John Kerry had an amazing first year as Secretary of State. His agreement with Russia over the destruction of the Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons, which Syria had theretofore denied existence thereof, the détente that he engineered with Iran and his facilitation of the agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to restart long stalled peace talks propelled him into the ranks of America's superstar Secretaries of State -- not quite at the Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger levels yet, but up there. I was totally on Team Kerry until he expressed regret over the arrest of an Indian national in the U.S. who is alleged to have mistreated her maid and lied on a U.S. visa application.
For those who are unaware of the storm that has been brewing between the United States and India over the last few weeks, the story thus far goes like this: an Indian consular official in New York, Ms. Devyani Khobragade, brought a maid over from India. After a few months, said maid absconded from the Khobragade household in New York, found a haven with Safe Horizon, an entity that campaigns against human trafficking, and alleged that she had been mistreated and grossly underpaid. Said Indian consular official also allegedly filed documents relating to a U.S. visa application which allegedly contained falsehoods. Said Indian consular official was arrested in front of her daughter's school and strip-searched before being released on bail. Cue Indian outrage so extreme that one wonders if there is any person in the Indian state bureaucracy looking at their response in any kind of rational way.
Mobs took to the streets of India and Indian officials did nothing to quell the outbursts. Instead, in response to this alleged insult by the United States of an Indian consular official, in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks and in the midst of a global war on terror that is continuing despite the Obama administration's decision to no longer call it a "war on terror," India decided to remove the security barriers surrounding the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, thereby exposing U.S. consular staff to real threats on their lives.
Some high ranking Indian officials, in their infinite wisdom, suggested arresting same-sex partners of U.S. diplomatic staff and also suggested restricting food imports of U.S. diplomatic staff in India. In sum, India's threatened response in retaliation for the alleged mistreatment of one over-pampered consular official is to starve U.S. citizens in India, throw some in jail, and put the lives of others in jeopardy.
In spite of all this, John Kerry expressed regret. What he should have done is instead express outrage over the removal of the security barriers surrounding the U.S. embassy in order to ensure that there are no repeats of the attacks on U.S embassies like those in Egypt, Libya and Yemen in 2012.
What he should have done is remain defiant like the prosecutor in charge of the Khobragade case, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, who fiercely defended the conduct of the investigation and arrest and is standing firm in the face of intense Indian criticism and Kerry's regret.
Like Bharara, I am puzzled as to why India seems to be so focused on the alleged mistreatment of a member of the 1 percent when there is an alleged victim who is not getting such airtime or the benefit of the doubt, but instead has been derided and attempts have been made to silence her. Where is India's outrage over the alleged slave-like conditions under which this maid worked?
Modern day slavery is alive and well. New instances of it come to light every so often, even in the most unexpected of places, like the most recent egregious case which came to light in England in November 2013, revealing the case of three women who had been kept in captivity for 30 years.
If the message from India, the world's largest democracy, is that the exploited underclass is irrelevant and that we should always take the word of the alleged exploiter over that of the exploited, then what hope do we have of ever wiping out the modern day equivalent of the peculiar institution?
In December, India filed documents to upgrade Ms Khobragade's diplomatic status by repositioning her at the United Nations in New York. If Ms. Khobragade has a case to answer, any subsequent upgrade of her diplomatic status should hopefully have no impact on the prosecution of her alleged crimes.
Diplomats should not have license to commit crimes with impunity, especially ones unconnected to their diplomatic mission, and get away with it. We live in a society of laws and no one should be considered above the law. If Ms. Khobragade must be used as an example to hammer that message home to both bona fide diplomats and any others who might claim diplomatic immunity that they are not above the law, then so be it. Our society would hopefully be the better for it and the United States, despite itself having an imperfect criminal justice system may partially redeem itself by continuing to be a beacon of hope for the exploited huddled masses yearning to breathe free.