Diplomatic row: Furious India hits back at US
Yahoo India News - 3 hrs ago
NEW DELHI: India has launched an intense diplomatic offensive against the United States over the arrest of an Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, in New York.
Khobragade was arrested from a public place, handcuffed and thrown into a cell with other petty criminals like drug addicts and sex workers over what the US claims is a ‘serious visa fraud’.
Angry over the treatment meted out to the diplomat, India has taken strong steps to make its displeasure over the matter known.
Describing the incident as despicable and barbaric, an angry India has:
- India has directed all US diplomats and consular officers posted in the country to return the identity cards issued to them.
- India has withdrawn airport passes for the US consulates/embassies personnel and their families.
- India has withdrawn VIP treatment to all US envoys across the nation. American diplomats will now have reduced immunity in India.
- The government has asked the Delhi police to lift traffic barricades, except the pickets, outside the US embassy.
- Delhi has also sought salary details of Indian staff working in US consulates, including by Consulate officers and families such as domestic help.
- Government seeks visa and other details of all teachers at US schools and salary and bank accounts of those of Indians in these schools.
- Visa details of all teachers at US schools, salaries paid and bank account details have also been sought.
- Government has stopped all import clearances for the US embassy including liquor.
- Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh summoned Nancy Powell, American Ambassador to India, and lodged a strong protest over what India has described as ‘unacceptable treatment’ meted out to its consular officer in New York.
- Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, BJP's prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, and National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon have each refused to meet with visiting US delegations.
- India has argued that the US has violated Article 41 of the Vienna Convention, which states that a diplomat will only be arrested for a grave crime, and even if arrested, all courtesies will be extended to the diplomat.
- Meanwhile, Yashwant Sinha, former external affairs minister and a BJP MP, caused a flutter when he said that to retaliate against the mistreatment meted out to the Indian diplomat in the US, India must arrest same-sex partners of American diplomats, saying that the latest Supreme Court verdict has made homosexuality illegal in India.
What is the Devyani Khobragade saga
Khobragade, deputy consul general for political, economic, commercial and women's affairs at the Indian Consulate in New York, was charged Thursday with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements, which carry maximum sentences of ten years and five years in prison, respectively.
US prosecutors said Khobragade claimed in visa applications to be paying an Indian national who worked as a housekeeper in her Upper East Side residence about $4,500 a month, when in fact, she was paying her about Rs 30,000 or $480 a month. That works out to a wage of about $3.31 an hour, or less than half the $7.25 legal minimum, according to prosecutors.
Khobragade, who was released on $250,000 bail after pleading not guilty to the charges and surrendering her passport, faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted on both counts.
But what has flared up the issue was the treatment that was meted out to Khobragade when she was arrested.
It has been discovered now that Khobragade was strip-searched in custody and made to stand with common criminals, drug addicts and sex workers by the New York Police.
Khobragade was on her way to drop her children to school when she was stopped by the police and handcuffed in full public view. Dr.
Khobragade protested, saying she is a diplomat and enjoys immunity, but worse was to come.
Her attorney, Daniel Arshack, called on US diplomats to express their displeasure with the US Department of Justice decisions in this case.
Arshack, told a magistrate judge his client enjoys immunity and will challenge the arrest on those grounds. Khobragade handed over her passport as a condition of bail and agreed to make no contact with the unnamed housekeeper.
The Indian embassy said that a court in India has issued an arrest warrant for the housekeeper, whose current whereabouts are not known.
The housekeeper worked for Khobragade from November 2012 until June 2013.
Federal prosecutors in New York released a statement on Thursday saying that Khobragade broke the law and would be prosecuted.
US Attorney Preet Bharara alleged that the Indian diplomat had caused "materially false and fraudulent statements to be made in support of a visa application for an Indian national employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her home in New York."
"Foreign nationals brought to the United States to serve as domestic workers are entitled to the same protections against exploitation as those afforded to United States citizens," he said.
"The false statements and fraud alleged to have occurred here were designed to circumvent those protections so that a visa would issue for a domestic worker who was promised far less than a fair wage," Bharara said.
"This type of fraud on the United States and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated," he said.
What US says
As reports suggested that Devyani Khobragade was "strip-searched" after her arrest in New York, the US suggested it had merely followed 'standard procedures.'
"The State Department's Diplomatic Security followed standard procedures during the arrest," spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters Monday when asked why the US was not respecting basic courtesies to a diplomat as it expected others to respect its own diplomats.
"After her arrest, she was passed on to the US marshals for intake and processing. So for any additional questions on her treatment, obviously, this would be the US Marshals and not us. I would refer you there," she said.