The optimists had the final word thanks to Manish Tewari, his presidential argument being that a plateau isn't necessarily a bad thing. "It (a plateau) gives us occasion to think and to recalibrate," the Government's principal spokesperson counselled.

But in less than 36 hours, there's a crater right at the heart of the plateau. Whither our relationship with our fifth largest source of FDI, trade in goods accounting for $58 billion (2011), two-way investment to the tune of $30 billion (2010), and the stakes of 2.9 million people of Indian origin living there! All because of a maid and her calculative employer, a 1999-batch IFS officer, flouting her own undertaking on complying with US minimum wages - and the fact that over-zealous enforcement agencies in New York wounded our national pride!

So, ID cards of US diplomats have been recalled - a precursor to withdrawal of diplomatic and consular immunity; payment details of Indian teachers at American schools here sought for a likely tax assault; protection barricades around the US embassy removed; and licenses Team Nancy Powell enjoys to import, say, turkeys and wine for Christmas, rolled back!

Poor yanks! As Shiv Aroor, a TV anchor said on his twitter, 'what'll starve them truly is if Delhi's INA Market shuts down too!' Banter apart, a US Congressional group was denied pre-accorded handshakes with Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi, the Lok Sabha speaker, the Home Minister, and the NSA. I am unsure if ambassador-designate S Jai Shankar, here in Delhi just ahead of flying off to Washington this weekend, will now go so soon. Even if the tough-talking envoy does, will Barak Obama grant him accreditation in a hurry?

For those smarting under the humiliation, our diplomat's unnecessary handcuffing, her strip search etc, the cause comes down to our track record on human labour:

1 )It's because we brush under the carpet modern laws on domestic workers. We lack basic data on their numbers what to speak of classifying them appropriately or enforcing their rights on healthcare, hours of work and pensions.

The US claims to do better. Which is why New-York-based Devyani Khobragade, the IFS officer causing the row, signed a false declaration on the sum she'll pay her maid. (In IFS legalese, a maid is called, "India-based Domestic Help" - IBDH, and the justification is that she/he can toss up "Indian-home-cooked food" to visiting locals. For all practical purposes, more often than not, the said IBDH is a 24x7 "slave.")

2) Our foreign office entitles its officers of the rank of Third Secretary up to Ambassador a complement of IBDH and reimburses their wage at par with industrial workers here. The problem arises in the "First World," say, the US, where the law demands a minimum wage of $9 per hour, something Khobragade (and, perhaps, all others diplomats seconded to the US) signed up to just so that the maid got a visa. In a 24x7 format, this translates into $220 a day, or a whopping $6,500 a month! Now, US law doesn't factor in-house servants just as IFS folks don't just go to the US. In, say, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, the money is enough to add more servants! Some IBDH, all white-passport holders, have been found to find a love life or compromised by intelligence agencies. Others have jumped their visa and disappeared. Some have blackmailed their way back to India.

So, when tempers have cooled down, and the plateau regained, we should rethink IBDH, enforce strict set of "Devyani Guidelines," and derisk an entire gamut of ties - sadly, the US one being the only legacy Manmohan Singh might have had!

(The columnist is a Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation and CEO & Co-Founder of India Strategy Group, Hammurabi & Solomon Consulting)

**Authors: Sunjoy Joshi, C Raja Mohan, Vikram Sood and Rajeswari Rajagopalan from ORF and James Jay Carafano, Walter Lohman, Lisa Curtis and Derek Scissors from the Heritage Foundation

Courtesy: The Pioneer, December 18, 2013

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Rohit Bansal

Rohit Bansal

Rohit is an alum of Harvard Business School and St Stephen’s College. He is a British Chevening scholar and has undertaken short professional programmes at ...

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