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India fumes over envoy's arrest in US
Publication Date : 18-12-2013
India has responded angrily after a female diplomat at its New York consulate was arrested and handcuffed in the street, reportedly strip-searched and jailed for six hours over allegations that she falsified visa documents for her maid.
All American consular officials in India were asked on Tuesday to return their identity cards and airport passes, while other diplomatic privileges were under review.
The row escalated after Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul-general in New York, was charged with visa fraud and making false statements when applying for her Indian maid to work in the United States.
US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, who was born in India, announced the charges.
Indian officials said Khobragade, 39, was arrested when she dropped off her daughter at school last Thursday, then strip-searched and kept in a cell with drug addicts before being released on bail of US$250,000.
"It is despicable and barbaric," Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon told the Press Trust of India news agency. Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath warned that more steps will be taken unless the US offers an unconditional apology to the Indian diplomat.
India also asked for the details of salaries paid to Indian staff working in American missions and their maids and removed barricades put up behind the US embassy in Delhi.
Khobragade, daughter of a top administrative service official, became the latest Indian diplomat to run afoul of US law when she brought a maid from India to work in her Upper East Side residence. Indian diplomats accused of underpaying and even mistreating their maids in two earlier incidents were allowed to leave the US.
Khobragade, who gets a salary of up to $5,000 a month plus perks like free housing, is accused of agreeing to pay her maid Sangeeta Richards $4,500 a month in a visa application, but actually paying her 30,000 rupees ($484) a month. That is more than three times a maid's pay in India, but three times less than the minimum wage in the US.
Khobragade has pleaded not guilty to charges of visa fraud and making false statements but faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted.
"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," Bharara was quoted as saying,
Anger is rising within India, particularly in the diplomatic community, over the way the Indian diplomat was treated. Government and opposition leaders refused to meet a visiting US Congressional team.
"This is the worst in the sense that no one had been treated in such a shabby manner," said former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. "There is a strong sense of outrage within the service and outside."
Khobragade's father Uttam Khobragade on Tuesday met Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde who assured him that the government would ensure his daughter would come out it.
"She has not done anything to (deserve being) treated like that," he told reporters