The ministry of external affairs (MEA) is trying to strengthen its talent pool with lateral entries. But incidents of the sort involving the Indian envoy to New Zealand cast a negative light on the service. The high commissioner to New Zealand has now been recalled after allegations by his chef that he had been abused by the envoy and his wife. This is the latest in 27 such incidents that have been reported from among the India’s embassies in the last one year.
Unlike the 2013 Devyani Khobragade case, which snowballed into a diplomatic row between New Delhi and Washington, the government acted swiftly and recalled the envoy, though he claims that it was on his own volition. But the case does highlight the manner in which household help is treated by Indians, both at home and abroad. They are hardly ever accorded the dignity of labour they deserve. There have been several cases in India where well-to-do employers have deprived their help of basic necessities like food and proper shelter. Much of this goes on under the radar as the workers are often brought to cities by unscrupulous touts and are not even aware of their rights. While legislation, such as the Unorganised Social Security Act 2008, Sexual Harassment against Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, and minimum wages schedules notified in various states refer to domestic workers, comprehensive and uniformly applicable national legislation guaranteeing fair terms of employment is still to be framed.
The incidents involving diplomats are not just a blot on the service but projects India in a negative light abroad. Efforts should be made to encourage diplomats to hire local help. Most foreign diplomats serving in India tend to hire local help. If there is a prescribed contract, it should be a template for all issues relating to working hours, pay and other perks. At home, the government needs to keep a sharper eye on the agencies, which have proliferated in towns and cities. A recent arrest of a woman by the Jharkhand police revealed that trafficking of poor and often minor domestic help, largely from tribal areas, is a flourishing business. The MEA by acting swiftly in the New Zealand case has signalled an attitude of zero tolerance to this sort of treatment of workers and that must be carried forward.