Stop Intimidation and Targeting Voices of Dissent in Kerala!

Hold the Kerala Government Accountable for Encounter Killings, use of Black Laws Like the UAPA, Wanton Arrests and Crackdown on Democratic Space!

 

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The way the Kerala police has been involved since last month in encounter killings, arrests and framing of charges on political activists clearly transcends the boundary of merely maintainglaw and order in the state and indicates of a ceratin tactics of intimidation of political opponents to the ruling LDF government in the state.

On Nov 24th two maoist leaders were gunned down in the Karulayi forests in Nilambur, Kerala. The police as usual has come out with the version of self defence and cross fire as an explanation to the encounter killings. In spite of wide range demand of a judicial enquiry into the killings, the Kerala Government is trying to evade impartial judicial probe into the case by ordering a magisterial enquiry which will remain vulnerable to administrative manupulations.

In the aftermath of the killings, Rajeesh Kollakandi, who helped in releasing the body of the assasinated maoist leader, has been suspended from his government job in the technical education department of the state. In addition to it, UAPA cases have been framed on him.

Kamal C. Chavara, a novelist,  was arrested under sedition law after the BJP’s youth wing Yuva Morcha had complained to the police against him charging him of insulting the National Anthem based on one of his Facebook posts. The Kerala police acted promptly and had arrested K.C. Chavara.

The first instance of arrest by the police for not standing up during national anthem in film screening came from Kerala when the more than prompt Kerala Police arrested six people who participated in the International Film Festival in Kerala.

A human rights activist Nadir was arrested under UAPA  after he went to meet Kamal C Chavara the previous day, although his name does not appear in any FIR.  Nadeer has been released after a day’s interrogation. The Kerala Police is trying to create the bogey of maoist link in Nadir’s case. Nadir was picked up by the police as unnamed accused in an FIR where six people have been mentioned under charges of UAPA.

The CPI-M in a statement in the context of K.C. Chavara’s arrest has said that it is against the use of sedition law.  But this statement does not suffice to address the issue of intimidation of political voices and crackdown on freedom of expression. The arrests that has been done on the pretext of ‘insulting the national anthem’, even if sedition is not used, indicate towards succumbing to sentiments fanned by the right-wing forces in Kerala. The random use of UAPA and arrests of political activists under UAPA also raises concern over curbing of democratic space and the process of natural justice in Kerala. Black laws like the UAPA were introduced by the Congress Government to legalise unjust state actions on muslims and political activists. These laws are used to subvert the basic principles of  natural justice where the burden to prove inncocence lies on the accused in stead of it being otherwise.

Statements by the CPI-M or the SFI that they are against the use of sedition law carry very little weight as long as the state police, working under the command of LDF govt, continue to surrender before rightwing jingoism or is used to intimidate and silence political opinions in Kerala.

Resist this Regime of Bullets and Batons in Kashmir!

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AISA strongly condemns the use of lethal weapons on unarmed protesters in Bandipora by Kashmir police. Firing by police and CRPF led to the killing of an 18 yr old boy, Farhat Dar. Two other people were injured in the incident.
While the Deputy Commissioner of district Bandipora, Shah Faisal, has ordered a probe, we know very well the nature and content of these probes. In 2010, a 13 yr old innocent boy named Wamiq Farooq fell prey to unprovoked tear gas shelling from the police. In 2013, non-bailable warrants were issued against the cops accused in that case. However, the police failed to arrest the accused, thereby effectively shielding them. Another teenager, Tufail Mattoo, was brutally murdered while returning from tuition classes in 2010. Recently, an SIT filed a closure report in that case despite enough evidence. In 2012, 22 yr old Altaf was killed by a CISF bullet during protests against NHPC.

None of these probes has been able to deliver any justice so far. We have seen how justice was denied in the Pathribal case despite a CBI probe that indicted members of the army and police. We have also seen how the Shopian and Kunan Poshpora rape cases were hushed up at the stage of investigation. There are countless other cases which never went to trial.
Whether AFSPA is applicable or not, Kashmiris continue to be treated like a subject and not sovereign citizen- both inside and outside Kashmir. Be it through denial of houses to Kashmiris in the national capital or the denial of justice, the message that is being sent out to them repeatedly is that they are not equals. This mindless violence and denial of justice, this constant inhuman treatment of Kashmiris on a daily basis speaks volumes of the brazen double standards of Indian state towards the Kashmiri people.
AISA stands in solidarity with the people of Kashmir in their continuous struggle for justice against this unending state violence. JNUSU demands an end to this regime of batons and bullets in Kashmir and the all-round offensive to subjugate and silence the people of Kashmir.

