A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 16 No. 53 24-31 DEC 2013
The Khobragade-Richards Episode:
Tale of US Govt.'s Racism and High-Handedness,
and Indian Govt's Class Bias and Irresponsibility
Several urgent concerns need to be addressed in the wake of the arrest of Indian Deputy Consul Devyani Khobragade on charges of visa fraud and under-paying her domestic worker. The issues of the mutual and reciprocal dignity of nations, reflected in diplomatic protocol, and those of the rights of domestic and migrant workers; the rights and dignity of Devyani Khobragade as an Indian diplomat and those of Sangeeta Richards as an Indian citizen and worker should not be used to undermine each other.
The charges against Ms. Khobragade are serious. But let us first look at the manner in which the US Government has dealt with them, before coming to the Indian Government's role in the entire affair.
Would the US Government have treated a diplomat from a non-'Third World' country, charged with the same offences, in the same manner? US Attorney Preet Bharara states that she was not hand-cuffed or arrested in the view of her children, but he does admit that a strip search and cavity search – routine in the US – were conducted. But this is neither here nor there. The question is – would a diplomat from, say, the UK or France have been subjected to invasive searches and treated like a common criminal, and would the US allow its own diplomats to be thus treated in other countries? Again, this is not to undermine the seriousness of the charges brought against Ms. Khobragade. Rather, the question is, are the rules somehow different where US diplomats are concerned? When CIA operative Raymond Davis was charged with killing two men in Lahore in broad daylight in 2011, the US quickly claimed diplomatic immunity for him, even though he was not even officially a diplomat. So the US claims 'diplomatic immunity' even for its clandestine operatives charged with heinous crimes like murder, but claims it has no choice but to arrest, invasively search and jail an Indian diplomat? It is really this double standard that is the primary factor behind the anger that many Indians feel at the treatment meted out to Ms. Khobragade. It is difficult to evade the conclusion that imperialist high-handedness, as well as the structural racism of the US criminal justice and prison system, played a part in allowing the US Government to forget diplomatic conventions that it would expect as its due for its own diplomats. Of course, the US was no doubt encouraged in its high-handedness by the fact that the Indian Government never made an issue of the US' refusal to extradite David Headley or Warren Anderson, of the shooting of an Indian fisherman by a US warship in 2012, or of repeated instances of frisking of senior Indian Government representatives in US airports.
What about the Indian Government's response to the ongoing episode involving Khobragade and Richards? When the issue surfaced several months ago, India's Ministry of External Affairs took no measures to prevent the matter from escalating. The MEA is well aware of the fact that Indian diplomats regularly employ and under-pay domestic help, drivers, gardeners etc from India. The infamous 'double contract' is an open secret – where there is one contract that complies with the US regulations and another 'real' contract that actually governs pay and other conditions. In the past couple of years, there have been other cases involving Indian diplomats accused of employing 'bonded' or 'slave' labour. The diplomats' complaint has been that the MEA does not pay them enough to employ workers at US rates. This cannot, of course, be an excuse for underpaying workers – the point is that the MEA was well aware of the issue and did nothing to resolve it.
Further, the Indian Government seems to think it owes no duty to the other Indian citizen in the matter: Sangeeta Richards, the domestic worker. Instead, they have endorsed the action initiated by Khobragade against Richards, including charges of blackmail, fraud, theft; making insinuations that Richards was attempting to facilitate illegal immigration of her husband and child; and revoking Richards's passport. Richards attempted to legally raise her grievances, terminate her employment by Khobragade, seek a fresh passport and visa so that she might work elsewhere, and sought a payment of $10,000 since she claimed to have worked 19 hours a day. The Indian Government seems to have decided that for a worker to raise such grievances against an Indian diplomat, amounts to betrayal of the Indian State and Indian nationalism! Disturbingly, the Indian Government seems to ignore the indications that Khobragade's conduct towards Richards (and perhaps of other Indian diplomats towards their employees) amounts to human trafficking.
