DRESSED DOWN: (STRIP)SEARCHING FOR REASON IN THE INDIAN-AMERICAN DIPLOMATIC STANDOFF

Red Fort in New Delhi

By Param Bhatter
Staff Writer

On December 12th, the U.S. State Department arrested Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York City, strip-searched her outside of her children’s school and detained her until she was released on bail. She was charged with making false declarations on the visa application of her Indian domestic worker, as well as breaking U.S. law by paying her employee less than minimum wage. Regardless of whether these allegations are true, which Khobragade has denied, Indians all across the world are still furious at the way that the United States handled the situation. Even a few weeks after the incident, national headlines in Indian newspapers and articles continued to print on the perceived obscenity of this situation, and the dust has yet to settle. To fully understand India’s extreme reaction, it is important to analyze Indian culture and its part in the nation’s response to this situation.

Immediately after the incident, the Indian government in New Delhi quickly retaliated against American diplomats working in India. The countermoves included restrictions on tax-free shipments, the removal of traffic barriers outside the U.S. embassy in New Delhi and demands for the salaries of any Indian nationals employed at the U.S. embassy to be made public. Although these countermoves may seem like an extreme reaction to the mistreatment of one foreign diplomat, Indians are rather emotional about the incident. Additionally, the United States’ lack of a formal apology has left many Indians even more spiteful. As one of the fastest growing nations in the world, India wishes to be recognized politically by the United States as a first world country, not as an inferior country, which was the indication of the actions against Khobragade. Many Indians believe that this public strip search and detention were completely unnecessary, and that any issues with the visa application of the domestic Indian worker could have been handled privately. Making this incident public was only an attempt to ridicule Indians all over the world by treating them as children, or criminals who needed to be exposed in public and made an example of.

Another reason that India takes such offense to the mistreatment of Ms. Khobragade is that foreign diplomacy is one of the most respected careers in India. Each year, the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) only admits 1,000 students into its program for training to work in diplomacy. These positions are extremely competitive, and many members of the IFS are among the brightest and most successful members of India’s population. The United States’ public ridicule of one of India’s most prestigious citizens has left many Indians furious. Additionally, Ms. Khobragade is Dalit, from one of the lowest castes in India known as the “untouchables.” She has worked her way to the top of Indian society, and people within her caste, who make up about 15 percent of the Indian population, are extremely sensitive to humiliation.

The nature of the Indian response also stems from the fact that national elections are scheduled in a few months, and the current ruling party, known as the Congress Party, has had difficulty retaining its political power as it has lost many recent elections. Often criticized as too politically aligned with the United States, the party has seen this incident as a chance to prove to the Indian public that it remains independent and will not accept inferior treatment from the United States. Although this is unfortunate for the United States, the current political instability in India has affected the party’s reaction, which is not considered to be that extreme by the Indian public.

Even a full month after the incident, tensions still remain high between the American and Indian governments. Whether this will only get worse or eventually simmer down remains unknown. What is important to the future of these two countries is for them to better understand how to work together and deal with issues in a fair, considerate manner while being respectful of each nation’s culture and needs.

Image by Param Bhatter

INFANTICIDE: A DISCREET GLOBAL TREND

Image of Pregnant Woman

By Jubilee Cheung
Staff Writer

On October 17, 2013, 17-year-old Tiona Rodriguez was stopped by Victoria’s Secret staff for attempted shoplifting. A store employee, detecting a foul odor coming from Rodriguez’s shopping bag, discovered the corpse of a nearly full-term fetus among its contents upon conducting a routine inspection. Rodriguez claimed that she had suffered a miscarriage six months into her pregnancy, but tests have since proved that the fetus was alive at the time of its birth. Though evidence at present leads police to believe that the child was smothered, current test results remain inconclusive in regards to the manner of death and autopsy results are not yet available.

