Indian woman diplomat’s strip search, arrest in New York was ‘barbaric’: Official

Published: December 17, 2013
India U.S.

The Consulate General of India building on East 64th Street December 13, 2013 2013 in New York. Devyani Khobragade, 39, currently employed as deputy consul general for political, economic, commercial and women’s affairs at the Consulate, has been charged with visa fraud and making false statements over allegedly underpaying and overworking an Indian babysitter and housekeeper at her New York home. STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

NIRMALA GEORGE
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW DELHI — The arrest and alleged strip search of an Indian diplomat in New York City escalated into a major diplomatic furor Tuesday 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 was kept in a cell with drug addicts before posting $250,000 bail.

A senior Indian official confirmed reports that she also was strip-searched, which has been portrayed in India as the most offensive and troubling part of the arrest. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Her U.S. attorney said he didn’t know if she was strip-searched. Federal authorities said they were looking into the arrest.

“We understand that this is a sensitive issue for many in India,” said Marie Harf, State Department deputy spokeswoman. “Accordingly, we are looking into the intake procedures surrounding this arrest to ensure that all appropriate procedures were followed and every opportunity for courtesy was extended.”

Harf said that federal authorities would work on the issue with India “in the spirit of partnership and co-operation that marks our broad bilateral relationship.”

“We certainly don’t want this to affect the relationship,” she said.

India was ready to retaliate against American diplomats in India by threatening to downgrade privileges and demanding information about how much they pay their Indian household staff, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

Police also removed the traffic barricades near the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, a demand by the Indian government in retaliation for Khobragade’s treatment, PTI reported. The barriers were a safety measure.

“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.” He refused to say who had given the orders.

Calls to the U.S. Embassy were not immediately returned Tuesday.

But Harf said the U.S. had made clear to the India government that it needs to uphold its obligations under the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic and consular relations. She said the U.S. takes the safety and security of its diplomats very seriously.

National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon slammed Khobragade’s treatment in New York.

“It is despicable and barbaric,” he said.

Prosecutors in New York say Khobragade, 39, claimed she paid her Indian maid $4,500 per month but actually paid her less than the U.S. minimum wage. In order for diplomats and consular officers to get a visa for their personal employees, known as an A-3 visa, they must show proof that the applicant will receive a fair wage, comparable to employment in the U.S., U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement last week.

Federal prosecutors say Khobragade told the housekeeper she would be paid 30,000 rupees per month — about $573, or $3.31 per hour. The woman worked for the family from about November 2012 through June 2013, and said she worked far more than 40 hours per week and was paid even less than 30,000 rupees, prosecutors said.

Khobragade has pleaded not guilty and plans to challenge the arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity, her lawyer said last week.

If convicted, Khobragade faces a maximum sentence of 10 years for visa fraud and five years for making a false declaration. She was arrested outside of her daughter’s Manhattan school.

“We are distressed at the treatment that Dr. Khobragade has received at the hands of U.S. authorities,” said her lawyer, Daniel Arshack. He said she should have diplomatic immunity.

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 reaction may look outsized 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.

Far less serious protocol complaints have become big issues in the past. Standard security checks in the U.S. regularly are front-page news here when they involve visiting Indian dignitaries, who are largely exempt from friskings while at home.

India’s former speaker of Parliament, Somnath Chatterjee, once refused to attend an international meeting in Australia when he wasn’t given a guarantee that he would not have to pass through security. Chatterjee said even the possibility of a security screening was “an affront to India.”

The treatment and pay of household staff, meanwhile, is largely seen as a family issue, off-limits to the law.

The fallout from the arrest was growing. On Tuesday, Indian political leaders from both the ruling party and the opposition refused to meet with the U.S. 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 U.S.

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

Harf said as India’s deputy consul general, Khobragade does not have full diplomatic immunity, but rather consular immunity from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions. She said the State Department had in September notified India in writing of the allegations against Khobragade.

Harf said the department’s diplomatic security team followed standard procedures during the arrest. After her arrest, Khobragade was handed over to U.S. marshals for intake and processing, and Harf said she could not comment on Khobragade’s treatment at that point, or answer the allegations she was strip-searched. Harf said, however, the State Department was looking into those allegations.

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 traumatized,” 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.

Related Stories:

——

Associated Press writer Colleen Long in New York and Deb Riechmann and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

10:52ET 17-12-13

[+]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,



Readers Comments (0)

Comments are closed.

Featured

Abbotsford's Ravinder Singh Atwal has been identified online as the truck driver who died in a truck crash on Highway 99 near Delta on Wednesday. The Abbotsford father was killed when his dump truck hit the highway median and burst into flames. Submitted photo/Facebook.

