The Delhi Durbar and the Indian Diplomat

Rafia Zakaria in Chapati Mystery:

DelhiA ripe 110 years ago, in the year 1903, the Second Imperial Durbar was held in Delhi, to celebrate the coronation of King Edward the VII and Queen Alexandria as Emperor and Empress of India. Neither could attend, but Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of the Indian colony, decided that it would be a great opportunity to appropriate the spectacle as homage to the British rule of India. To insure that the spectacle would be appropriately, spectacular he ordered all the minion Maharajas of the Empire to arrive in their traditional garb, with large retinues, silks and elephants and punkahs; so they would look like Maharajas. In this neat directive, the Indian love of protocol was thus successfully employed in the service of Empire. That the arriving “rulers’ were not “rulers” but vassals of Empire, that their retinues and turbans and everything else meant nothing at all in relation to their ability to rule themselves, was the farce behind it all. The British left and Pakistan and India exchanged their misgivings against the British Empire with petty barbs and nuclear weapons directed at each other. It is a consuming concern; and has occupied millions on either side with its continuing pettiness and puffery for a near century. On either side; the love of pomp and protocol has remained; flagellated into democratic norms on one side and military machinations on the other. Indians and Pakistani leaders are united in their love of appropriating the discriminatory racism that was once heaped on them on the lesser others of their respective countries. Importance, value, worth on either side of the border equals never being mistaken for those ordinary hordes; And nowhere is this most visible than in the constellations of power, the subcontinent elected office means command over convoys of cars, flashing lights, security details and never, ever, the ignominy of being treated “just like everyone else”

…The case of the Indian diplomat accused of victimizing her Indian maid in the United States could not end that way. After a few days of passion and petulance; the U/S Secretary of State, John Kerry, said he regretted the treatment of the diplomat. Indians happily declared victory They had won! The Americans would not be able to treat their diplomats poorly even when they happened to abuse their maids, diplomatic courtesy demanded delicacy (and perhaps even oversight, after all what’s a harried diplomat with kids to do without good help of the Indian kind!) In the fog of jubilation; they may have missed, like the decked up Maharajas of the Delhi Durbar; the ultimate irony of their fervently fought cause. Abusing a maid, lying on documents, foisting the inequalities of status operative at home on their servants abroad is none of it, worthy of serious punishment, of detention least of all the strip search required of everyone. What is more important is the South Asian love of protocol, of an affirmation by a superpower of the importance of an Indian diplomat, a vindication of the belief that those that get special treatment are somehow, in some special way inherently deserving of it.

More here.