Tuesday, 17 December 2013

United States beware - you have twisted Ramamritham's tail

The recent diplomatic spat between India and the US, should normally not be the subject matter of this blog - it having nothing to do with economics or business. However, since the nuclear weapon of Ramamritham has been invoked by India, it now falls into the realm of comment here, considering rhe world beating expertise this blog has on that venerable gentleman.

In case you have not been following the events, the US arrested the deputy consul of India in New York on the grounds that she had underpaid her domestic maid (imported from India) and consequently committed "visa fraud". I don't wish to discuss the merits of the case here, although this pertained to an event in the past, is subjudice in an Indian court, and very likely debatable hinging on the obscure valuation of accommodation and food. But in true American government fashion, this was handled with extreme insensitivity - the lady was arrested as she was dropping her children to school , handcuffed in public, searched (allegedly strip searched) and taken to jail before being released on bail.  This blogger has long been a critic of how America handles such matters even when it comes to its own citizens - there is hardly a need to handcuff people , make them do the perp walk, hold them along with those accused of criminal charges etc, for alleged civil crimes. No civilised country does this  but that is the prerogative of American voters to decide if it is right or wrong.

India, or at least, the Indian government is mightily pissed and has retaliated. It has done such things as summoning the US ambassador in India and giving her a dressing down, refusing to meet a US delegation currently in India and such other diplomatic rebuffs.  But the real deadly move has been to let Ramamritham loose on the US embassy in India ! Ramamritham has now sought details of the activities of every diplomat and his or her spouse, asked them to furnish details of salaries paid to Indian staff, including maids, they employ here, etc etc. He has asked them to turn in their ID cards and has withdrawn their special privileges that breezes them through the every day bureaucracy that anybody in India faces. He has also hinted that gays in the US embassy could equally be arrested under the current laws of India !!

America does not know what it is risking by attracting the attention of Ramamritham. If he puts his mind into it, he will discover innumerable violations of the law that American diplomats have done, albeit in ignorance or involuntarily.  Such is the nature of India's laws and pedantry that it is impossible for any human to exist in India without having violated the letter of  one law or the other. The violation may be purely procedural in nature - for example not filing some form or intimating some trifling detail, but that is enough. Ramamritham will go after you with gusto. There is no power on earth who can stop him. For example if the diplomat and his family have stayed in a hotel somewhere and not taken great care to fill their nationality as US citizen on the hotel form (whoever looks at that form's fine print when checking in at 11 PM after a delayed flight) - he has committed a crime. Years ago, Ramamritham arrested Nusli Wadia precisely for this ! If the embassy has not displayed the Provident Fund rules on its notice board for the benefit of Indian staff (and there are rules on where the notice board has to be situated in relation to the office) , it has broken the law.  There are potentially 1,453, 678 violations he can look into. I have great pity for the American embassy staff and their families - they have no idea what they have gotten into - and all because of the actions of some insensitive pig headed Ramamritham equivalent in New York.

If the United States knows what is good for it, it will promptly meet with Ramamritham, beg his pardon, fall at his feet ,  do shashtang namaskar, recite Abhivadiye three times and beseech him to turn his kind attention back on the hapless Indian citizens who he has been torturing from time immemorial.


Shachi said...

Just the title had me in splits :)!

America, beware of Ramamritham!!!!

I found the whole episode so amusing. It's worse than the treatment I get in the special room when entering the country, being asked questions of why I have come to the US for the nth time and why I work at Intel (when that's the only employer I've been ever employed with)!

The Million Miler said...

Hell hath no fury like a Ramamrtham scorned. Loooong back in my career working in a coffee factory, Ramamrutham and his cohorts landed up from the department of central excise (remember that?) and found ONE packet of coffee outside the production area but not in the Bonded Warehouse (remember that as well?) Ramamrutham wanted lunch (cash in Lieu of lunch was preferred), I stuck on to no cash in lieu of lunch) and Ramamrutham and friends sealed the factory and halted production! I wish we let loose some of these charecters into the Embassy of You Yes and watch the fun!

Ramesh said...

@Shachi - Yes, the famous special room. Although to be fair, I have found the US immigration better than Continental Europe . Occupational hazards of owning an Indian passport. It teaches you enormous patience :)

@Kiwi - Oh yes - the famous excise officials. You may not remember the earlier era when the excise officers were physically stationed inside the factory !! These days, things have improved a lot though.

Asha said...

For a domestic issue, the punishment and humiliation was too severe. If this is the condition of a diplomat, what about the common man? Oh! but then, they did'nt even spare our ex prez kalam.
Just because they are powerful and rich, they go around as though they are the torchbearers of humanity while doing all inhumane things in afghanistan , Iraq and exploting third world labour.