The discourse of much of the media and most political parties in India is equally disturbing. Richards's actions are being described as a conspiracy. BJP leader Yashwant Sinha talks of how it's common for servants to get 'star-struck' by the 'glittering lights' of the US, and to want to illegally immigrate and feel dissatisfied with their lot! People have said to me that the domestic worker should be happy with her wages because she would make less in India. Would these same people agree that an Indian who works in Microsoft in Seattle should make the same as an Indian who works in Infosys in Bangalore?
The Delhi High Court injunction of September 20 restraining Richards from moving court against Khobragade outside India, says: "It is pertinent to mention here that the plaintiff and her family treated defendant No. 1 [Sangeeta Richards] as a member of their own family...The (plaintiff's) house is equipped with all modern domestic gadgets. Defendant No. 1 was being given leave/off on Sundays when she used to visit a beauty parlour, church and her friends." In India, the most common euphemism for exploitative domestic labour and even child labour is "we treat them like family." "Like family" justifies every feudal relationship with the domestic worker, suggesting that a formal work contract regulated by the law would somehow corrupt the "family relationship." Similarly, of course, any attempt by women to invoke laws regarding dowry harassment or domestic violence inside the household, is painted as a violation of the sacred "family ties." Domestic workers in India face exploitative work conditions, with no norms of work hours, pay, leave, and vulnerable to sexual violence and even bondage and torture. India is yet to ratify the ILO Convention on domestic workers' rights.
Yashwant Sinha declared that India should retaliate to the arrest of Khobragade by arresting US diplomats with same-sex partners, since homosexuality is illegal in India. Flaunting homophobia as 'national pride' and implying that minimum wage and anti-trafficking laws are 'foreign' to India is condemnable and truly shames India as a democracy.
It also needs to be pointed out that while employing highly exploited domestic workers is of course more prevalent in the Indian middle class, it is also a major and growing phenomenon in the US among professionals and elites. In the US, large numbers of households employ Latina, Filipina and other migrant women as maids and nannies. Their work conditions are usually exploitative, and they are often profiled as 'illegal' and very vulnerable to harassment. Some years ago, these 'undocumented' workers participated in huge numbers in a series of massive protests against being branded as 'illegal' by US immigration laws, which, far from protecting such workers, render them much more vulnerable to exploitation. The draconian provisions of the US visa regime under which Khobragade was arrested are in fact primarily targeted at controlling and limiting the rights of these workers themselves.
Instead of muscle-flexing and grandstanding, India and the US must work on resolving the diplomatic impasse, without compromising either on India's sovereignty and the dignity of its diplomats, or on the rights of Indian workers. India must work to end the exploitative practices and trafficking by diplomats and protect all Indian workers from such practices. And India and the US both need to protect the rights of domestic workers in keeping with the ILO Convention norms in their respective countries.
"Are we expected to bring back the dead to give evidence?"
(Survivors of Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe Massacres speak at People's Hearing For Justice. A report of the Hearing and the signature campaign and Journey for Justice that preceded it, in which 5 million signatures were collected on a petition to the President of India.)
"The Bihar government is in connivance with the Ranveer Sena. The lower court had awarded death sentence to 3 of the killers and life imprisonment to 19, but the High Court acquitted all these Ranveer Sena men. The High Court asks for evidence. Are we expected to bring back the dead to give evidence? There are 3 police pickets there, why don't they ask those policemen? 14 witnesses braved life threats to give evidence, yet the High court let the murderers go scot free and called the witnesses liars. When Barmeshwar Singh was killed a CBI enquiry is ordered, but the poor are being subjected to injustice even through the court. We have gone to the Supreme Court to demand justice. Come what may, we will not give up our fight for justice." These were the words of Bathani Tola eyewitness and survivor Naeemuddin Ansari at the People's Hearing conducted at Jantar mantar, New Delhi by the CPI(ML) on 18 December.