Modi’s Comunalism: Not a Thing of The Past

Cartoon-new-Narendra-ModiWith the 2014 Lok Sabha at the doorstep, the carefully orchestrated campaign for past few years to project Narendra Modi as the next Prime Minister of the country has crossed all limits. PR managers and media blitzkrieg are trying to paint Modi, who presided over a horrific communal genocide in 2002, as the messiah of ‘good governance’ and ‘economic growth,’ now far removed from any communal politics.  We are being told:  Forget 2002, Forget the rapes, murders and fake encounters, Forget the state machinery’s role in 2002, and Parade Modi model of ‘growth’, ‘development’ and ‘good governance.’

But Modi himself has brazenly affirmed time and again that contempt, hatred, and violence towards the minorities and denigration of the oppressed sections is embedded in his imagery, is metaphors, and his politics. His own speeches make it very clear that Modi’s communal plank isn’t a thing of the past – it’s very much his recipe for power in the present and near future. We have already seen him refer to the victims of the Gujarat genocide as ‘puppies crushed under a car,’ and his jeering reference to the ‘burqa’ of secularism (rather than the word ‘purdah’ which is used by Hindus and Muslims alike)!

Here is a sample of the calculated communal colour of Modi’s RECENT speeches:

At Khandwa in November 2013 he said, “Lal Bahadur Shastri used to talk of ‘green revolution’ but the UPA Government is encouraging ‘pink revolution’ by promoting meat exports. They are giving subsidy to set up slaughterhouses… cows and other animals are getting slaughtered…Export cotton and pay tax, export mutton and get subsidy.” This is directly in line with the Sangh’s communal propaganda against ‘cow slaughter,’ demonising the minority communities by associating them with ‘slaughtering cows and other animals.’ Farmers’ groups demand subsidies for their products without pitting this against subsidies for meat producers, but Modi gives farmers’ demands a communal twist.

At Agra in November 2013, he accused the UPA Government of “neglecting and doing injustice to 75 percent of the people and playing games for 25 percent of the people.”

And his latest call at an Assam rally (22 Feb) of accommodating Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in India while distinguishing those who are brought for ‘vote bank’!

The Modi Government has refused to abide by the Gujarat High Court verdict of February 2013 to implement minority scholarships in Gujarat. In its affidavit, the Gujarat Government has attacked the Sachar Committee, saying “The Sachar Committee is neither constitutional nor statutory. …The Committee’s target was to help the Muslims only.”

The style of Modi’s campaign for the ‘Statue of Unity’ (the statue of Sardar Patel) is another example of his fascist political imagination. He asked people to join the campaign for ‘one resolution, one goal, one direction, one voice and one determination’. In deed for Modi, it is not “unity in diversity” but “unity in uniformity”! Modi made it very clear what this ‘oneness’ was all about: India has been a witness to such disciplined joint participation on religious occasions and joint celebrations of an entire neighbourhood when India wins a cricket match, he said. His slogan of ‘one emotion, one nation, one culture, one resolution, one goal, one smile’ smacks of a regimented and guided ‘democracy’, where any dissent or difference, and any protection  for minorities will be viewed as ‘anti national’ and ruthlessly crushed.

The recent Muzaffarnagar riots showed how the  Sangh brigade in UP, under the leadership of Modi’s right-hand man Amit Shah, carefully engineered a communal hate campaign and carnage to reap votes through communal polarisation. It was typical Shah, carefully engineered a communal Moditva bred in RSS school in action UP. The patriarchal institutions of Khap were mobilised and vicious rumor campaign was engineered in the name of combating “love j ihad” leading to the killing of scores of Muslims and displacements of several thousands.

