Anger escalates in India after U.S. arrest of diplomat in New York

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 17, 2013 6:33 AM

By Shyamantha Asokan

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's national security adviser and senior political leaders weighed into an escalating dispute with the United States on Tuesday over the arrest and alleged heavy-handed treatment of an Indian diplomat in New York.

National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon said the treatment of the diplomat was "barbaric" and in protest refused to meet a delegation of U.S. lawmakers on a visit to India. The delegation has also been snubbed by the leaders of the two main political parties, a cabinet minister and the speaker of parliament.

In a sign the row might deepen, Indian TV networks reported that the foreign ministry was considering retaliatory demands, including withdrawing consular identification cards and certain privileges for some U.S. diplomats and their families.

India's foreign ministry and the U.S. embassy Delhi said they were unable to comment on the reports.

Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, was arrested last week for allegedly underpaying her nanny and committing visa fraud to get her into the United States. Khobragade was handcuffed upon arrest and strip-searched before being released on bail, Indian media said.

Khobragade, who was released on $250,000 bail after pleading not guilty to the charges and surrendering her passport, faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted on both counts.

U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf on Monday said diplomatic security staff followed standard procedures during the arrest and then handed her over to the U.S. Marshals.

The arrest triggered fierce debate in India, with opinion divided over whether Khobragade was unfairly treated or whether she should be condemned for mistreating her domestic helper.

EYES ON ELECTION

Khobragade falsely stated in her nanny's visa application that she would be paid $9.75 an hour, a figure that would have been in line with the minimum rates required by U.S. law, according to a statement issued last week by the public attorney for the Southern District of New York.

But the diplomat had privately agreed with the domestic worker that she would receive just over a third of that rate, the public attorney said.

With general elections due in less than six months, India's political parties appeared determined not to be labeled soft or anti-patriotic.

Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that leads India's ruling Congress party, both declined to meet the U.S. delegation.

"Refused to meet the visiting USA delegation in solidarity with our nation, protesting ill-treatment meted to our lady diplomat in USA," Modi said in a Tweet.

U.S. ambassador to India Nancy Powell was summoned on Friday to meet Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, who conveyed "shock" over the "absolutely unacceptable" treatment of the diplomat.

The case is the latest concerning alleged ill-treatment of domestic workers by India's elite, both at home and abroad.

In June 2011, an Indian maid working for the country's consul general in New York filed a lawsuit alleging that he was using her as forced labor. A member of parliament's wife was arrested last month for allegedly beating her maid to death at her home in Delhi.

Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, consular officials enjoy immunity from arrest only for crimes committed in connection with their work.

(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Robert Birsel)