x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

‘Strip search’ of Indian diplomat in New York fuels row

Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, was arrested after being accused of submitting false documents to obtain a work visa for her Manhattan housekeeper.

India has described the treatment of Devyani Khobragade as an indignity. Via Devyani Khobragade's Facebook page
India has described the treatment of Devyani Khobragade as an indignity. Via Devyani Khobragade's Facebook page

NEW DELHI // The arrest and alleged strip search of an Indian diplomat in New York City escalated into a major diplomatic furore yesterday as India’s national security adviser called the woman’s treatment “despicable and barbaric”.

Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, is accused of submitting false documents to obtain a work visa for her Manhattan housekeeper. Indian officials said she was arrested and handcuffed last Thursday as she dropped off her daughter at school, and kept in a cell with drug addicts before posting US$250,000 (Dh918,000) bail.

A senior Indian official claimed she was also strip searched, which has been portrayed in India as the most offensive and troubling part of the arrest.

India was preparing to retaliate against American diplomats in India by threatening to downgrade privileges and demanding information about how much they pay their Indian household staff, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

Indian workers also removed the traffic barricades near the US Embassy in New Delhi that had been erected as a safety measure. PTI said the removal was a demand by the Indian government in retaliation for Ms Khobragade’s treatment.

“We got orders to remove the concrete barriers,” said Amardeep Sehgal, station house officer of the Chanakyapuri police station, the one nearest the embassy. “They were obstructing traffic on the road.” He refused to say who had given the orders.

Calls to the US Embassy were not immediately returned yesterday.

India’s National Security Adviser, Shivshankar Menon, slammed Ms Khobragade’s treatment.

“It is despicable and barbaric,” he said.

Prosecutors in New York say Ms Khobragade, 39, claimed she paid her Indian maid $4,500 per month but actually paid her less than the US minimum wage. Salaries for many workers in India, particularly for domestic help, are far lower than what they would earn in the United States.

Ms Khobragade has pleaded not guilty and plans to challenge the arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity, her lawyer said last week.

If convicted, Ms Khobragade faces a maximum sentence of 10 years for visa fraud and five years for making a false declaration.

Her case quickly became a major story in India, with politicians urging diplomatic retaliation and TV news channels showing the woman in a series of smiling family photos.

Ms Khobragade’s father, Uttam Khobragade, told the TimesNow TV news channel that his daughter’s treatment was “absolutely obnoxious”.

“As a father I feel hurt, our entire family is traumatised,” he said.

Indian external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid, said there were “larger issues” involved in the case, but did not elaborate.

“We will deal with them in good time,” he said.

Associated Press