Devyani Khobragade: Nationalism, rationalism & unequal human rights

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India is a liberal democracy and its Constitution believes in big ideals. Yet, in the ongoing row over the treatment meted out to Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in the USA, Indians are found retaliating over the selective part of the story which look convenient for them. There are talks about 'national disgrace' and 'humiliation abroad' when a law-breaking diplomat is treated sternly but not a much voice is heard about the injustice which was done to the nanny, Sangeeta Richards. Some news channels even said the diplomat was mistreated on frivolous grounds.

Two women, both victimised but different takes

Surprising isn't it? We have two women here, victimised by the State and society, respectively, but we decide to take up the case which involves the former. For it is more convenient to deal with the State on moral grounds as it generates a lot of sympathy. It is also easier to tackle a foreign State than the indigenous social mindset. It is also a profitable project before the elections.

Oversimplifying human rights

Human rights is a complex issue but we Indian love to over-simplify it. It is shocking to see even certain sections sympathising with Khobragade more since she is a Dalit. But none really talking about the nanny who somehow got lost in the chaos. Is a community's right worrying us more than an individual's? There is also no outrage over the diplomat's owing a flat in the Adarsh Society. Or is it that 'immunity' gives a perfect protection to an accused while the lack of it puts an allegedly discriminated in further trouble?

Two women, both victimised, but the takes on their stories were different

If we are taking Devyani so seriously, why aren't we making a more comprehensive assessment of the individual? Or our concern for human rights is just a shallow and cosmetic show? On the other hand, we don't we speak up on the issue of helpless women and girls being taken abroad as cheap labour and ensure that those people's rights are not violated in the foreign land? When an Indian celebrity is frisked in the USA, our hearts turn heavy. Can that feeling be a bit more generalised?

Hyper-nationalism is the media's gift to the middle class

The kind of reaction that India has come up with over the Khobragade case is precisely a creation of the media which caters to the country's middle-class very diligently. There is a tendency to stir up a protest against the establishment each time a leaf falls from a tree and the political class feels compelled to follow the tone set by the assertive media to ensure that it doesn't get alienated from the informed though not knowledgeable vote-bank.

Are some humans' rights more than equal than others?

But the euphoria ends as soon as the media discovers a new sensation and its followers also turn away. So do the leaders. In this ambience of instant noise-making, understanding the details of diplomatic immunity and technical aspects of law is too much of an ask for a common person to think and judge. The Sangeeta Richards, who are at a disadvantage from the very beginning of the play, naturally get lost.

Shoma Chaudhury & Devyani Khobragade

There is also another angle to it. It is disappointing to see that some of our women, who have been known as champions of women's rights in the society, have fallen apart when the real test of character comes. A few days ago, we saw journalist Shoma Chaudhury failing the test of protecting the honour of one of her junior colleagues who was allegedly humiliated by a powerful former editor-in-chief and now we see how Devyani Khobragade, a lobbyist for women's rights, embarrassing herself. If women, well-established and upper-class by education and claim to fight for women's rights, begin to display a trend of moral decline, then it is indeed a worrying indicator.

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