India-US Rift: Indian Diplomat's 'Barbaric' Arrest

Indian deputy consul general handcuffed and strip-searched on fraud charges in NY. India outraged, removes US diplomatic benefits.

Ari Yashar ,

Indian policemen
Indian policemen
Flash 90

A diplomatic rift between the US and India was sparked Thursday, after an Indian diplomat in New York was arrested on fraud charges. The Indian government reacted against US diplomats in India, after calling the diplomat's arrest, in which she was handcuffed and strip-searched, "barbaric."

The diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, is India's deputy consul general. She was accused of submitting false documents in filing for a work visa for her female housekeeper, reports CNN. After submitting bail she was released from a shared jail cell.

Khobragade's arrest followed standard procedure and didn't violate policies, according to the US Marshals Service.

However, the Indian government strongly criticized the diplomat's treatment, noting she was publicly handcuffed and put in a cell with drug addicts like a common criminal. In addition to the strip-search, a DNA swab was reportedly taken from her.

In response, Indian officials summoned US Ambassador Nancy Powell, and took away US diplomats' special identification cards, which give them diplomatic benefits. Additionally, security barriers were taken down from outside the US embassy in New Delhi.

Furthermore, a visiting American congressional delegation was snubbed by numerous senior Indian officials.

"I think we have taken a tough stand. We do protect our foreign service officers and any other Indian that is unfairly treated outside," said Deputy Foreign Minister Preneet Kaur.

For its part, the State Department, through spokeswoman Marie Harf, said it would look into the arrest.

"We understand that this is a sensitive issue for many in India. 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," remarked Harf.

At the same time, the US noted that Khobragade's "consular immunity" does not prevent her from being arrested for acts outside of her official role, as per the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

A larger issue concerning the legal status of foreign diplomats in the US was revealed in the incident.

Khobragade was also accused of paying her housekeeper less than US minimum wages. However, Al Jazeera notes that the amount she is required to pay would be more than her own salary, which is set according to Indian standards.

On this point, India said it was looking into salaries paid to diplomats working in US missions to ensure compliance with tax and labor laws.

The US said it was considering giving diplomatic staff "government employee" status, which would have their salary handled by their home country, instead of coming under American labor laws.