India, US row over diplomat’s arrest intensifies
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New Delhi/Washington: Indian authorities removed security barriers in front of the US embassy in New Delhi on Tuesday, apparently in retaliation for the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York and the treatment meted out to her.
New Delhi police used tow trucks and bulldozers to remove the concrete barricades, which are used to restrict traffic on the road outside the embassy.
As the dispute over the diplomat’s treatment grew, several top politicians, including the leaders of the two main political parties and the national security adviser, refused to meet a delegation of US lawmakers visiting India this week.
The action by the US authorities was “completely unacceptable”, foreign minister Salman Khurshid said, adding that India has conveyed its deep distress and sense of disquiet to the American government and whatever needs to be done was being done.
India has withdrawn all airport passes for US diplomats. The government has also stopped all import clearances for the US embassy, including liquor. New Delhi has also asked the US to return identity cards issued to all its consular officers posted in the country, a move that may be a precursor to reviewing immunity and benefits enjoyed by them.
India has also called for details, including salaries paid to all Indian staff employed at the US consulates, including by consulate officers and families such as domestic help, reports said.
“We have put in motion what we believe would be effective way of addressing the issue but also (put) in motion such steps that need to be taken to protect her dignity,” Khurshid told reporters in New Delhi. “We have expressed our deep distress and sense of disquiet, that has been very very strongly felt, in the strongest words possible. We have communicated the sense that we feel (to the US).”
The 39-year-old Khobragade, a 1999-batch Indian Foreign Service officer, was taken into custody last week on a street in New York as she was dropping her daughter to school. She was handcuffed in public on visa fraud charges before being released on a $250,000 bond after pleading not guilty in court. Prosecutors in New York say that Khobragade claimed she paid her Indian maid $4,500 per month but actually paid her below the US minimum wage.
The outrage in India had more to do with the way she was treated.
Khobragade’s treatment in the US is “barbaric”, Khobragade’s father, Uttam Khobragade, told the TimesNow TV news channel on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the US on Tuesday virtually justified the reported strip-search by New York police of Khobragade, saying “standard procedures” have been followed during her arrest.
“Diplomatic security, which is under the state department purview, followed standard procedures during her arrest,” state department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters at her daily news conference.
Harf was asked about media reports that Khobragade, the deputy consul general at New York, was strip-searched and confined with drug addicts after her detention. Media reports also said she was subjected to DNA swabbing.
“Our diplomatic security folks followed our standard procedures, which I’m assuming are standard for diplomats because that’s who our diplomatic security deals with,” Harf said.
However, she referred the allegations regarding inhuman treatment of Khobragade to the US Marshals, saying the Indian diplomat was handed over to them by diplomatic security.
Harf said under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Indian deputy consul general enjoys immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.
“There’s different kinds of immunity. This isn’t just in the US; it’s all around the world. So in this case, she fell under that specific kind of immunity, and would be liable to arrest pending trial pursuant a felony arrest warrant,” she said.
India initially reacted sharply to Khobragade being arrested and handcuffed in public by summoning US ambassador Nancy Powell and issuing a demarche in this regard. Tuesday’s outrage follows details that have emerged relating to the way the Indian diplomat was treated.
Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi refused to meet a US Congressional delegation in protest. The meeting, which was slated for Monday, did not take place because Gandhi wanted to register his disapproval of the US treatment of Indian diplomat, people familiar with the matter said.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who is the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) prime ministerial candidate, said he too would also not meet the delegation.
“Refused to meet the visiting US delegation in solidarity with our nation, protesting ill treatment meted to our lady diplomat in US,” Modi tweeted on microbloging site Twitter.
Reuters contributed to this story.