AT the heart of the fracas surrounding the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York who promised to pay her housekeeper $9.75 per hour, in compliance with United States labor rules, but instead paid her $3.31 per hour, is India’s dirty secret: One segment of the Indian population routinely exploits another, and the country’s labor laws allow gross mistreatment of domestic workers.
India is furious that the diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, was strip-searched and kept in a cell in New York with criminals. Retaliation from the newly assertive but otherwise bureaucracy-ridden nation was swift. American diplomats were stripped of identity cards granting them diplomatic benefits, and security barriers surrounding the American Embassy in New Delhi were hauled away. A former finance minister suggested that India respond by arresting same-sex partners of American diplomats, since the Indian Supreme Court recently upheld a section of a Colonial-era law that criminalizes homosexuality.
Notwithstanding legitimate Indian concerns about whether American marshals used correct protocol in the way they treated a diplomat, the truth is that India is party to an exploitative system that needs to be scrutinized.
I grew up in a middle-class household in India in the ’80s; my parents were schoolteachers, and our lifestyle was not lavish by any means. I received new clothes once a year; I don’t recall ever going to a restaurant; our family couldn’t afford a car, so we...