Saudi diplomat should not go unpunished

 

By adopting a business-as-usual approach, the Indian government would not be able to prosecute the diplomat from Saudi Arabia who allegedly enslaved and raped two Nepali women at his home in Gurgaon.

The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Delhi has flatly denied the incident and has invoked diplomatic immunity. In fact, it went on the offensive, protesting against the Gurgaon police for “intruding” into the diplomat’s residence. “The Embassy strongly stresses that these allegations are false and have not been proven.”

Meanwhile horrifying details continue to emerge in the media. The Times Of India has reported (September 13) that over 20 men sexually abused the women. “The two women had shared with police this shocking detail, but the police were waiting for more confirmation. Medical tests—performed twice—gave a clear indication of the brutality the two had to suffer. The women had even claimed that sometimes seven or eight men would take turns in raping them.”

Was it a diplomat’s residence or some sadist’s dungeon? On the face of it, such lurid details appear bizarre. However, we should remember that this is not the first such case in which a Saudi diplomat has been involved. In 2004, the British police accused a Saudi diplomat of molesting an 11-year-old girl. The then Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, is said to have blocked the investigation by refusing to waive the diplomat’s immunity.

In May 2013, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers stormed a villa in McLean, Virginia—owned by the Saudi Armed Forces Office, reportedly housing its defence attaché—to rescue two workers from the Philippines. They were said to be the “victims of domestic servitude.”

Diplomats are human beings; they are fallible. There was the case of Devyani Khobragade, a consular official, who was accused of violating the law regarding minimum wages in the U.S. Another Indian diplomat was charged with wrongdoing in New Zealand. But there has been no diplomat from India, or from any other democracy, who has been accused of acts like rape and sexual slavery. So, what makes Saudi diplomats so depraved?

Well, the answer lies in not the diplomacy but the DNA of that country. According to the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report by the US Department of State, “Saudi Arabia is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and, to a lesser extent, forced prostitution. Men and women from countries in South Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, such as Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Burma, and Yemen, as well as many other countries voluntarily travel to Saudi Arabia as domestic workers or low-skilled laborers; many subsequently face involuntary servitude, experiencing nonpayment of wages, withholding of passports, confinement to the workplace, long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement.”

Such flagrant violations of human rights are not aberrations in a backward country; the violations are the product and function of ideological underpinnings of Saudi Arabia. This is a state governed in accordance with the strictest canons of Islamic law, and this law is in conformity with slavery. In November 2003, Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan said in a recent lecture, “Slavery is a part of Islam. Slavery is part of jihad, and jihad will remain as long there is Islam.” Now, Al-Fawzan is no freak; he is the author of a religious textbook which is widely used in Saudi high schools. He is also: a member of the Senior Council of Clerics, the country’s highest such body; a member of the Council of Religious Edicts and Research; Imam of the Prince Mitaeb Mosque in Riyadh; and Professor at Imam Mohamed Bin Saud Islamic University.

In fact, there are references in the Koran itself that sanction slavery. “O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those (slaves) whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee” (33:50). Again, “But (now) enjoy what ye took in war, lawful and good” (8:69). There are many more references.

The Saudi diplomat’s turpitude should be viewed in this context.

It will not be appropriate to assume that all Muslims favor slavery, but those paying allegiance to Wahhabism, the official ideology of Saudi Arabia, surely believe in this inhuman practice.

So, what is the way out? G. Parthasarathy, India’s former High Commissioner to Pakistan, believes that Saudi Arabia can be pressured to waive diplomatic immunity. He told Huffington Post India. “This is not just from one country to another. It is from two—India and Nepal. If they don’t, then they will be shamed internationally.”

Parthasarathy is wrong: you can shame somebody if you tell something about them that nobody else knows, but the depravity of Saudis is well known, so shaming them is ruled out. This leaves us with single option: recall the 2.88 Indian workers in the desert kingdom. This will mean the joblessness of almost as many livelihoods and a huge loss in terms of remittances, but we should not forget that this would not be an unmixed disaster. For many Indians working over there are anyway in virtual servitude, with their passports snatched by the employers, their wages often arbitrarily reduced, and living standards subhuman.

This decision will not only hurt the Saudi bad but also force the governments of other developing nations to take a similar action.

We have been told that Saudi Arabia is a big oil producer, and therefore it cannot be trifled with. But this reality can also be viewed from another perspective: we pay for the oil we buy.

India cannot and should not let the horrors of Gurgaon go unpunished: if Saudi Arabia does not waive its diplomat’s immunity, the entire nation should be made to pay for his sins.