Why Is India So Angry About The Arrest Of A New York-Based Diplomat?
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Why Is India So Angry About The Arrest Of A New York-Based Diplomat?


India’s government is in a foul mood. And it’s not because of the shellacking the ruling Congress Party suffered in state elections earlier this month.

On December 12, according to Indian media reports and government officials, New Delhi’s deputy consul general in New York was arrested, strip-searched (including “repeated cavity searches”), and thrown in jail with “hardened criminals and sex workers.” She was released several hours later after pleading not guilty, surrendering her passport, and paying $250,000 bail.

Her crime? New York prosecutors say Devyani Khobragade gave false information on a work visa application about how she would pay her housekeeper. Khobragade said she would pay the housekeeper $9.75 per hour, but reportedly paid her at a $3.31 rate — significantly less than the U.S. minimum wage.

If these allegations are true, then Khobragade certainly has some explaining to do. But do they warrant such rough treatment from U.S. law enforcement? Not in New Delhi’s view.

India’s government has erupted with fury. One official lambasted her treatment as “despicable and barbaric.” Another declared: “No Indian diplomat has been treated this way for decades… This is major, major ill treatment.” Still another fumed that “we’re not a banana republic.” New Delhi has summoned the U.S. ambassador to New Delhi, refused to meet with a visiting U.S. Congressional delegation, and demanded an unconditional apology from Washington (so far it has received only an expression of regret).

Some aspects of India’s response, however, appear over the top — particularly in light of a recent statement by the U.S. attorney for Manhattan, which insists that Khobragade was “accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants” would receive while in detention. India’s government has removed the security barricades in front of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi; halted liquor import licenses, airport passes, and other perks for U.S. diplomats in the country; and even threatened to require all U.S. diplomats in India to reveal how much they pay their household help. Most troubling of all, just days after India’s Supreme Court reinstated a ban on gay sex, some Indian media are speculating that New Delhi could target gay American diplomats and their partners (a top leader of the BJP, India’s chief opposition party, called on India to “arrest all these companions, put them behind bars and do what you like with them”).

Such developments have prompted prominent Indian media personality Barkha Dutt to tweet: “India’s response to the US on the Devyani case has been swifter/sharper than our responses to Pakistan at worst times.”

So what gives?

Less sophisticated observers may resort to the “prickly Indian” stereotype, and dismiss India’s indignation as more evidence of a pampered political class that can’t stand to be mistreated. They’ll point to previous examples of India taking great umbrage at far less egregious cases of mistreatment. In 2010, India protested to the United States after its U.S. ambassador was patted down by security officials at a Mississippi airport. A former speaker of Parliament once chose not to travel to Australia for an international conference when told he may have to pass through security. The mere possibility, he declared, amounted to “an affront to India.” To be fair, I’ve seen high-level Indian diplomats become sullen when asked to walk through security machines inside government facilities in Washington — but I’ve seen plenty of diplomats from other nations react similarly.

Another, somewhat more reasonable, explanation is that New Delhi’s response is driven by political considerations. National elections are just months away, and the deeply unpopular Congress Party faces a formidable challenge from the opposition BJP party, which often accuses Congress of being too soft on all types of issues ranging from Pakistan to livestock smuggling. Additionally, anti-American sentiment often flares in India — including among its 175-million-strong Muslim population. New Delhi’s angry comments and countermeasures may mark an effort to better position itself for next year’s vote.

The Khobragade incident may have also brought to the surface some tensions simmering beneath the seemingly placid U.S.-India relationship. It may lack the drama and turmoil of Washington’s relationship with Islamabad or Kabul, but the partnership certainly has its share of problems — from India’s unhappiness with U.S. foreign visa legislation to American exasperation with strict liability laws governing its firms operating in India. To this laundry list can be added India’s growing concern over America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

New Delhi’s angry reaction is also a reflection of its hostility — harbored by other countries as well — toward Washington’s diplomatic immunity policies. India believes its diplomats should receive immunity at all times, including when accused of crimes much more serious than Khobragade’s (in 2011, an Indian diplomat in London claimed immunity after being accused by British officials of assaulting his wife). The United States has demanded a similar policy for its own diplomats — even as it has declared that India’s diplomats in America, such as Khobragade, can only receive immunity for consular-related activities. As a result, Washington has insisted on immunity for the likes of Raymond Davis, a CIA spy who shot and killed two people in Pakistan, while denying it for a foreign diplomat who lied about how she paid her maid.

This isn’t to say New Delhi is blameless in this affair. According to one Indian media report, Khobragade’s housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, stopped working for Khobragade last summer and promptly sought assistance from a Manhattan immigration attorney. Shortly thereafter, officials took Richard’s India-based husband and child into custody and revoked her passport, making her U.S. status illegal. In September, a New Delhi court issued an arrest order for Richard, who remains in the United States (American officials have revealed her family is now here as well). If she returns to India, she could face extortion charges. New Delhi, meanwhile, claims — without elaboration — that last summer, Khobragade accused Richard of trying to blackmail her.

