New York: The US State Department should stop posting diplomats to India who are more interested in denigrating the country than building ties. The American diplomat and his wife who were expelled in tit-for-tat action last week in the Devyani Khobragade case were clearly racist. 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, posted several unflattering comments about India on Facebook. Devyani Khobragade. Image courtesy:
Twitter May was expelled last week in retaliation for the expulsion from the US of Khobragade, who was arrested and strip searched for allegedly underpaying her nanny Sangeeta Richards. May and his wife were involved in spiriting three members of Richard's family from India two days before Khobragade was arrested on visas for victims of human trafficking. “The implication that an Indian diplomat in a wage dispute with her maid is guilty of human trafficking understandably riles Indian diplomats as much as the treatment of Khobragade after she was detained.
The American habit of imposing its worldview self-righteously on others is deeply unwelcome,” wrote Shashi Tharoor in Project Sydicate. Given the American couple’s general disdain of India and Indians, one wonders whether they were trying to champion Richards, or embarrass India by dragging one of its senior diplomats into a scandal. In their three years in India, the couple let their dislike for the country they served in run freely on Facebook. May’s wife Alicia joined a discussion over an article that claims non-vegetarians are more inclined to commit violence and sexual crimes to say, "It's the vegetarians that are doing the raping, not the meat eaters — this place is just so bizarre." When another friend said that he had never raped anyone, Alicia wrote, "Applies only to Indians, not westerners!" The Indian "holy cow" is a recurring theme in their posts, starting from the time May was posted in New Delhi in 2010 where he bemoans the unavailability of beef in India. His wife Alicia captions another photo "Stupid Cow".
A friend comments, "You just insulted their god...," Alicia retorted, "Not the first time, not the last time." In a photograph posted online, they commented that their pet dog Paco looked bigger and in better health than their Indian gardener. May crowed that this was because his dog got more protein in his diet than the gardener did. Without listing all their nauseating Facebook threads, it is suffice to say that their utterances smack of disdain for India and its culture. With the US trying to restore damaged ties, the State Department tried hard to distance itself from the disparaging comments. "Those comments absolutely do not reflect US government policy, nor were they made on any official US government social media account," said State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf.
Sadly, this is not the first time we are seeing this sort of thing. In August 2011, US diplomat Maureen Chao enrolled in a cultural sensitivity class after she gave a speech in SRM University in Chennai that was interpreted by some as deeply racist and by others as an unfortunate gaffe. A former Fulbright scholar, Chao came under fire when she spoke to a group of Indian students participating in SRM University’s Semester Abroad Programme. During her talk, Chao recalled her own experience as a study-abroad student in India 23 years ago, saying, "I was on a 24-hour train trip from Delhi to Orissa. But, after 72 hours, the train still did not reach the destination... and my skin became dirty and dark like the Tamilians." Chao’s attempt at humor fell flat and roused Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha to demand an apology. The US Consulate assuaged the chief minister by issuing a remorseful statement, "Chao made an inappropriate comment. Chao deeply regrets if her unfortunate remarks offended anyone, as that was certainly not her intent." Given that several American diplomats demonstrate they can’t be trusted to be “diplomatic,” the US State Department should enroll most of them in cultural sensitivity classes before sending them abroad.
It goes without saying that the clearly racist ones like Wayne May and his wife Alice should never be posted to India. India had handled American diplomats with a generosity of spirit that it felt the bilateral relationship deserved. But there is no sign, in the short term at least, that India is ready to forgive and forget as the US has shown no signs of moving to drop the charges against Khobragade. “The zealous (Preet) Bharara seems to have slipped up, because Khobragade was arrested at a time when she enjoyed full diplomatic (not just consular) immunity as an adviser to India’s United Nations mission during the General Assembly. The State Department’s handling of the matter – which included approval of Khobragade’s arrest – has been, to say the least, inept,” added Tharoo
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