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Offensive posts a new twist in US-India spat

Publication Date : 15-01-2014


Offensive remarks about India reportedly posted on Facebook by an American couple while working at the US Embassy in New Delhi have sparked fresh outrage in the South Asian country in the midst of the simmering diplomatic row between India and the United States.

The posts have come to light since Washington complied with a request by India to withdraw Wayne May, the regional security officer in the US Embassy in New Delhi. He and his wife, Alicia Muller May, left India on Sunday.

May was expelled in a reciprocal move for action taken against Dr Devyani Khobragade, who was charged with visa fraud and asked to leave the US after being granted diplomatic immunity. She returned to India on Saturday.

May reportedly complained about filth, traffic and cows in India on Facebook.

The US state department distanced itself from the posts, while India's Ministry of External Affairs did not comment.

One conversation thread in 2010 attributed to May soon after he arrived in India said "no eating the sacred cows", then added "one week in country, and I already miss steak".

His wife Alicia, who had worked as a communications liaison officer in the US Embassy, is said to have posted a Facebook comment in November 2012 about an article that claimed non-vegetarians were to blame for more rapes than vegetarians. She is said to have maintained it was the opposite in India.

"It is the vegetarians that are doing the raping, not the meat-eaters - this place is just so bizarre," said the post, following up with: "Applies only to Indians… not Westerners!"

In another post, Alicia is said to have uploaded a picture of the gardener with their dog, and claimed the dog had a better diet than the gardener.

While the Facebook accounts of May and his wife have been deleted, the posts and pictures were picked up by some websites in India.

The Facebook posts are the latest twist in a month-long diplomatic crisis between the US and India triggered by the arrest of Khobragade.

US law enforcement officials whisked her off the streets of New York on December 12 on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her maid, Sangeeta Richard.

Anger exploded in India at the news that Dr Khobragade had been handcuffed and strip-searched.

It later emerged that Indian officials suspected May of playing a role in helping to fly Sangeeta's husband and two children to the US from India ahead of  Khobragade's arrest.

At the time, an Indian official, who did not want to be named, referred to May's reported involvement in the matter as "unilateral actions".

Even as reaction circulated online about Mr and Mrs May's alleged Facebook posts, a Times of India newspaper headline said: "Was expelled US official a bleeding heart or an ugly American?"

It said: "Their facetious comments about a stereotypical India abounding in chaos and filth, which some might see as offensive, shows them as the archetypal 'ugly Americans'."

The Indian Express newspaper said in a headline: "Expelled diplomat wore bias on sleeves."

Asked about reports of May's offensive social media posts on Monday, US State Department spokesman Marie Harf declined to reveal the diplomat's identity.

"I have not seen the comments. I have seen the reports of them," she said. "Those comments absolutely do not reflect US government policy, nor were they made on any official US government social media account. I do not have (any) more comment than that. I would underscore that these do not, in any way, represent the US government position."

One foreign policy expert said that comments made on Facebook by an individual are unlikely to have an impact on US-India ties.

"The US state department was prompt in distancing itself, so it won't have a negative impact on the relationship beyond what has happened," said Professor Chintamani Mahapatra of Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"It (India) would rather read the statement of the state department. These will be taken as the personal remarks of an individual."


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