Abbotsford trucker killed on Hwy 99 remembered as ‘one of the nicest guys’

GLENDA LUYMES VANCOUVER DESI An Abbotsford father killed in a fiery crash on Highway 99 is being remembered as hard-working and friendly by fellow truck…
Continue Reading »

A man reads the latest issue of French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo bearing a cartoon of Prophet Mohammed at a French bookseller in Abidjan on January 19, 2015. SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images

Mumbai police arrest newspaper editor for reprinting Charlie Hebdo cartoon

VANCOUVER DESI Mumbai police have arrested and since bailed out the editor of an Urdu language newspaper for reprinting a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the…
Continue Reading »

Indian spectators watch as a float carrying a sign that reads "Congratulations! It's a Baby Girl" passes by during the Indian Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2015. The float represented India's Ministry of Women and Child Development.  An estimated 26 million babies are born anually in India, a country considered to be one of the worst places to be born a girl because of a societal 'gender gap' that favours boys and preferences for male children. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

Father in India arrested for attempted murder after trying to bury his daughter alive

VANCOUVER DESI A father in India has been arrested for attempted murder after he tried to bury his 10-year-old daughter alive, according to Britain’s Daily…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

Abbotsford's Ravinder Singh Atwal has been identified online as the truck driver who died in a truck crash on Highway 99 near Delta on Wednesday. The Abbotsford father was killed when his dump truck hit the highway median and burst into flames. Submitted photo/Facebook.

Abbotsford trucker killed on Hwy 99 remembered as ‘one of the nicest guys’

GLENDA LUYMES VANCOUVER DESI An Abbotsford father killed in a fiery crash on Highway 99 is being remembered as hard-working and friendly by fellow truck…
Continue Reading »

Opposition Muted to Harper’s New Anti Terror Bill

BY Ujjal Dosanjh Special to Vancouver Province I smell an election coming. Not in October 2015; much sooner than that. Harper has just unveiled the…
Continue Reading »

Opposition parties treading carefully on new anti-terror legislation

By Stephanie Levitz THE CANADIAN PRESS OTTAWA — Anti-terrorism legislation introduced by the Conservative government Friday received a cautious reception by the opposition parties who…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

Vancouver-BC

Raise your hand, send us a selfie and make a statement against racism (with video)

VANCOUVER DESI Vancouver Desi’s digital anti-racism campaign, Raise Your Hands Against Racism, officially kicked off Thursday, with people across the Lower Mainland sending in selfies…
Continue Reading »

File photo: Curry chicken on rice. Sam Leung/PNG

Spicy treats on menu as 8 chef teams battle for Vancouver’s second-annual Curry Cup

VANCOUVER DESI A group of Lower Mainland chefs are set to go head-to-head with their South Asian cooking skills as they gear up for Vancouver’s…
Continue Reading »

Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Sonu Sood and Boman Irani in a still from the Bollywood film Happy New Year.

Indian expat avoids stalking conviction by blaming Bollywood for his behaviour

IANS Sydney  – An Indian man’s excuse that Bollywood love stories encouraged him to excessively approach and stalk women helped him avoid conviction in the…
Continue Reading »

File photo: Commuters hang by doors of a crowded local train in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Three men were killed on Monday after they attempted to take a selfie by a moving train near Agra. AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

College students killed while attempting train selfie in India

VANCOUVER DESI Three college friends on their way to India’s Republic Day celebrations were killed by a speeding train after they tried posing for a…
Continue Reading »

Screen shot of Shah Rukh Khan's first video tweet. Submitted.

Shah Rukh Khan sends out India’s first tweet using Twitter’s new mobile video camera

VANCOUVER DESI Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was the first-ever Indian to use Twitter’s freshly launched mobile video camera. Twitter announced the new feature on…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Akshay Kumar

Askhay Kumar offers martial arts training to visually impaired girls

PRASHANT SINGH HINDUSTAN TIMES Last year, Akshay Kumar — who was a professional martial arts trainer before he started acting — launched an initiative to…
Continue Reading »

Shah Rukh Khan (L) and Kajol (R) are rumoured to be appearing in the next Rohit Shetty film. Getty Images.

Rohit Shetty tightlipped on SRK, Kajol casting rumours

IANS Mumbai — Bollywood’s blockbuster director Rohit Shetty is remaining tightlipped on rumours he’s managed to rope in a casting coup of Shah Rukh Khan…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood sex

Sonam Kapoor never planned to use her father’s fame to jumpstart her Bollywood career

IANS Mumbai  – It’s always thought that Bollywood’s star children have it easy, but actress Sonam Kapoor says that at the start of her film…
Continue Reading »