Nonetheless, India has good reason to be infuriated about Khobragade’s treatment — just as Americans would be if one of their diplomats went through what she did abroad. At its core, the reason for India’s ferocious reaction is simple: An educated, middle-class Indian woman was subjected to invasive and humiliating treatment by law enforcement (U.S. officials have confirmed the strip search). In India, many women of all classes experience some form of discrimination and violence. Yet women who experience what Khobragade did tend to be poor. That Khobragade happens to be a top diplomat in the financial capital of the world’s sole superpower has caused even more shock and embarrassment — particularly for a nation as sensitive about its global image as India.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. On December 18, India’s Parliament passed the Lokpal bill, long-delayed anti-graft legislation demanded by anti-corruption protestors since 2011. It now requires only a presidential signature, meaning that it’s tantalizingly close to becoming law. Yet at a moment when Indians should be celebrating this landmark legislation, l’affaire Khobragade ensures that many will instead be feeling blue — and seeing red.

Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He can be reached at michael.kugelman@wilsoncenter.org or on Twitter @michaelkugelman.

Old Poor Richard
January 22, 2014 at 20:52

Why was this woman arrested at all, instead of merely served a summons to face the charges? I would be just as furious if I or my wife were brutalized by police for the ‘crime’ of finding household help willing to work for less than minimum wage.

December 29, 2013 at 10:17

If these people respect law so few question for them
A person who is a accused in india and case is in under high court. They evacuated that person by issuing immidiate visa?
As happened in raymond allen davis case why amarica asked for diplomatic immunity isn’t that hipocratic let me enlighten you about this case
Davis was an amarican counselate in pakistan he killed two pakistani by his car he got arrested by pakistanis but amarican govt seek diplomatic immunity its to be noted that he was on same post as devyani was moving on he was escaped by amrican on basis of diplomatoc immunity wife of one the victim commited suiside as justice was not delivered in this case
A letter was written by sangita rechards was sent to devyani khobragere. In which she tried to blackmailed her plus as amarica stated in devis case that he was amarican nationel paki is violating viana convention same case applicable to devyani case

December 24, 2013 at 09:24

A lot of Indians are treated like animals in Saudi, Qatar, Kuwait (GCC)…and no overreaction from the Indian government….

December 22, 2013 at 05:32

If RaymondDavis can be secured after 2 killings, then Khobragade can also be secured unconditionally with a compensation & an Obama apology to boot ! American law and policy only looks after self interests – just like any prostitute. I remember last Obama visit to India where he was pleading all the while for creating US jobs . Loosing a 40 billion USD fighter plane deal won’t be worth one Khobragade. Loosing a market for Coke/ Pepsi / Ford/ GM / GE would be even worse. Khobragade’s crime in US is a non entity and it Is US which must explain the trail of CIA behind the maid’s family disappearance pending a court case- which is a very seriously hostile act of USA Govt on Indian soil.

P hertz
December 21, 2013 at 04:06

“despicable and barbaric.” Yeah…they should know.

Nitin Gadia
December 21, 2013 at 03:27

This opinion piece by Kugelman is bizarre. It starts with saying that this was an “overreaction”, and then says, “Nonetheless, India has good reason to be infuriated about Khobragade’s treatment — just as Americans would be if one of their diplomats went through what she did abroad.”
It’s typical for people in power to react by saying that the reaction to those in power not following the golden rule is “overreacting”, and that those who they have power over are “morally backward anyway”. I am both American and of Indian origin, and I am seriously offended by these Uncle Toms recusing this kind of blatant racism.

Shawn McHale
December 21, 2013 at 03:00

There are two issues here: 1) the arrest of the diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, and how the diplomat was treated, and 2) the Indian diplomat’s treatment of domestic help.
On (1), US law enforcement bungled the case badly. That’s why there is such uproar. The US should apologize for not handling the case more diplomatically.
But what about (2)? Is it so unreasonable to assume that the Indian diplomat in question did violate US laws? This would not be the first time that international staff of the UN, embassies, or World Bank have mistreated badly their servants in the US.

December 21, 2013 at 05:11

Behind these two issues there is a more complex issue. Also, other than wage dispute, no mistreatment has come to light yet. This is not a simple case of ignoring the US law. There were ongoing conversations among US and Indian government regarding wages.

India’s position is that both the maid and the diplomat are in US on official Indian passports, making them Government of India sponsored personnel in US, and part of diplomatic staff. And thus, their wages should be determined by Indian government. It should be kept in picture that the wages of maid are extremely well from Indian perspective and being on official passport, her presence in US should be considered of a temporary nature.

