Sordid Arabia: Diplomat's sex slavery reveals sickening truths
Here's a country that has managed to emulsify its terrifying everyday reality simply with crude oil and lucre.
- Total Shares
As you read this, a man identified as Majid has reportedly tucked himself away inside the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Delhi. On Wednesday, he crept out of his official residence in Delhi's wealthy Gurgaon suburb, ably dodged a tumult of TV cameras and took refuge at the plush embassy of his home country. First secretary Majid of the embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had just been accused of perpetrating and overseeing the systematic and chronic rape, sexual enslavement and torture of two Nepali nationals at his official residence. You've seen the story play out on TV, read the lurid details of Majid's alleged crimes. Heard about how he would allegedly dispatch his wife and daughter out of the house so the coast was clear to invite other monsters to come and partake of his Nepali slaves. You've allowed the comforting, hypnotising numbness of journalistic detail of this sordid tale of sexual savagery wash over you. The big question everyone's asking, of course, is: So what happens to Majid? Surely you already know? Not much.
The Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity is well-considered and, let's make no mistake, necessary. But so are the enduring questions over whether or not such protocols should apply for serious crimes like murder and rape. For the purposes of this column, I'm only marginally less concerned about the freedoms that diplomatic immunity evidently provide for criminal activity. Like a grudging but unanimous langote that forcibly contains what would otherwise probably be all-out diplomatic mayhem.
Because, frankly, this story goes beyond whether or not an Arab diplomat accused of orchestrating rape orgies on two Nepali slaves deserves to be stripped of a privilege without which he would, we all wish, be invited by the scruff of his neck into a lock-up somewhere in Haryana. This story affords us two far bigger and, frankly, far more insidious vistas.Two Nepali women have alleged rape against a Saudi diplomat serving in India.
First, Saudi Arabia itself. As first secretary Majid cowers behind invisible diplomatic immunity (and the very visible ramparts of the embassy building on South Delhi's splendid Paschimi Marg), we are presented a valuable opportunity to visit the idea of Saudi Arabia - the country. A nation that, like every other, enjoys (and rightly so) diplomatic privileges in a foreign land. But also one that has managed to emulsify its terrifying everyday reality simply with crude oil and lucre. A country that so brazenly stands among the so-called world order as a key player, while the world looks the other way on how it smothers its horrors with that most simple of things: money.
There is something special about Saudi Arabia and the effortless, virtually unassailable global hypocrisy it continues to pump from the rest of the world. Remember how President Obama, hours after lecturing the Indian State on the lofty tenets of religious tolerance and the rights of women, hot-tailed it on Air Force One out of Delhi to Saudi Arabia? Where, not only did Obama valiantly honour Washington's historic forbearance on violently enforced Saudi fanaticism, but was also unable to say very much when the new king he had come to welcome shook his hand, but not Michelle's. The US' inviolable relationship with Saudi Arabia is a current every country must swim with. Even if grudgingly. Like their own Mr Majid at the embassy in Delhi, Saudi Arabia has an immunity from much of the rest of the world.
The second insidious vista this week's sordid tale of sex slavery affords us is India's own relationship with Saudi Arabia. Let's make no mistake. The world, India included, has morally subsidised much of the foulness that Saudi Arabia stands for. Sadly, India's ties to Saudi Arabia are pretty much irreversible. At least for now. Nearly three million Indian nationals live in Saudi Arabia and constitute that country's largest foreign national community. India is energy hungry and Saudi Arabia feeds the biggest chunk of that hunger. Sure. Except, the geopolitical or economic calculus only helps gloss over the things we'd rather not talk about.
Should India really give a damn? Surely we have bigger problems of our own? And can India afford really to be sanctimonious about Saudi Arabia? A newspaper report in June suggests Prime Minister Modi could visit the Kingdom within the next few months. The pragmatism of foreign policy means Indian relations with the Kingdom necessarily look away from what such significant diplomatic endorsements actually allow. Of course, that applies to anyone with a meaningful relationship with Saudi Arabia. Certainly, us.
It's not often that a story pops up that throws up issues reflective of whole countries. Inequities of this wonderfully peaceful region of ours couldn't be more elegantly on display this week: a diplomat from an impossibly wealthy nation flees with a force field of official protections, while two clearly underprivileged women from impoverished (and recently shaken to the ground) Nepal wonder with bewilderment whether the people they accuse of violating their bodies will ever face justice. As a journalist, I can tell you that the comfort of suspense turns more wheels than any of us will admit.
If you've been watching the explainers that accompany TV coverage of the story, you'll know by now that Saudi Arabia is legally ambiguous on rape, with a framework of punishments that frequently criminalises rape survivors themselves. It's possible, therefore, that if this crime had been committed in Saudi Arabia, the two Nepali women would have had to pay in some form for what happened to them. Possibly.
Apart from the millions of Indians who live and work in Saudi Arabia, there are of course thousands who travel there every year. I will end with a word on them. Reports suggest Haj pilgrims from India were recently issued a strict advisory against carrying things like pornography, Viagra and "sexual creams or oils" on their voyage to the Kingdom. We Indians needn't fear taking such items to most other places. But to Saudi Arabia, be warned. "It is a very serious issue, which needs to be dealt with seriously," scowled the circular. Having conferred with experts, and given the unique brand of inhumanity the country reserves for women, outsiders and the degenerate, it brings me no joy to confirm that this was probably the most useful advice the Indian government has ever issued about the Kingdom.