In 1996 the Ranveer Sena had brutally massacred 21 people from dalit-minority communities, out of which 6 women and children belonged to Naeemuddin's family. He testified in court as an eyewitness – but the Patna High Court rejected his testimony.
After the Public Hearing, 5 million signatures (collected between 30 October and 10 December in an intense campaign all over Bihar) were submitted to the President of India. Signatories included the general public, well-known intellectuals, litterateurs, cultural activists, journalists, and human rights activists. The petition appealed to the President to raise his voice in support of the struggle for justice, and to intervene to reopen the Justice Amir Das Commission that had identified the political figures behind the Ranveer Sena, but that had been disbanded by the Nitish Government before it could submit its findings.
The signatures had been brought to Delhi in a Nyay Sangharsh Yatra (Journey for Justice) that began on 10 December (Human Rights Day) from Bihar's capital Patna. Traversing through the carnage affected areas and talking to the victims, holding public meetings in Durgavati, Mughalsarai and Benaras on the question of justice, the Yatra arrived in Delhi. Around 60 mass meetings were held during this period. CPI(ML)'s former MLA Arun Singh, Bihar State Committee member Mahanand, Anwar Hussain from Inqulabi Muslim Conference, RYA National President Amarjeet Kushwaha, Raju Yadav and Qayamuddin from Revolutionary Youth Asociation, folk singers Krishna Kumar Nirmohi, Raju Ranjan and others were part of the Yatra. The Yatra culminated in the Public Hearing held in Delhi on December 18th – the death anniversary of former CPI(ML) General Secretary Vinod Mishra.
At the hearing, Laxmanpur Bathe carnage survivor Ramugrah Rajvanshi said: "Nitish took our votes in the name of 'mahadalit' but got the perpetrators of the carnage acquitted, because he wanted to maintain good relations with feudal forces. It is only the CPI (ML) which is with us in our fight for justice."
Laxman Rajvanshi who lost 3 family members in the Bathe carnage said, "After the acquittal, the killers are threatening us, saying now we will kill 116 instead of 58; we are all-powerful from top to bottom, what can you do against us?
Rita Devi, survivor of the Bathani Tola massacre, described the gory scene that greeted her eyes after the massacre – walls spattered with blood and flesh. She said, "People testified at risk to their lives, in the hope of justice – and their hopes were dashed to the ground." Later, speaking to Delhi students, she said, "I had to go to court recently with my little son, in some other matter. My son, seeing the judges in the court, said – 'Are these the judges who let the killers go scot free? I don't want to be a judge when I grow up.'"
On 15 August 2013 feudal forces had attacked the dalits of Baddi village (Rohtas district) for daring to hoist the flag. Shriniwas Ram, son of 70-year-old Ramvilas Ram who was killed in this attack, said that he had also come to demand justice for his father's murder. Madhuri of AIPWA who has been fighting for the victims' struggle for justice, said that the then President KR Narayanan had called the carnages a national shame. Is the acquittal of the murderers not a shame? Sharing her experiences from the signature campaign she said that women feel that the High court verdict comes as a morale booster for criminals and today the women of Bihar are facing violence from such criminals. These women signed the petition not only to get justice for the carnage victims but also to deter the ongoing violence against women in Bihar.
CPI (ML) Arwal district Secretary Com. Mahanand said that if the Supreme Court does not give us justice we will go back to the same 5 million signatories of the petition for justice. Com. Anwar Hussain, CPI(ML) leader from Bihar, said that the Nitish government has provided all amenities to the villages which attacked Miyanpur, while Miyanpur itself lacks even basic amenities and the licences for weapons which had been provided for self defence are not being renewed.