US position is that, the minimum wage laws of US should prevail. Question is whether US laws will determine how much the taxpayers in India should pay their staff? I do not think this question has an obvious answer. There are valid arguments on both sides.

A big reason for Indian government’s reaction is that the whole basis of the case, lying on the visa form, used to be looked on more as a technical requirement and overlooked in practice. Making the US wage requirements more of recommendations. There seems to have existed an implicit understanding on Indian missions part regarding this. But with the arrest and possible prosecution of the consular officer, it has opened a can of worms and cast doubts in the members of India’s diplomatic mission.

Government of India senior diplomats are pointing out that their salaries are not that high either. And I believe, socializing, inviting guests and hosting dinners is part of official duties of a diplomat. While it can be said that local help can be employed for these, it will be expensive and Indian taxpayers will have to bear the burden. While India sends the maids on official passports, US doesn’t consider them essential to the performance of consular duties.

This is a dispute which could have been resolved amicably.

January 6, 2014 at 23:33

If the Indian maid’s salary is set by Indian law, then why did Khobragade sign a contract with the maid to pay here the minimal required by U.S. law and file with the State Department that she would abide by that contract? Only after she agreed to abiode by U.S. law with respect to minimum wage and other compensation (e.g., time off from work) did the State Department approve a Visa for the maid. Clearly, this was all a lie on the part of Khobragade.

madhav ranade
December 23, 2013 at 11:39

pl see videos on youtube about discussions in NEWSHOUR …. where mr parthasarathi … a very senior ex-diplomat from india has clearly said that this problem is with all undeveloped embassy diplomatic staff …. running into thousands of cases … because all of them pay wages as per standards prevailing in their own countries …..

that is why now indian govt has aked for details of US mission in india … how much they pay to their indian origin staff … as per US standards or as per indian standards ….

data will come and will clearly show what is what …..

just wait ….

Bekar Patel
December 21, 2013 at 01:40

wao “Some aspects of India’s response, however, appear over the top ” Can you explain how US can evacuate an Indian citizen from India to save him from Indian law. I must remind that US govt has shown total disregard of Indian law by flying out Richard’s family out of India when court was investigating them. Are you suggesting white man legal system is always right?

December 20, 2013 at 21:13

United States of America considers it self as World power but the treatment given to Devyani has left no doubt that it is a cheap nation..! Even if she is practically guilty, she is not worth of such callous treatment. No prior notice, arrest on road instead of house or office, stripped search without getting permit from state secrectary……! I dont see any sign of developed countty. Besides, the case of Raymond Davis is rather shocking. He entered Pakistan with business visa and killed 2 pakistani and departed Pakistan by enjoying dilomatic Immunity. Now if a homicide can enjoy diplomatic immunity then why not Devyani ? Even they dont have concrete evidences against her. Or It may be like that Sangita Richard has done this intentionaly for US citizenship. Lets unte Indians and stand for her..! Dont let these western people fool us…… They always take stand for their people. We also have to stand for ours.. Jai Hind

December 20, 2013 at 18:01

First of all, US authorities reported that this diplomat was not “cavity searched”. And the so-called “strip search” is totally misunderstood by the Indian public. This has nothing to do with the humiliating stripping and marching naked through a village that men in India subject lower caste women to. This “strip search” is the common procedure for ALL arrested persons before they go into a cell. The purpose is to keep out contraband like drugs and weapons. In this case it was done in private by a female deputy.

Vedic Atheist
December 28, 2013 at 07:56

US media is towing their govts tight line and choosing words carefully to twist or hide truths. Eg- strip search includes a Visual Cavity Search, as per ‘Prisoner Operations Service Directives’ rule book of USMS. The standard procedures, as was applied to Devyani meant she was subjected to strip searches (plural) with visual cavity searches several times, once everytime she was taken out and put back into prisoner cell – when meeting with lawyers, or consulate officials and again when taken to court for bail hearing. State dept spokesperson carefully say she was subjected to a strip search (in singular) during arrestee intake, and omits the other strip searches after her intake, only saying all standered procedure were applied, which of course means several more strip searches as per protocol document (Prisoner Operations Service Directives). Technically not lying, but creating a picture far from what really happened.

Dept of State could have easily done things differently, let Diplomatic Security Service detain her and take her to court, just a matter of a 7 hours, and then STANDARD PROCEDURE would have been very different indeed. Diplomats are never supposed to be detained with general prisoner population, they could be murdered by agents easily this way. If US was really concerned about her safety, instead of strip searches (visual cavity searches) and ‘totally restrained’ using handcuffs, waist chains and leg irons (shackles) during transit, (which was several times) as USMS standard procedure mandates be applied to her, she could have been held in isolation, as is required for diplomats. That was world wide standard procedure as per universally agreed diplomatic protocols.

