Indian diplomat arrest in US 'barbaric'

2013-12-17 16:41

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New Delhi - The arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York City on visa fraud charges caused a diplomatic row on Tuesday as the Indian foreign minister protested the woman's treatment as an indignity and angry politicians refused to meet with a visiting US congressional delegation.

India's deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, was charged last week with making false statements and visa fraud on an application for her housekeeper to work for her in the US. Prosecutors in New York say that Khobragade, 39, claimed she paid her Indian maid $4 500 per month but actually paid her below the US minimum wage.

She has pleaded not guilty and was freed on $250 000 bail.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told journalists on Tuesday that the diplomat was subject to "a form of indignity [that] is for us completely unacceptable". Khobragade was arrested and handcuffed on Thursday as she dropped off her daughter at school, then strip-searched and kept in a cell with drug addicts before posting bail, Indian officials said.

US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said on Monday that standard procedures were followed during Khobragade's arrest.

Public humiliation

The case touches on a string of issues that strike deeply in India, where the fear of public humiliation resonates strongly. For an educated middle-class woman to face public arrest and a strip search is almost unimaginable except for the most brutal crimes. The treatment and pay of household staff, meanwhile, is largely seen as a family issue, off-limits to interference by authorities.

And protocol complaints can quickly become serious issues. Standard security checks in the US regularly become front-page news here when they involve visiting Indian dignitaries, who are largely exempt from friskings while at home.

The fallout from the arrest appeared to be growing. On Tuesday, Indian political leaders from both the ruling party and the opposition refused to meet with a US congressional delegation in New Delhi.

The Indian government reacted to the news of Khobragade's arrest with outrage and said it was "shocked and appalled at the manner in which the diplomat had been humiliated" in the US.

Indian Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh summoned US Ambassador Nancy Powell to register a complaint.

Khobragade's father, Uttam Khobragade, told the TimesNow TV news channel on Tuesday that his daughter is not a criminal and her treatment was "barbaric".

Khobragade's lawyer told a magistrate last week that his client would challenge the arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity.

Indian officials said the government was considering steps to quickly resolve the matter.
Read more on:    india  |  us

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