The Khobragade Files

The goodwill enjoyed by the United States in India continued to erode sharply as lawmakers across the political divide came together in Parliament to condemn the hostile treatment of an Indian diplomat who was arrested in New York even as India said it suspected a “conspiracy” in the entire affair.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed the incident “deplorable” and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said his ministry would bring back the affected diplomat, now out on bail facing charges of visa fraud, at any cost.
“Today, our paramount concern, interest and determination are to be able to intervene effectively and specifically to ensure the dignity of our officer is absolutely preserved,” Khurshid said in the Lok Sabha. “This is an attack on the dignity of the nation, the dignity of India’s womanhood,” the minister added.
India’s deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested in New York on Friday on charges of visa fraud and making false statements. The news that she was handcuffed in public, subjected to strip search and cavity search and detained in a cell with hardened criminals, has led to widespread public outrage in India.

In June, Khobragade reported disappearance of her Indian help Sangeeta Richards
Khobragade got calls to settle matter for cash and to arrange an Indian passport for Richards
NYPD did not act on the complaint. An FIR was registered in Delhi.
A Warrant was issued in Delhi against Richards on Sept 23.
India forwarded warrant to US for action
Despite knowing Richards was a fugitive, US gave visa to Richards’ husband and children. They flew to US on Dec 10.

In an email describing her ordeal to her batch mates, Khobragade said she broke down repeatedly as she endured the humiliation at the hands of US authorities. Responding to a discussion in the Lok Sabha, Khurshid said the diplomat was a victim of “conspiracy” and was “virtually trapped”. Without naming names, the minister said sometimes people who go to work in the US conspire with some others with personal vested interests. It emerged on Wednesday that the husband and two children of Sangeeta Richards, the domestic help who has accused Khobragade of underpaying her, left for the US two days before the diplomat was arrested in New York. That US granted visa to her family members despite India informing the state department that she was staying in the US illegally, and about a non bailable arrest warrant against her issued by a Delhi court, has raised eyebrows in South Block.

On Tuesday, India transferred Khobragade to the permanent mission at the United Nations in New York. Once the accreditation process with the UN is completed, she will enjoy complete diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention. The US state department had maintained that as a member of the consular staff, Khobragade was not entitled to the full extent of diplomatic immunity.

After India responded with fury on Tuesday, withdrawing a number of privileges to US diplomats in India, the US also tempered its reaction, saying it will look into whether proper procedures had been followed during the arrest of the Indian diplomat. “We are looking into the intake procedures surrounding this arrest to ensure that all appropriate procedures were followed and every opportunity for courtesy was extended,” US state department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “The United States and India enjoy a broad and deep friendship, and this isolated episode is not indicative of the close and mutually respectful ties we share,” she added.

Prominent American newspapers reported that India was adopting measures as “revenge” or “retaliation” to the arrest of the Indian diplomat. India has denied that measures were retaliatory, arguing that all decisions have been made on a reciprocal basis. In the Lok Sabha, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav demanded a resolution against the US, saying this was only the latest instance of US highhandedness. In the Rajya Sabha, leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said India must insist on being treated as equals. “If we conduct foreign policy in amanner that we are taken for granted, then these incidents will be repeated… We need to introspect where we stand on foreign policy,” he said.

Demonstrators gathered outside the US embassy in New Delhi, shouting anti-US slogans. Some protestors were apprehended by the Delhi Police and later released. India maintained that while portions of Nyaya Marg in front of the US embassy have been opened for traffic, there has been no withdrawal or scaling down of security to the embassy. “There is no change in the security situation with regard to any diplomats in India, including the US diplomats. They will have full safety and security within the confines of the Indian law,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said. Even as the diplomatic impasse between the two countries, who are large trading partners, threatened to escalate, industry figures maintained that it was unlikely to affect business at this stage. However, Indian IT companies and US businesses with large operations in India were monitoring developments closely.

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