independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Diplomat's NYC arrest 'barbaric'

Indian police remove barricades that had been erected as a safety measure outside the main entrance of US Embassy (AP)

The arrest and alleged strip search of an Indian diplomat in New York City has escalated into a major international incident 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 Thursday as she dropped off her daughter at school, and kept in a cell with drug addicts before posting 250,000 dollars (£153,281) bail.

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

India is threatening to downgrade privileges for US diplomats in India and is demanding information about how much they pay their Indian household staff, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI) 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."

National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon slammed Ms Khobragade's treatment in New York, branding it " despicable and barbaric".

Prosecutors in New York say Ms Khobragade, 39, claimed she paid her Indian maid 4,500 dollars (£2,759) 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.

That may appear to be an over-reaction in the United States, but the case touches on a string of issues that strike deeply in India, where the fear of public humiliation resonates strongly and heavy-handed treatment by the police is normally reserved for the poor.

For an educated, middle-class woman to face public arrest and a strip search is almost unimaginable, except in the most brutal crimes.

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

The Indian government 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.

In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said standard procedures were followed during Ms Khobragade's arrest.

Ms Khobragade's father, Uttam Khobragade, told the TimesNow TV news channel on Tuesday 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.

AP

Press Association

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