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The Devyani Khobragade affair has put the India-US relationship under considerable pressure. But for the ministry of external affairs (MEA) the messy affair could be a godsend opportunity. According to news reports, the MEA has been pushing the Union finance ministry for the last few years to agree to give ‘India-based domestic servants’ full time government employee status. In other words, the government would be paying for the household help who don’t do State-related work. The finance ministry has been reluctant, correctly so, to grant this wish because it would mean a drain on government resources. The foreign ministry till now has not been able to justify this demand. Now with 14 domestic helpers already residing in the United States and the possibility of a Khobragade re-run, the MEA will probably now put more pressure on the finance ministry to grant its demand.
As of now, Indian maids get an A3 visa for the US. But if the government of India changes their status and make them government employees, they will have to apply for an A2 visa. Without going into the specifics of the Khobragade case, there are too many grey areas in this issue. May we ask that why the ministry of finance should grant the MEA’s wish? Yes, senior government officers do get perks while they serve in India, but is it necessary to give them the same perks abroad and specially in countries where there are structures in place to ensure a system that can work well without any domestic help? Yes, it’s true that unlike in India, there is often no family support for the officers to fall back on. But then don’t forget, there are better facilities in place in those countries: crèches, play schools, etc. Indian diplomats can use these options, as other diplomats do. Moreover, a government employee status will not prevent the help from trying to become illegal citizens in the US or in any other country.
On its part, the MEA should understand that there is no argument in favour of the Indian taxpayer paying for household help for its officers. This is really to go beyond the boundaries of what is due to them.