Though Rodriguez’s commission of infanticide may strike one as a singular, grotesque incidence that can be disregarded as exceptional, it is actually a highly relevant topic and widely occurring phenomenon. Statistics have generally been indicative of a downward trend in abortions performed, particularly in the United States (as of 2011 the United States averages about 1.06 million abortions a year, down from 1.29 million in 2002 and 1.31 million in 2000). But they fail to take into account the babies that are delivered full-term and then subsequently killed by their mothers. This practice is taking place under the table, not just here in the United States but globally as well.

In Thailand on June 4, 2013, a dog discovered a white bag in a dumpster containing a still-living baby girl. The dog, named Pui, brought the bag to his owner, effectively saving the girl’s life. Pui went on to be lauded as a local hero.

On May 2, 2013, after giving birth in a bathroom stall in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 19-year-old Cherlie Lafleur attempted to flush her dead baby down the toilet. After encountering numerous difficulties, she instead opted to throw it away in an adjacent trash can. Custodial staff discovered the baby later. Autopsy reports went on to reveal that the baby had been anywhere from 27-29 weeks old at the time of its death.

In the United Kingdom, on June 20, 2013, Iraqi-born Jaymin Abdulrahman confessed to throwing her infant daughter down a 44-foot garbage chute, after initially claiming that robbers had broken into and attacked her household. The baby sustained critical head injuries, and examinations revealed that she was showing signs of developing cerebral palsy, likely as a result of the head trauma she suffered. Abdulrahman blamed her actions on a lapse of mental stability caused by post-pregnancy hormonal imbalance. She was eventually found guilty not of murder, but of causing “grievous bodily harm with intent,” and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.

On August 28, 2013, Amanda Catherine Hein gave birth to a living baby boy in the bathroom at Starters Pub in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She then proceeded to stuff him down the toilet before returning to watch a sports game outside with three friends. Employees of the pub later found the baby dead. Hein had not told anyone that she was expecting throughout the duration of her pregnancy.

If abortion continues to exist as a viable option for women experiencing unexpected pregnancies, it is strange that so many would still voluntarily go to illegal extremes to avoid it – and yet ultimately arrive at the same conclusion. Exceptions to abortion availability do exist of course – for example, abortion is illegal in Thailand, except in cases of rape or to protect the mother’s health. The mother of the fortunate baby girl, rescued by Pui, did not have the ability to consider abortion as a possible course of action for her pregnancy.

However, in nations where abortion is legal, one has to speculate what could lead these young women to turn to such extreme measures as infanticide. Until recently, abortion has been something of a societal taboo. It has only just begun to appear in the entertainment industry as relevant subject matter in television and other media (chief examples include medical dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy). Still the term ‘abortion’ has mostly continued to carry with it a negative connotation; even those who are pro-choice regard it with implicit condonation at best. While ever-changing social standards may eventually lead to a general tolerance of abortion, it is unlikely that society will ever reach a point where the process is definitively encouraged. Thus it is possible that women experiencing unplanned pregnancies may be unwilling to consider it a valid option, given its currently ambivalent reputation.

Even if this is true, this recent trend of post-delivery infanticide ultimately brings about the same result, as it ends the life of the baby in question; the only difference is that doing so leads to possible charges of homicide. In this respect, abortion can arguably be viewed as a more practical solution, in spite of its ambiguous morality. The only way to truly escape this conflict of ethics would be to trace the problem at hand back to its root cause. That is, in order to reduce the occurrences of “DIY” abortions, it is imperative that we facilitate a reduction in unplanned pregnancy. Increased availability of education and contraception would teach women at risk of unexpected pregnancy that they have other options. This would contribute to the elimination of post-delivery disposal of babies by decreasing the number of unwanted babies in the first place.

Awareness is often the simplest and most effective solution to social issues, as it tackles a problem at its roots. In regards to the women who have attempted to get rid of their babies post-birth, their disturbing choice of action is simply a new take on a classic problem; an old virus that has developed into a new and morbid strain.

Image by Beatrice Murch