BTW, who's to teach them sashtang namaskar and abhivadaye:)

Ramesh said...

@Asha - Yes, there was clearly massive overreach in the way she was arrested. If not the letter, the spirit of the Vienna Convention was clearly breached.

Applications invited for experts in Abhivadiye to teach Bharara & Co :)

Sriram Khé said...

Ahem ... having somebody work without paying them even the minimum wages is not a civil misdemeanor but a criminal activity. Given the international aspect here, especially labor from a poorer country, to some extent this even falls under the larger category of human trafficking. There is no way the diplomat's behavior on this can be justified or excused.
There is a difference between a diplomat claiming immunity for unpaid parking tickets versus a violation like this one. So, yes, it was the typical full court press that the system always employs--the arrest and perp walk and kept on hold with other suspected criminals.

Now, does the US behave always in the best of behaviors? Of course not. Remember the CIA guy in Pakistan who ran over and killed a couple of Pakistanis, and how the US reacted? It is a bloody unfair world in which the rich and the powerful live by their own rules. The Indian diplomat, who belongs to the rich and powerful category within the Indian contexts, thought she can operate under her own rules. But, she found out the hard way that there are the rich and the powerful and then there are the rich and the powerful!

The Ramamritham angle is fascinating. You do make it humorous. It is also for real that the Ramamrithamesque responses from the Indian system can make the American lives in India a living hell and they might opt for a full cavity strip search instead!

At the end of it all, when all these blow over, which they will, the weak and the poor will continue to be mistreated. In India. In the US. By Indians. by Americans. And Ramamritham will make sure he also adds to the misery. What a tragic travesty!

Ramesh said...

@sriram - Double Ahem - disagree completely with your take on the lady, but that's beside the point. There has been no trial as yet and everybody is innocent until proven guilty. By all means prosecute her, but Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on consular rights specifically prohibits pre trial arrest or detention of a consular official unless a grave crime has been committed.

What is foxing me is how the US State Department, which is usually the most sensitive of US departments, got itself into a tangle on this one. There have been previous cases, all handled extremely suavely, resulting in conviction and fines being levied. Not a murmur was heard anywhere. In this case, I think some maverick "evangelist" and I strongly suspect it is Preet Bharara, completely overshot his remit and has done a stupid thing - the State Department will manage the fallout with grace as they always do, but are going to privately take his pants off, if you will pardon the pun !!

Sriram Khé said...

Quadruple ahem!!!! ;)

The following are from the WSJ (http://t.co/kcu4rJnDo6):

"Under international law, consular officers such as Ms. Khobragde, who is deputy consul general for India in New York, have limited immunity and can be arrested in the case of “grave” crimes.

A guide for U.S. police on treatment of consular officers and diplomats published by the State Department, notes that the privileges of “personal inviolability” accorded to consular officers is “quite limited.”


"The visa application form, submitted by Ms. Khobragade, according to the investigator, stated that she would pay the domestic worker $4,500 dollars a month.

The investigating officer went on to record that Ms. Khobragade instructed the domestic worker to tell U.S. Embassy officials that she was being paid $9.50 an hour, and told her not to mention the 30,000 rupee salary."

My comments here:
From an Indian perspective, 25,000 rupees a month to babysit, etc., in America seems like a good offer. There is a good possibility that the domestic worker and her family do not view the pay as anything less than adequate compensation.

But, that is beside the point.

From the data that has been provided, it does appear that the diplomat paid way less than the minimum wage, and also falsified visa documents. This is no casual oversight but a systematic and calculated decision to avoid paying more for the domestic services. And, yes, innocent until proven guilty--but, arrests happen in the process. And bails are given in the same process.

Ramesh said...

@sriram - Octuple ahem :):) (I had to look that up Google) Ha Ha Ha Ha. We'll leave it at that and agree to disagree.

Your original point was absolutely right. The rich and powerful will trample on the not rich and not powerful - whoever, whatever, however, they may be. Perhaps one of the basic laws of nature.

Anonymous said...

If the United States knows what is good for it, it will promptly meet with Ramamritham, beg his pardon, fall at his feet , do shashtang namaskar, recite Abhivadiye three times and beseech him to turn his kind attention back on the hapless Indian citizens who he has been torturing from time immemorial - this statement captures the angst of every Indian perfectly!!!! Well written!!

Ramesh said...

@Shy - :):)

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Vincy said...

The legal case and the other vital points aside, for once, I guess, we as Indians can feel proud about the way India has retaliated. Normally we dont - We take all this crap lying down. I dont know how many would agree with me, but for me this was a momentous decision from our side. Forget the ordinary mortals like us being harassed in a special room, they would do the same to our imminent personalities who even give a vague hint of being the follower of the prophet especially after 9/11. Kamal Haasan for example.