Prof. Nandini Sundar of Delhi University, Chittaranjan Singh of PUCL, Prof. Sona Jharia Minz and Dr. YS Alone of JNU, Prof. Nawal Kishore Choudhary of Patna University, and JNUSU Vice President Anubhuti Agnes Bara were the Jury members at the People's Hearing. Prof. Nandini Sundar condemned the High Court verdict as the worst possible verdict and said that we all want justice for the victims; this fight is not only for these victims but also for the victims of violence all over the world. Chittaranjan Singh of the PUCL condemned the refusal of the President to give time to meet the deputation from the People's Hearing.
The Jury said that it expects the Bihar government to file an appeal in the Supreme Court without delay, guarantee safety of witneses, reinstate the Amir Das Commission and make its report public. At the same time the Union Home Ministry should also give the necessary directives to the Bihar government. Prof. Nawal Kishore Choudhary said that the Nyay Yatra (journey for justice) is not over yet. The killings at Bathani, Bathe and Miyanpur were not ordinary killings but tantamount to the murder of Indian democracy, Constitutional values and human rights. It is the minimal responsibility of the Indian State to fulfil the demands of this Jury and the duty of every citizen to fight against massacres.
At the start of the People's Hearing Bihar State Committee member and former MLA Arun Singh said that the Ranveer Sena was not just a criminal gang, it had the full protection of political parties. Feudal-communal in character, it was supported by the BJP, and also by the Lalu-Rabdi and Nitish governments. On this occasion the founder of People's Front of India (PFI) and Supreme Court lawyer Tahir Hussain said that even in the case of a single murder, the High Court has to think a hundred times before overturning a Lower Court verdict; the acquittal by the High Court of these brutal mass murderers is astounding. Taramani Rai of the CPRM said that he would mobilise public opinion on this issue in Darjeeling. Atul Dighe of the Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) said that the fight against feudal forces would continue till the end, and PFI National Vice President Satyapal Singh assured full support in the fight for justice. Former CPI(ML) MP Rameshwar Prasad was also present on the dais.
Addressing the People's Hearing, CPI (ML) General Secretary Com. Dipankar Bhattacharya said that after a long and brave fight the people got justice from the lower court but the High Court cast suspicion on the witnesses, which is a matter of great shame. Today this fight belongs not only to Bathani, Bathe and Miyanpur but to all poor, oppressed, dalit, and working people of the entire country. This fight is related to the fight for justice and freedom for women which the streets of Delhi have seen during the past year. It is related also to the fight for justice for the oppressed minorities in the relief camps at Muzaffarnagar. From Kashmir to the North East, wherever people are fighting for their rights, we are fighting with them. Com. Dipankar said that the CPI(ML) is going to launch a countrywide campaign in the new year, on 2nd January, to demand justice for the Muzaffarnagar victims. He stressed the demand for an effective anti-communalism law, pointing out that throughout the country youth belonging to the minority communities were being hounded and witch-hunted. The question of people's justice includes the release of all the innocent people languishing in jail.
The proceedings were conducted by Com. Ravi Rai, RYA General Secretary. Com. Krishna Kumar Nirmohi, Raju Ranjan, and Nanhaku Paswan presented folk songs on the theme of justice: "Kaahe bhayil Bathani se beimaani, Bathe se beimaani ho judge sahib poochh taani, nyay ke murti hoke anyay kari dihal, nyay sange kayil manmaani" (Why did you betray Bathani and Bathe, we ask you Mr.Judge, being a representative of justice why you do this injustice, why did you interpret the law according to your whims?)
Lokpal Act: Inadequate Measure Against Corruption
The Lokpal law has finally been passed by both houses of Parliament. This historic achievement has been possible only because of the enormous public awareness and movement against corruption.
But the Lokpal that has been enacted falls short of an institution that can effectively combat corruption. The appointment of the Lokpal will be by PM, Leader of Opposition, Speaker, CJI and one jurist nominated by these four. This still fails to ensure a Lokpal that is truly independent of the political representatives. Removal of the member of the Lokpal also lies in the hands of elected political representatives alone, and no citizen can initiate a move to remove a Lokpal member.