Clearly, BJP’s model of imagining India is based on an ideology which is against our secular democratic constitution and divisive. Modi himself has claimed that he is a ‘Hindu-Nationalist.’ What about the rights of the minorities  if the country is constituted on the idea of ‘Hindu nationalism?’ Can the struggle of the dalits and women against the history of oppression legitimised in practice and scriptures of ‘sanatana dharma’, be a part of this nationhood? One example of the perverted vision of “Hindu Nationalism” is Modi’s own statement about the Dalits who are forced to perform manual scavenging, contained in pages 48-49 of Karmayog, a collection of Narendra Modi’s speeches to IAS officials at various points, published by the Gujarat govt in 2007: “I do not believe that they have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after generation….At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (Valmikis’) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is impossible to believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or business.”  (http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/true-lies/entry/modi-s-spiritual-potion-to-woo-karmauogis) After the embarrassing exposure, Modi withdrew all the copies of the book, but he did not change his ideas. In 2009, addressing  9,000-odd  safai karmacharis, (sanitation workers) he likened the safai karmacharis’ job of cleaning up others dirt’ to that of a temple priest. He told them, “A priest cleans a temple every day before prayers, you also clean the city like a temple. You and the temple priest work alike”!!! And in 2013 Gujarat budget, allocated a sum  of Rs 22.5 lakhs for giving training in Karmkand (rituals) to Safai Kamdars !

This is the RSS model of “samajik samrasta” and clear an attempt to reverse the pioneering role of Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar against untouchability and the formulation of Indian constitution. If anything has to be termed anti-national, then that is nothing but BJP’s perverted notion of nationalism and reversal of struggle against casteism, communalism and gender- violence.

Modi’s contempt for the facts of history – no doubt a result of his saffronised education in the Sangh – has been amply demonstrated many times, with him even getting Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s name wrong and confusing freedom fighter Shyamaji Krishna Varma with Jan Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mookherjee.

BJP’s Systematic Project of Distorting History and Knowledge:

Apart  from such endless distortions in Modi’s speeches, every BJP government routinely indulges in institutionalised distortion of textbooks as a part of its fascist to rewrite history according to its own goal. The fiasco of saffronisation of textbooks negating scientific method, historical facts under the last NDA government at centre has not been forgotten by the country. The MHRD minister of that NDA government, Murli Manohar Joshi even proposed to introduce Karamkand to be taught in universities. The same has been repeated and is continuing in Modi’s Gujarat.  The social science text book in Gujarat devoted a chapter praising the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler! Under national and international pressure the NaMo government had to withdraw the chapter later. But several such distortions remain in the social science text book of class 6, 7 and 8 even today. Some of the gems are : Mahatma Gandhi was  assassinated on October 30, 1948. Japan mounted a nuclear attack on the United States during World War II. After Partition, a new country called ‘Islamic Islamabad’ came into being with its capital Khyber Ghat in the Hindukush mountains. All south Indians are “Madrasis” ( The Hindu, Feb 27, 2013). These factual misinformations are not merely errors, but are driven by ideological intention of the Gujarat government to paint history in their own communal, racist and xenophobic ideas. It is nothing surprising to expect a party with a history of betrayal with anti-colonial struggle and an ideology based on perverted notion of nationalism to be afraid of history, to be afraid of truth and facts. The Hindutva was always a figment of the fascist imagination of the RSS, of which Modi is a proud product. Modi’s politics of hate and fascist tactics  in the laboratory of Gujarat can be explicitly traced in the writings of the entire range of Hindutva ideologues-Golwalkar, Savarkar, Shyama prasd Mukherjee etc and the pages of RSS organ Organiser. Let us see some samples:

 On Hindu rashtra: ”… the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights.”     M. S. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined, 1938, p. 47-48

Opposing  the National Flag at the dawn of Independence: “The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the Tricolour but it never be respected and owned by Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.” Organiser, August 14, 1947

Hailing fascism:  “There is no reason to suppose that Hitler must be a human monster because he passes off as a Nazi.. The very fact that Germany and Italy has so wonderfully recovered and grown so powerful as never before  at the touch of Nazi or Fascist magical wand is enough to prove that those political ‘isms’ were the most congenial tonics their health demanded.” Savarkar in his Presidential address to the 22nd  Session of the Hindu Mahasabha at Madura  in 1940.

Rejecting the Freedom Struggle: “Anti-Britishism was equated with patriotism and nationalism. This reactionary view has had disastrous effects upon the entire course of the freedom movement, its leaders and the common people” M. S. Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, Bangalore, 1996, p. 138

Betraying the 1942 Quit India Movement:  “In 1942 also there was a strong sentiment in the hearts of many. At that time too the routine work of Sangh continued. Sangh decided not to do anything directly.”  -Shri Guruji Samagra Darshan, Vol. IV, Nagpur, n.d., p.41  henceforth S.G.S.D.)

