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India Demands US Apology For Diplomat's Arrest

Rift escalates over Indian diplomat strip-searched for fraud charges, India not satisfied with Kerry's 'regret.'
By Ari Yashar
First Publish: 12/20/2013, 10:28 AM

Mumbai, India
Mumbai, India
Flash 90

The diplomatic rift between India and the US has escalated, as India demands an American apology for the arrest and strip-search of its deputy consul general in New York last Thursday.

Devyani Khobragade, the diplomat in question, was accused of falsifying a visa application for her household help Sangeeta Richard, also an Indian national.

In the ensuing uproar since the arrest , which India has termed "barbaric," the country removed identification cards granting US diplomats special benefits, and further removed security barriers from outside the US embassy in New Delhi. A US congressional delegation was also snubbed by many Indian politicians.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry called Shivshankar Menon, India's national security adviser, to express "regret" over the incident. However, Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told NDTV "we want more than a regret," saying India demands an apology.

The most extreme Indian demands came from the diplomat's father, former bureaucrat Uttam Khobragade. Uttam threatened to go on a hunger strike to the death, unless the US withdraws charges against his daughter and issues an unconditional apology to India, reports Times of India.

However, US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf on Friday rejected the demand to drop charges, saying it's a "law enforcement issue." 

US Attorney Preet Bharara asserted in a written statement that the diplomat was not publicly hand-cuffed as claimed. He further noted that Richard, the diplomat's maid, has been ignored in India's fury and protests. 

Federal prosecutors say Richard was paid less than $600 a month for well over 40 hours of work a week. Her hourly wage, working out to $3.13, is well below New York's $7.25 minimum wage. Al Jazeera notes that Khobragade is herself on a salary set by Indian standards, meaning the $4,500 she reported paying her maid is more than she receives.

Regarding the Indian protest, Aseem Chhabra, a columnist for Mumbai Mirror newspaper, told CNN he believes it is "politically motivated," noting India has elections coming in May.

"Clearly this becomes an election statement: 'Look, we are standing up against the US,'" commented Chhabra.