The Lokpal fails to include corporations and conduct of MPs in Parliament in its ambit. This means that the crucial corporate element in huge scams, as well as scams like questions-for-cash or cash-for-votes, will remain outside the ambit of the Lokpal. PPP projects are also left out of the ambit of the Lokpal – in spite of the fact that these are the norm in the neoliberal regime, and PPP projects have been known to be riddled with corruption.
The Act fails to have any provision for protection of whistleblowers – and surely, without this provision, it will be much harder to establish corruption. Not only that, the Act actually has a provision that will intimidate potential whistleblowers – it states that a person who makes a false or frivolous complaints can be jailed for up to one year. The law also does not mandate States to enact Lokayuktas. Corruption in the judiciary and armed forces is yet to be addressed.
The Lokpal Act passed by Parliament, therefore, shies away from confronting and correcting the worst practices of corruption that we witness today.
Demand Relief, Rehabilitation, and Justice for Muzaffarnagar's Riot Survivors
Observe National Protest Day on 2nd January 2014
The bitterly cold winter has begun. And the stories of Muzaffarnagar's relief camps jolts our conscience.
Thousands of people, who have watched their loved ones killed in cold blood, and who have been raped, and lost their homes and means of survival, languish in the relief camps of Muzaffarnagar. The Uttar Pradesh Government had pleaded earlier that they were helpless to prevent the communal violence. But why has the Government turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the plight of those in the relief camps?
• 28 children have died in relief camps in Shahpur, Budhana, Malarpuur and Sunhati due to the cold, and lack of medicines.
• There have been instances of rapes in the relief camps. FIRs have been filed in rape cases that took place during the communal violence – but the accused are yet to be arrested.
• Meanwhile, the BJP shamelessly felicitated its MLAs who are accused of leading the communal violence.
• And the Akhilesh Government issued an order forcibly evicting the riot-hit from the relief camps, and pressurising them to accept a Rs 5 lakh payment in exchange for giving up their right to return to the villages from where they were evicted! In exchange for the Rs 5 lakh, they are being asked to sign an affidavit saying ""Main aur mere parivar ke sadasya apne gram mein hui hinsatmak ghatnaon se bhayakant hokar gaon va ghar chhodkar aaye hain, tatha in kinhi bhi paristhitiyon mein ab apne mool gaon evam ghar nahin lautenge (I and my family left our village and our home due to the violent incidents there. We will not return to our village and home under any circumstances)."
• Also, the the UP forest department has booked thousands of Muzaffarnagar riots victims for setting up relief camps by "encroaching" on forest land.
• The report submitted to the UP Government by the 10-member committee of Ministers under the leadership of senior SP Minister Shivpal Yadav, appallingly, blames the madarsas running of the relief camp for not wanting to wind up the relief camps in spite of the situation having returned to 'normal'!
• The SIT constituted to enquire into the riots is doing a mere token job of it and not bothering even to talk to the victims.
We cannot watch this travesty of justice in silence.
The CPI(ML) appeals to people all over the country to contribute funds that can be used to buy relief materials (warm clothing, firewood, medicines, food) that are urgently for the Muzaffarnagar riot-affected. A CPI(ML) team will visit Muzaffarnagar on 28 December to distribute the first batch of relief materials collected.
CPI(ML) also appeals to begin the new year with a resolve to secure justice for Muzaffarnagar's riot victims. On 2nd January 2014, the CPI(ML) has called for an all-India protest day demanding immediate arrest and prosecution of all rioters and rape-accused named in FIRs, and demanding that the State Government of UP ensure urgent relief and rehabilitation measures for the riot-displaced and riot-affected people.
Edited, published and printed by S. Bhattacharya for CPI(ML) Liberation from U-90, Shakarpur, Delhi-92; printed at Bol Publication,
R-18/2, Ramesh Park, Laxmi Nagar, Delhi-92; Phone:22521067; fax: 22442790, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.cpiml.org