“The Hindu Mahasabha holds that the leading principle politics is the policy of responsive co-operation. And in virtue of it, it believes that all those Hindu Sanghatanists who are  orking as councillors, ministers, legislators and conducting any municipal or any public bodies with a view to utilise those centres of government power to safeguard and even  promote the legitimate interests of the Hindus without, of course, encroaching on the legitimate interests of the others are rendering a highly patriotic service to our nation.” Cited in V. D. Savarkar, Samagra Savarkar Wangmaya: Hindu Rashtra Darshan, vol.6, Maharashtra Prantik Hindusabha, Poona, 1963, p.474.

Another Sangh hero – Shyama Prasad Mukherjee – refused to resign from the Ministry in Bengal during  the Quit India Movement. Not only that, as a Minister in the Bengal Government in 1942, he actively offered help and advice to the British administrators to crush the Quit India Movement. In 1942, he wrote:  “The question is how to combat this movement in Bengal? The administration of the province should be carried out in such a manner that in spite of the best efforts … this movement will fail to take root in the province.”

As regards India’s attitude towards England, the struggle between them,  if any, should not take place at this juncture. …Anybody who plans to stir up mass feelings resulting in internal disturbances or insecurity, must be resisted by any Government...” (Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Leaves from a Diary, OUP, 1993, pp 175-190)

Propagating Two Nation Theory:  “ There are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India, several infantile politicians commit the serious mistake in supposing that India is already welded into a harmonious nation, or that it could be welded thus for the mere wish to do so. These were well meaning but unthinking friends take their dreams for realities. …India cannot be assumed today to be a Unitarian and homogenous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in  the main : the Hindus and the Moslems, in India.”  – Savarkar cited in V. D. Savarkar, Samagra Savarkar Wangmaya : Hindu Rashtra Darshan, vol.6, Maharashtra Prantik Hindusabha, Poona, 1963, p.296.

It is obvious, that Modi has put these words into action in his laboratory of Gujarat and now planning to apply pan-India! When the Sangh Brigade and Modi consider secularism to be a dispensable veil, democracy loving people of India must assert it as an essential ingredient for survival and progress.

Condemn the Jingoist Violence and State Sponsored Administrative Victimisation against the Kashmiri Students in a University in Meerut!

 JOIN PROTEST DEMO AT UP BHAWAN

Time :3 pm

Date: 7 March 2014

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We express deep concern over the recent developments in Swami Vivekanand Subharti  University. On 2 Mar, 2014 students of Swami Vivekanand Subharti  University, Meerut were watching a cricket Match between India and Pakistan in the community hall of the hostel. Kashmiri students were beaten up  then they allegedly “celebrated” the victory of Pakistan cricket team. Following this, 67 Kashmiri students were suspended for 3 days from the University and were even forced to evacuate their hostels for three days with their luggage. And now “Sedition” charges have been slapped on the students! The University authorities said that the Kashmiri students had committed an “anti-national act” by cheering for Pakistan cricket team. How is cheering for any cricket team become “national” or “anti-national,” by which law and Constitution? Even if that were the case, how exactly would that apply to, say, the Indian Premier League matches where sportspersons of various nationalities play in a single team? Again, how would it apply to English Premier League football matches in which Indians enthusiastically cheer for various English clubs, knowing full well the atrocities that England had committed on Indians as an occupier? How is it then completely acceptable to cheer for English artists and foreign tennis players, even against an Indian tennis player?

Indeed, Meerut incident is a shocking display of jingoism which seeks to turn even sports and culture into a space of communal warmongering. The deliberate and repeated attempts to turn cricket into a ground for testing the loyalty of people reeks of a communal mindset that serves no purpose, except to weaken the very democratic fabric of this country. These communalists have no contribution in the freedom struggle of India nor do they raise their voice when foreign corporations are given a free hand to exploit the country’s resources. Their claims of nationalism are as hollow as their permanent allegations of “disloyalty” against any minority of this country. How is it that they never speak out against communal violence perpetrated on the minorities of this country?  These are the very forces which keep on insisting that “Kashmir is an integral part of India” without even  once speaking up against the atrocities being committed on Kashmiris  inside and outside Kashmir.

