Search re­tal­i­a­tion

New Delhi vows to bring fe­male con­sular of­fi­cial home ‘at any cost’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

In­dian po­lice re­move con­crete se­cu­rity bar­ri­ers out­side the US Em­bassy in New Delhi in ap­par­ent re­tal­i­a­tion for the treat­ment of an In­dian diplo­mat who was strip-searched af­ter her ar­rest in New York last week.

An In­dian diplo­mat said she faced re­peated “hand­cuff­ing, strip­ping and cav­ity searches’’ fol­low­ing her ar­rest in New York on visa fraud charges in a case that has in­fu­ri­ated the gov­ern­ment in New Delhi.

The In­dian gov­ern­ment vowed on Wed­nes­day to bring the woman home “at any cost”.

In an e-mail pub­lished in In­dian me­dia on Wed­nes­day, Devyani Kho­bra­gade, In­dia’s deputy con­sul-gen­eral in New York, said she was treated like a com­mon crim­i­nal de­spite her “in­ces­sant as­ser­tions of im­mu­nity”.

“I broke down many times as the in­dig­ni­ties of re­peated hand­cuff­ing, strip­ping and cav­ity searches, swab­bing, in a holdup with com­mon crim­i­nals and drug ad­dicts were all be­ing im­posed upon me de­spite my in­ces­sant as­ser­tions of im­mu­nity,” she wrote.

An In­dian of­fi­cial with di­rect knowl­edge of the case con­firmed that the e-mail was au­then­tic. The of­fi­cial spoke anony­mously be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the case. He said In­dia is try­ing to get the woman re­turned home.

“In­dia’s top de­mand right now is: Re­turn our diplo­mat,” he said, adding that Kho­bra­gade, who was re­leased on $250,000 bail, would have to re­port to po­lice in New York ev­ery week.

“It is my duty to bring the lady back and we have to re­store her dig­nity and I will do it at any cost,” For­eign Min­is­ter Sal­man Khur­shid told In­dia’s par­lia­ment on Wed­nes­day.

Kho­bra­gade, 39, was ar­rested last week on charges that she sub­mit­ted false doc­u­ments to ob­tain a work visa for her house­keeper. Pros­e­cu­tors say Kho­bra­gade claimed she paid her In­dian maid $ 4,500 per month but ac­tu­ally paid her less than $3 per hour.

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

Case es­ca­lates

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 her daugh­ter’s Man­hat­tan school.

The case has es­ca­lated into a se­ri­ous diplo­matic is­sue. In­dia has be­gun re­tal­i­at­ing against US diplo­mats. The mea­sures in­clude re­vok­ing diplo­mat ID cards that brought cer­tain priv­i­leges, de­mand­ing to know the salaries paid to In­dian staff in US em­bassy house­holds and with­draw­ing im­port li­censes that al­lowed the com­mis­sary at the US em­bassy to im­port al­co­hol and food.

Po­lice also re­moved the traf­fic bar­ri­cades near the US em­bassy in New Delhi in re­tal­i­a­tion for Kho­bra­gade’s treat­ment. The bar­ri­ers were a safety mea­sure but In­dia said they clogged up traf­fic.

In New Delhi, the lower house of Par­lia­ment had to be tem­po­rar­ily ad­journed on Wed­nes­day af­ter some law­mak­ers nois­ily de­manded that it adopt a res­o­lu­tion against the United States.

In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh de­scribed Kho­bra­gade’s treat­ment as “de­plorable”.

Arun Jaitely, leader of the op­po­si­tion in the up­per house, said the gov­ern­ment had to reg­is­ter its “strong­est protest’’ to the US gov­ern­ment for the “lack of re­spect for In­dia”. He called for a re­view of In­dia’s re­la­tions with the US, a de­mand that was vo­cif­er­ously sec­onded by many law­mak­ers.

Marie Harf, US State Depart­ment deputy spokes­woman, said fed­eral au­thor­i­ties would work on the is­sue with In­dia.

“We un­der­stand that this is a sen­si­tive is­sue for many in In­dia,” she said. “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 also said as In­dia’s deputy con­sul-gen­eral, Kho­bra­gade does not have full diplo­matic im­mu­nity, but rather con­sular im­mu­nity from the ju­ris­dic­tion of US courts only with re­spect to acts per­formed in the ex­er­cise of con­sular func­tions.

Kho­bra­gade’s case has re­ceived wide­spread at­ten­tion in In­dia. 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.

AD­NAN ABIDI / REUTERS

New Delhi po­lice re­move se­cu­rity bar­ri­ers in front of the US em­bassy on Tues­day af­ter the in­ci­dent in New York.

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