“By worshipping friendship, let us win the hearts of the entire world”. Thus spoke “Maitreem Bhajata”, a song composed by the then Kanchi Shankaracharya and sung by MS Subbalakshmi at the UN on the occasion of the United Nations Day in 1966. This conveyed the spirit of friendship and harmony that ought to be the bedrock of relationships across nations.
As a civilization, India has never attacked anyone unprovoked. Nor has it ever plundered or looted. Even today, Indians can be proud of their inherent faith in the goodness of human beings.
Deviations are an aberration and can certainly not be used to dub an entire nation as ‘bad’.
Against this backdrop, the treatment meted out to Devyani Khobragade, a young Indian diplomat comes as a rude slap to our sensibilities. Whatever be the reason, there can be no justification for such extreme, stinging and unwarranted action against her. The arrest has violated international convention. Such action is taken in extreme cases of violence or terrorist activity. For a diplomat serving in any foreign country, to be handcuffed and arrested for labour law violation is unheard of. Further subjecting her to a humiliating strip test and a shattering cavity test is atrocious. It is shameful that a country like US should do this but equally revolting is the fact that there is no sign of regret or remorse!
Notwithstanding the suffocating details of the diplomat’s monthly pay being less than the monthly pay to the babysitter, the action and treatment is grossly disproportionate. These actions reek of arrogance, cultural intolerance and a lack of basic empathy that any nation ought to have.
This incident is akin to the humiliation suffered by Draupadi in the Hastinapur court. What is equally disturbing is the almost complete lack of international outrage. While this is a very sad incident, there is a silver lining. This has been not just a ‘wake-up’ but a ‘shake-up’ call for Indians. The solidarity expressed by Indians, young and old, rich and poor, cutting across party lines is indeed heartening. As India moves towards taking her rightful place as a world leader, it is imperative that we clear out some cobwebs that have gathered on our civilisational legacy.
Over the years, a certain dysfunctional behavior has come to occupy a significant place in our society. We are slavish or obsequious to people we perceive as ‘our bosses’, while being bullies with those we believe are ‘subordinate’. This is a moment to break this distorted behavior, which is allogeneic to our culture and often seen around us.
The Tiger is our National animal, which is known for its roar and strength. The spirit of the tiger in India that is Bharat (as aptly put in our constitution), must come alive and respond to this wake-up call. Let us not compromise on our civilisational DNA of being polite and respectful to all. At the same time, let us not bend backwards out of servility towards anybody. Let us have parity for diplomats of all countries. Let us immediately curtail all those special privileges and benefits that are specially extended to the US diplomats in India. We believe in being tolerant, forgiving and harmonious, not out of fear but because of our unshakeable courage to have faith in humanity. Let us leverage this historic point to build our relations with all nations on a basis of reciprocity, parity and fairness. That way, we would be able to create a new world order of ‘Shreyo bhooyath sakala janaanaam’ — where the entire humanity is lifted towards its highest aspiration, as the final lines of “Maitreem Bhajata” go.
The author is a Harvard educated civil servant and writer, now working in the education sector