Devyani Khobragade, an Indian diplomat in New York, was apprehended on Thursday for fraud charges relating to her Indian nanny’s visa, in which she misrepresented what the nanny would be getting paid. Ironically, Khobragade is a women’s rights lobbyist.
The New York Post reported that Khobragade allegedly submitted fake documents to the United States State Department, claiming that she paid her hired help $4,500 per month, when she actually only paid her $573— or $3.31 an hour.
The caregiver is claiming that Khobragade instructed her to lie on her visa application to the effect that she was being paid the higher salary. In reality there was a second, under-the-table contract with the actual amount, well below minimum wage.
This incident occurred after an April interview with Manhattan-based newspaper The Indian Panorama, in which Khobragade said she was a strong advocate for “underprivileged” women’s rights and that she hoped the U.S. government would make it easier for Indian nationals to apply for work visas.
Khobragade’s case raises questions about the permissible extent of diplomatic immunity. The U.S. state department stated that the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations did not protect Khobragade, because “the Indian Deputy Consul General enjoys immunity from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.” Since Khobragade brought the nanny and housekeeper from India for her personal benefit, crimes concerning her are still punishable.
Khobragade was released on $250,000 bail. She was charged with one count each of visa fraud and making false statements and faces up to 15 years of jail time. Her lawyer, Daniel Arshack, said he will claim diplomatic immunity for his client.
Indian media were irked by Khobragade’s public handcuffing and arrest.
DNA India wrote that “US has violated international law on two counts at least, once by arresting a foreign consular officer and a second time by handcuffing the said consular officer,” while the Times of India contended that “even if US authorities were within their rights to proceed against her, they had no business to humiliate her.”
The International Business Times reported that exploitation of domestic help by Indian diplomats is no rarity. In June 2011, India’s then-Consul General in New York, Prabhu Dayal, was sued by his former housekeeper for intimidating her into a year of forced labor. A similar case in February of 2012 involved an Indian maid, Shanti Gurung, who won a case against New York Consulate Press and Culture Counselor Neena Malhotra.
India’s labor policies — or lack thereof — encourage a culture of exploitation of domestic workers.
A report by India’s National Domestic Workers Movement states:
Domestic Workers are highly exploited and denied just wages and humane working conditions. Domestic workers are paid well below the minimum wages for unskilled or semi-skilled workers. The working hours of Domestic Workers can go from 8 to over 18 hours a day. Wages, leave facilities, medical benefits, and rest time are at the employer's mercy.