Devyani Khobragade: Indian MPs demand action against US

On Tuesday authorities removed barricades from outside the embassy, while on Wednesday a protest took place outside it

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Outraged Indian MPs have spoken out in parliament against the arrest and alleged ill-treatment of one of the country's diplomats in New York.

Devyani Khobragade, deputy consul general, was handcuffed upon arrest last week and later strip-searched.

She denies visa fraud and making false statements over allegations that she underpaid her Indian maid.

A short while ago, US Secretary of State John Kerry called a top Indian official to express his "regret".

"In his conversation with National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, [Mr Kerry] expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India," state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

Ms Khobragade appeared in court last Friday and was freed on bail.

Devyani Khobragade at an event in New York Devyani Khobragade is the deputy consul general of India in New York

Her maid had complained the diplomat was paying her less than the minimum stipulated wages under US visa requirements.

On Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Ms Khobragade's treatment as "deplorable" and Foreign Minister Salman Khursheed said it was his duty to restore the dignity of the diplomat.

What is diplomatic immunity?

  • A form of legal immunity that ensures diplomats are exempt from prosecution under the host country's laws
  • Agreed as international law in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961)
  • Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963) a consul is afforded a variation of diplomatic immunity called consular immunity
  • It guarantees immunity from the host country's laws only with respect to acts related to consular duties

"I think the most important, immediate concern is to ensure that no further indignity is inflicted upon the young officer. And we are taking steps to ensure legally whatever is possible that we implement that immediately," Mr Khursheed told parliament.

"In terms of giving a strong, unambiguous, direct message to the United States of America: whatever I believe we were supposed to do, we did immediately," he added.

On Tuesday, India ordered a series of reprisals against the US.

Security barricades around the US embassy in Delhi were removed and a visiting US delegation was snubbed.

'National outrage'

On Wednesday morning, opposition MPs from several Indian parties called on the government to take action against the US.

Arun Jaitley of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said India should take its bilateral relations more seriously and "insist on being treated like equals" by Washington.

"Has the US held Vienna Convention in this? Who gave it the right to handcuff Devyani, treat her in this manner?" asked senior BJP MP Yashwant Sinha.

A protest near the US embassy in New Delhi December 18, 2013 Anger has been rising in India against the alleged ill-treatment of the diplomat

The leader of the regional Bahujan Samaj Party, Mayawati, demanded that "the prime minister should intervene immediately and take necessary action".

"When US citizens come here we show them so much respect. We must rethink on this," she added.

Senior Congress party minister Anand Sharma, speaking on behalf of the government, said the arrest was a "matter of national outrage". He said the government "has taken a stern view" and would make a statement in the parliament.

Ms Khobragade's arrest has escalated into a huge diplomatic row between India and the US with Delhi saying it was "shocked and appalled" at the manner in which the diplomat was "humiliated" in the US.

On Wednesday morning, The Times of India quoted from a letter she wrote to her foreign service colleagues where she said she was not just handcuffed, but subjected to a series of other measures.

"Although I must admit that I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, in a holdup with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity, I got the strength to regain composure and remain dignified thinking that I must represent all of my colleagues and my country with confidence and pride," she wrote.

The US Marshals Service Office of Public Affairs confirmed on Tuesday that she had been strip-searched.

Ms Khobragade, 39, was arrested last Thursday in New York and later freed on a $250,000 (£153,000) bond after pleading not guilty to the charges.

Law enforcement authorities in New York say Ms Khobragade "allegedly caused a materially false and fraudulent document to be presented, and materially false and fraudulent statements to be made, to the US Department of State in support of a visa application for an Indian national employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her home in New York".

If found guilty, she faces a maximum sentence of 10 years for visa fraud and five years for making false statements.

Ms Khobragade will challenge her arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity, her lawyer said.

The US state department said that Ms Khobragade did not have full diplomatic immunity.

It said under the UN's Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, she is immune from arrest only for crimes committed in connection with her work.

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