Further, the administrative high-handedness in this issue is unacceptable but not unprecedented. No  action has been taken against the non-Kashmiri students involved in the incident. Not even a mere fine  as imposed on them for engaging in physical violence. The rationale for suspending the Kashmir  students en masse is interesting- the university claims that these students were sent home in order to prevent any communal breakout in Meerut, as it is a “volatile” constituency. But this logic falls flat when we see that draconian “Sedition”  charges have been slapped on the Kashmiri students! Instead of protecting and upholding their democratic rights, the police and administration confess their helplessness vis-a-vis the communal fascists. It is sad that the university authorities as well as the police have internalised the communal agenda and are dancing to the tune of the communal fascists in anticipation.

We ask:
1)What was the need to evict them from the hostels, besides suspending them, if not to impose collective punishment upon them?
2) Why was no action taken against the non-Kashmiri students for indulging in physical violence when Kashmiri students were punished for merely shouting slogans, first by the violent lumpens and then by the administration?
3) What is the guarantee that, after the students are back from Kashmir after “3 days”, they won’t be targeted again? “3 days” is no magic number which will resolve the communal tensions being fuelled by the communal fascist elements on a daily basis.
4) And by what logic archaic colonial “Sedition” charges have been slapped on the Kashmiri students? Any difference in perception and ideas, that too in a university space, has to addressed through dialogue and not brute use of muscle power and administrative high-handedness. Students and people cannot be silenced and brutalised to submission through majoritarian violence and state machinery.

We appeal to the student community to join a Protest Demonstration at UP Bhawan on 7 March,  3.00pm against this gross violence and state-sponsored victimisation against the Kashmiri students in Meerut.

Condemn the Jingoist Violence and State Sponsored Administrative Victimisation against the Kashmiri Students in a University in Meerut!

Withdraw the Draconian Sedition Charges!  

JOIN PROTEST DEMO AT UP BHAWAN on 7 March, 3.00pm

Support Kerala Advocate Anima Muyarath in Her Battle Against Sexism and Gender Discrimination in the Calicut Bar Association

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AISA and AIPWA condemn the Calicut Bar Association’s decision  to suspend Adv. Anima Muyarath for her Facebook post on 25th   October 2013 regarding sexist  comments from the fellow male  lawyers in the Bar as well as at the office. She was suspended by the  Association for a month since 30th December 2013 on grounds of  ‘severe misconduct.’ At the General Body Meeting on 10th January  2014 which ratified the decision, Anima and another woman lawyer  who supported her were attacked physically and verbally by male members. One of them threw a chair at the women, injuring one woman lawyer. Anima was threatened with remarks like “you have just seen the eve teasing part and we are capable of doing much more”.

 

On 25th October 2013, Anima updated her facebook status with a comment. The English translation of her Malayalam comment “It is now five months since I started practising at the Calicut Bar. I do not know if all work spaces in the world are like this. But I have met many silly (male) colleagues my age at the Bar and in office who address women as ‘Sugar candy’ , ‘Dear’ and follow them around with comments such as ‘You are so beautiful’ — just like Prem Nazeer did in old Malayalam films. It seems to me these men don’t even watch new films. This is the same old attitude — making women either ‘sisters’ or lovers by ‘caring’ for them or ‘keeping’ them. My sympathies to all these silly persons I have met in the last five months.” Interestingly , there are some elders who make proposals on seeing a woman. Are these people brokers or uncles?”

 

In Kerala, at a famous college in Thiruvananthapuram, students are agitating to demand an anti-sexual harassment committee according to Vishakha guidelines, after an allegation of sexual harassment against a faculty member was ignored. Earlier, we have seen the report submitted by the Deputy Director of Education, Govt. of Kerala justifying the anti-women speech made by an IAS officer and terming the protest against the speech by BA student Arya Suresh as ‘an act of immaturity’.

 

Sexist culture is deeply entrenched – but strong voices are fighting back. Colleges and universities, Bar associations and courts, media houses and other workplaces – women are raising their voices against sexism and sexual harassment. We call upon all students to support Anima Muyarath in her battle against sexist work culture in the Calicut Bar Association.

 

 

 

Devyani’s Arrest: A Classic Case of US Govt.’s Racism and High-Handedness, and Indian Govt’s Class Bias and Irresponsibility

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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.

US Attorney Preet Bharara states that Devyani was not hand-cuffed or arrested in the view of her children, but he does admit that a strip search and cavity search were conducted. But this is-neither here nor there. The question is – would the US Government have treated a diplomat from a non-‘Third World’ country, charged with the same offences, in the same manner? 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 officially a 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, and 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.