January 14, 2014

Devyani case: Sangeeta's in-laws had worked with expelled US diplomat

The writer has posted comments on this articleTNN | Jan 12, 2014

The parents-in-law of Sangeeta Richard, the domestic help at the centre of the India-US diplomatic spat, worked with US diplomat Wayne May who was expelled by India for his role in the Devyani Khobragade episode. This seems to be the main reason why May is said to have gone out of his way to facilitate the "evacuation'' of Sangeeta's husband Philip and children by arranging T-visas (trafficking) for them.

Many have wondered as to why US authorities approved surreptitious evacuation of Sangeeta's family even at the cost of antagonizing a strategic partner. India had said May was responsible for the unilateral action by the State Department in evacuating the family and the subsequent arrest of Khobragade. May left India on Saturday.

May worked as the chief of the embassy's security service representing US' Bureau of Diplomatic Security. He was also looking after issues related to trafficking. The diplomatic security service was responsible for the arrest and handcuffing of Khobragade before she was handed over to US marshals. There is suspicion that the counselor, who has put in more than 27 years of service, may have used his influence with the diplomatic security in New York to ensure that Khobragade was subjected to the ``standard operating procedure'' after she was picked up from outside her children's schools.

May's conduct is said to be primarily the reason for the government's assessment that the US embassy had acted in "bad faith''. The action by May disregarded prior legal processes in India, including a case of cheating against Sangeeta's husband and a non-bailable warrant against Sangeeta, which insisted that the dispute between Khobragade and Sangeeta had to be contested in an Indian court. Sources here though said the government is not looking at the alleged role of May's wife in procuring air tickets for the Sangeeta's family.

External affairs minister Salman Khurshid on Saturday blamed the US for what he described as a 'mini- crisis'' saying that the incident could have been avoided if the US had warned foreign secretary Sujatha Singh and other senior Indian officials who were in the US just before Khobragade's arrest on December 12. In a television interview, he said India's "immediate, immediate'' concerns had been addressed.

Later talking to reporters, he said there was "no stand-off'' between India and the US. "There is no reason now to feel any immediate concern about any outcome that might be adverse or particularly disturbing in nature," he said. Khurshid and Singh met Khobragade at South Block on Saturday. She told journalists that the government and her lawyer would speak on her behalf.

Speaking to Devil's Advocate on CNN-IBN, Khurshid also said there was going to be no rethink on withdrawal of privileges to the US embassy staff "at least for now''. India has said the decision to withdraw diplomatic privileges and pull out barricades from outside the embassy was reciprocal, and not retaliatory, measure.

Wayne’s World: Was expelled US official a bleeding heart or an Ugly American?

Chidanand Rajghatta,TNN | Jan 13, 2014

WASHINGTON: The US official who was expelled in a tit-for-tat diplomatic battle over Devyani Khobragade was nearing the end of his posting in India, scheduled to leave New Delhi in February. But in their three years in India, Wayne May, who headed the US embassy's security team in New Delhi, and his wife Alicia Muller May, who worked as the embassy's community liaison officer, revealed conflicting impulses and contradictory outlook towards the people and country they served in.
On the one hand, it was evidently their bleeding heart concern for housekeeper Sangeeta Richard, whose in-laws worked with them and a succession of US embassy officials, that led them to "rescue" the nanny's husband and children from the strong-arm tactics of the Indian judicial and police system that the diplomat Devyani Khobragade unleashed on them after Sangeeta fell out with her. On the other hand, their facetious comments about a stereotypical India abounding in chaos and filth, which some might see as offensive, shows them as the archetypal "ugly Americans."

They laid out their opinions and views quite guilelessly on social media through photographs and comments that were quickly seized on and distributed by bloggers and trolls ever sensitive to any perceived insult of India. Although the comments are often flippant, the kind many people make on social media without fear of consequence, they sound extremely offensive now given the fraught context of the diplomatic spat. Their profiles, pictures and comments were removed and their social media presence sanitized soon after they were discovered, but not before the online warriors had saved and uploaded them on other social media sites, portraying them as ''racist American diplomats.''

The Indian ''holy cow'' is a recurring theme in their entries, starting from the time Wayne May was posted in New Delhi in 2010. The first of the pictures appears in June 2010 with a comment from Wayne saying, ''No eating the sacred cows.'' A little later, he adds, ''one week in country and I already miss steak.''
His wife Alicia captions another photo ''Stupid Cow.'' A friend comments, ''You just insulted their cow,'' to which May responds, ''Not the first time, not the last time.'' But a short time later, she shows the kind of frustration that many Indians might also share: ''Just wait till you have to dodge these beasts in your car because they are laying in the middle of the road blocking traffic - they lose their "holiness" real fast. And, as holy as they are supposed to be, most of them are bodyline starved. It's awful to see. Everything is a contradiction here...''

There is other banter in which enraged nationalists see signs of Indian laws being broken by the meat-loving diplomats. ''Had real American Hamburbers for dinner last night. A friend smuggled them in his suitcase last night,'' Alicia Muller May writes in September 2010, soon after their arrival in India, adding, ''water buffalo burgers just aren't cutting it. Oh, the simple pleasures of life....'' Another time, she alerts her friends in Delhi to ''a good friend in Beijing who is coming to the CLO office with beautiful pearls for sale...'' - which some see as evidence that embassy premises were being used for commercial activities.
In one bizarre exchange in November 2012 in response to a Huffington Post article on claims that are meat eaters being more prone to violence and sex crimes, Alicia May says ''I'd like them to do a follow up article on how many vegetarians rape women here every day.'' It is the vegetarians that are doing the raping, not the meat eaters, she says, later adding, ''applies only to Indians, not westerners.'
The domestic Indian staff for whom they professedly had concern don't come out very well either in their corrosive social media exchanges. In one photograph, it is pointed out that their pet dog Paco looks bigger and in better health than their Indian gardener. Paco, says May, gets more protein in his diet. Another times, May goes to a mosque in Delhi with two visitors where they get a VIP tour because they are from the US embassy.
"I hate the taste but I have to be polite,'' she says about having to drink tea at the mosque. Her friend: ''Tea? I thought it was coffee.'' ''If it tastes like rancid mushroom, don't drink it.'' Friend (who is evidently serving in Afghanistan): ''Everything is rancid in Afghanistan. That's how you know it is farm fresh.''
To be sure, most of the exchanges are frivolous and typical of social media tattle. But given the sensitive positions they occupied in the US embassy, they are, particularly in hindsight, astonishingly offensive, robbing the couple of their "bleeding heart" credentials that is said to have led them to spirit out Sangeeta Richard's family from New Delhi.

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