Ranjona Banerji: Patriotism rules in US media in Khobragade case

24 Dec,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The Devyani Khobragade and Sangeeta Richard case continue to dominate headlines mainly because it still remains so confusing. Every time you feel that the diplomat (or consular officer if you prefer) was the victim, some new bit of information surfaces that makes it clear that the domestic “assistant” was the one being mistreated. And so on. I watched Barkha Dutt’s ‘We the People’ on this subject and it answered none of the questions.

 

Uttam Khobragade, Devyani’s father, was in a rage. The former Indian diplomats on the show dismissed the US’s actions and brought up their double standards. The diplomats said that the US had no jurisdiction on anything that happens in a contract between two Indians on what can be considered Indian “territory”. The academics and activists brought up the issue of the ill-treatment of domestics in India and by Indians. The sole American, a journalist with the New York Times, tried to defend his country’s actions in arresting Khobragade and brought up the issue of domestics.

 

The audience, except for one person who said the US had to follow its own laws, was furious, although a few did accept that domestics were not treated well. Meanwhile, allegations have surfaced that Richard may be a CIA agent! On the face of it, this sounds a little far-fetched although it will give conspiracy theorists much to fulminate about.

 

The US media however has sided firmly with their government and severely scolded India for forgetting the “other victim” – as in the domestic assistant. Edits and opeds in The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and for all I know the Poughkeepsie Bugle have all rapped us on the knuckles. Some of these have been written by well-known American columnists like Roger Cohen. Others have been written by the vast army of non-resident Indians who are all experts on India, having lived here until they were six and returned at 26. Good to know that the patriotic journalist is alive and well. I however would have expected more cynicism against their government from American journalists but perhaps not from a media which made “embedded journalism” into an accepted form of the profession?

 

In India, however confusion or freedom of speech reigns and different columnists and editorial writers have taken different stands on the issue.

 

**

 

How do you spell “aam aadmi” as in the common man as in the name of India’s newest and most definitive political party? The general consensus would be “aam aadmi” but The Times of India has bucked the trend and gone with “aam admi”. Sounds and looks odd.

 

**

 

Is it because of sustained social media pressure that mainstream newspapers have started covering the Aston Martin accident on Pedder Road again? After silence for a few days, the name “Reliance” has surfaced again in newspaper reports. However, these are just tiny little single columns…

 

**

 

I was part of a panel discussion at the St Pauls Institute of Communication Education in Mumbai’s Bandra area on Saturday, December 21, where the subject was, “The Media vs Tarun Tejpal: Activism or Selective Conscience. My fellow panellists were Bharat Kumar Raut, a senior journalist and currently a Rajya Sabha MP, Dilip D’Souza, author and columnist and Swati Deshpande, legal editor of The Times of India. The discussion was moderated by Shashi Baliga, a senior journalist, columnist and executive director of Literature Live.

 

It was a lively chat where each of us had our unique perspective but the general consensus was that the media was right in the way it covered the Tejpal case, even if there was some overstepping of boundaries. Heartening was the fact that the media knows that it has been lax about dealing with internal cases of sexual harassment.

 

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3 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: Patriotism rules in US media in Khobragade case”

  1. Guest says:

    The US press, to be fair to them, are aware of their country’s arrest procedures, even if these seem extreme to Indians. A strip search, even a cavity search – one had always associated that word with the teeth ! – is SOP for all arrestees. Step back for a moment and consider : what is it that the authorities have done that is so outrageous, apart from the fact and modalities of an arrest that was authorised by a judge, based on an investigation of the facts of the case ? Our argument really is that the diplomat / consular officer enjoyed immunity from arrest, not true, witness the rush to post her to the UN and, secondly, she was too gentle a creature to be treated like a normal criminal. Perjury is a crime. For what it is worth, this woman will now be India’s visible face to the world, at the UN headquarters.

  2. Guest says:

    The US press, to be fair to them, are aware of their country’s arrest procedures, even if these seem extreme to Indians. A strip search, even a cavity search – one had always associated that word with the teeth ! – is SOP for all arrestees. Step back for a moment and consider : what is it that the authorities have done that is so outrageous, apart from the fact and modalities of an arrest that was authorised by a judge, based on an investigation of the facts of the case ? Our argument really is that the diplomat / consular officer enjoyed immunity from arrest, not true, witness the rush to post her to the UN and, secondly, she was too gentle a creature to be treated like a normal criminal. Perjury is a crime. For what it is worth, this woman will now be India’s visible face to the world, at the UN headquarters.

  3. Guest says:

    The US press, to be fair to them, are aware of their country’s arrest procedures, even if these seem extreme to Indians. A strip search, even a cavity search – one had always associated that word with the teeth ! – is SOP for all arrestees. Step back for a moment and consider : what is it that the authorities have done that is so outrageous, apart from the fact and modalities of an arrest that was authorised by a judge, based on an investigation of the facts of the case ? Our argument really is that the diplomat / consular officer enjoyed immunity from arrest, not true, witness the rush to post her to the UN and, secondly, she was too gentle a creature to be treated like a normal criminal. Perjury is a crime. For what it is worth, this woman will now be India’s visible face to the world, at the UN headquarters.

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