But while lauding all these steps from our side, I wonder if this is all a election gimmick from our government's end. But whatever, we retaliated. Thats a great step.

Deepa said...

So Uncle Sam read this, got alarmed and ordered Mr. Kerry to apologize.

Its a shady case, can't really say whose fault it is. We all know the crazy maids of India and the crazy memsaabs too. Any one with better sense would stay out of that squabble. Having said that, there was no need to treat the diplomat like a criminal. That was way out of line. There have been other goras in India who have done worst things (eg the Union Carbide guy) but dare we touch them.

Ramesh said...

@Vincy - I feel there is a difference between the cases of Shahrukh, Kamal Hassan, Abdul Kalaam etc. Theye weren't ill treated ; they were simply put through the same drill that most of us face when we go to the US. That is fine, in my opinion. But, of course, it breeds resentment; nobody likes to be taken to a room and grilled.

This one is different. However, see Sriram's comments, a very balanced and sensitive commenter, for a different point of view.

@Deepa - Ha Ha. No the State Dept, a very balanced and sensitive organisation will smoothen things up. However I am more convinced that Mr Bharara has caught the Eliot Spitzer syndrome - activist prosecution that brings him into the headlines and over zealous pontification.

Sriram Khé said...

I thought I saw pigs flying.
I read reports that hell had frozen over.
I wondered what was going on ...

It all made sense when I read Ramesh's comment here: "see Sriram's comments, a very balanced and sensitive commenter" ...
muahahahaha ;)

On a serious note, I am simply amazed at the comments on TV and in the newspapers, and on Facebook that Ramesh avoids, asserting that Bharara is doing all these to show that he is more American than White Americans themselves and that he wants to distance himself from the "Indian" community ... All those confirm my own understanding that quite a few people in India even view my criticisms of India as either a behavior of a traitor or as one wanting to prove that I am American. The Tamil readers here (at least the older ones like Ramesh and me) might recall a famous movie line in which Nakkeeran tells Shiva that a mistake is a mistake even if it was Shiva who committed it .... I suppose, being a critic or a prosecutor is not for the thin-skinned, as sensitive we might be ;)

And, yes, as Ramesh notes here, the NY US Attorney office has a reputation for way big egos ... recently, the New Yorker profiled the SEC chair, Mary Jo White, who also has had her share of high profile cases while at the US Atty Office in NY.
Patrick Fitzgerald, who was the investigator in the Valerie Plame scandal of the Bush/Cheney years, also had served in that US Atty Office at one point (under White) ...

Ramesh said...

@Sriram - What ? What ?? What ??? Muahahahahahahaha

Sriram Khé said...

A total awareness that Sainath is a banned word in this blog (hahaha!) will not ever stop me from quoting him ;)

I loved his op-ed in today's issue of the Hindu. (http://t.co/xkL13EhZek) I will not excerpt anything from there because it won't do justice to his well-crafted argument.

I hope you didn't skip his piece because you say the byline of "P Sainath" hahahaha

ps: I have not quoted Sen or Krugman in this comment section.
pps: I didnt quote Sen or Krugman because I have not read anything by them.
ppps: Given that Sen and, especially, Krugman comment on every damn thing under the sun, I wonder why they have not weighed in on the Devayani issue ... muahahahaha
pppps: I had to retype all the comments because in my earlier attempt, Blogger kicked me out--maybe you have set up the blog to push away any Sainath reference .... hehe

Ramesh said...

@Sriram - Ppppleeease. This Oped reinforces my view of the said gentleman that he is an ass.

His first argument is that India did not react to various other issues and therefore reacting to this is wrong. That is a rubbish argument. That way, any reaction to anything can be criticised as not in keeping with various other non reactions.

The second argument is on leftist claptrap on "exploitation" . His remedy, as always is the usual communist manifesto. The whole issue of exploitation of domestic servants has massively changed in urban India (it alas is still very bad in rural India). Wages have gone up well above minimum wage, workers are far less ill treated (there is exploitation and there will always be exploitation of the strong against the weak, but this has dramatically decreased in the last two decades), they have many more opportunities and therefore are far less easily exploited. Try employing a maid in Chennai or Bangalore today. Urban India of today is very different from the stereotype of labour exploitation. This has happened because, economic prosperity has come and markets have raised wages, there are lots of opportunities for domestic workers, and education is spreading like wildfire amongst them. And the Sainaths of the world will kill it if their prescription is followed - government intervention, permanency of employment, forming trade unions, and the philosophy of war against anybody who is not poor.

He is a idiot of the worst sort - a learned, rational, argumentative, one. A fool is easy to dismiss. Its the sharp guy who goes off the rails who is dangerous :):):)

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