India, US ties strained over diplomat’s arrest

India, US ties strained over diplomat’s arrest

NEW DELHI - Agence France-Presse
India, US ties strained over diplomat’s arrest

The Consulate General of India is seen in this photo. The latest arrest caused tension. AFP Photo

Indian officials on Dec. 18 voiced strong anger against a recent arrest and invasive search of a female Indian diplomat in New York as the ties between the countries took a turn for the worse following the incident.

India vowed to bring home the female diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, the deputy consul general in New York, who was stripped-search and arrested in New York last week for allegedly underpaying her Indian domestic helper.

“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.

Khurshid also confirmed a string of diplomatic reprisals against the U.S. for the incident, including ordering the return of identity cards and airport passes for U.S. consular officials that speed up travel in India.

Other measures include halting clearance for the U.S. embassy of imported goods including alcohol and sales of items within India such as cars.

India will also demand employment contract and bank account details of Indian nationals employed by U.S. consular officials around the country.

The comments came after Devyani Khobragade, the deputy consul general in New York, described how she endured “repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches” after her arrest last week.

Khobragade, 39, was arrested as she dropped her children at school for allegedly underpaying her Indian domestic helper, and for lying on the helper’s visa application form.

Khobragade said she stressed to arresting authorities that she had diplomatic immunity only to suffer repeated searches and jailed with “common criminals.”

“I must admit that I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, in a hold-up with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity,” she said in the email published in the Times of India.

US seeks to calm tension

Rattled by the scale of the anger in India, the U.S. State Department sought to calm tensions and said the arrest should not be allowed to damage bilateral relations.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf admitted it was a “sensitive issue” but insisted it was a “separate and isolated incident” which should not “be tied together” and allowed to affect broader U.S.-Indian ties. Harf added that as a consular official, Khobragade does not have full diplomatic immunity, but has consular immunity applicable only to her professional duties.