So now US gov speciously says India’s Deputy Consular General is no diplomat but merely an unimportant consulate worker not worthy of the courtsies and entitlements that every other country gives to every other country’s consuler officers.

Further the US media cow tows the ‘consular worker’ line, uses strip search in singular etc- shows US media to be a regimented propaganda arm of US gov.

Book her, try her if immunity is not applicable, and then when found guilty, declare her persona non grata. That would have gone down well in Indian Public Opinion, no furor. And focus would have been on plight of domestic helps perhaps, which does require attention. But now it is serious dent in Indo US relationship, and leaves a very negative impression about USA in Indian minds as well as just decent people where ever they live.

And will get worse if this goes to trial. And now the main piece of evidence, the visa form of maid DS 160 (screenshots available on net) clearly shows 4500 dollars was the employers salary, not what was promised to the maid. LOL.

So now tell me again why the repeated sexual assaults, restraints, waist chains and leg irons, hand cuffs- for someone as sweet and harmless as Devyani? Was US Dept not aware she was a Deputy Consular General of India? People are not as stupid as you seem to think.

Unthinkable and unprecedented in international diplomacy to top it all!

December 20, 2013 at 16:37

India should start planning a false sexual harassment case to US diplomat in india…arrest some of them. Then we will see the reaction of US Government.

Sunil Sinha
December 20, 2013 at 13:16

US Visa fraud is a serious crime. Indians in US do pay very less compare to the required rate, comparing to Indian Rupees. Indian owned motels, resturants, shops, gas stations, prefer to hire illegal Indians or Mexicans, make them work more than usual eight hours and pay less.

December 20, 2013 at 10:32

Looks like U.S. and their plans of using India to contain China is over.

This is good news for China. India will have to stick closer to BRICS from now on.

U.S. NSA spying on Brazil, strip searching Indian diplomat, making trouble for China in south china sea and deploying ABM bases in europe against Russia…all the BRICS will have to stick together. All of them face a common foe.

December 20, 2013 at 13:25

Very true…the sooner we Asians realize who is the COMMON ENEMY and close ranks the better for Asia – be it Chinese or Indian folks. Please read the Heartland Theory by Halford MAckinder and it’ll give an idea of the danger Asia faces.

December 21, 2013 at 00:57

I consider Mackinder’s heartland theory to be BS. I don’t believe in geographical determinism or other geopolitical mumbo jumbo. USSR controlled the eurasian heartland but lost the cold war.

I believe in naval power and naval supremacy. U.S. had naval supremacy, they won the cold war. That is the strategy I want China to pursue.

Sir Halford Mackinder, Geopolitics, and Policymaking in the 21st Century


December 20, 2013 at 07:27

Diplomacy is all about reciprocity. If United States can invoke it’s stupid law in a stupid way to unnecessarily bring in misguided humanitarianism on a civil issue between an Indian diplomat and her Indian domestic assistant, India is totally justified in being rattled. Why do you need to look for other reasons at all? And it’s not just India’s issue, it exposes the US arrogance and contempt towards other countries and their judicial systems. Today it’s Indian diplomat, tomorrow it could be any other nation’s diplomat. The basic premises of diplomacy are under siege here and India has rightly hit back. Deal with that.

December 21, 2013 at 01:04

I’m not sure what law you consider stupid? The accusations are serious. Lying on immigration forms on any nation is a serious offense. Paying a wage far below the amount necessary for survival is also serious. Is our argument that diplomats be allowed to flaunt the law of
their host country?

Khobragade is a representative of the Indian government, and part of that is respecting the law of the host country. It should be universally held.

This was handled poorly, and should have been managed by the State Department, declared persona non grata, and asked to leave the country. This probablywhat will happen in the end, because at the endof the day, reciprocity is more important than this conviction.

Vedic Atheist
December 28, 2013 at 08:42

She had extraterritoriality, with at least limited immunity from proscecution by vienna convention on consular relations 1963. Which means most local laws do not apply, only sending country laws apply to her. And can only be charged in case of grave crimes. Grave crimes are murder, sex assault, violent attacks etc. A serious crime (as alleged by US depr of state in this case), can be anything for any country. Not wearing burkha and going out unaccompanied by a male family member is a serious crime in many countries. And new laws can always be maid. Tax evasion is serious everywhere, prostitution or smoking pot is serious crime in India. Any every thing considered a felony is certainly a serious crime.

This quagmire of vague terminologies has been wisely avoided by all contries to prevent endless unnecessary complications that canderail relations and national inrerests, not mention the risks and discomforts to the diplomats (I forgot- consular worker).

More US is seen to take a hardline sanctimonious stand here, more harm it will do to Indo Us ties.

I can’t push away the feeling this was all done deliberately by US dept of state, since special agent Mark Smith of Diplomatic Security was investigating the case, not NYPD or FBI. Whatever happens now, this seems likely to be a huge self goal as far as US strategy in Asia. Yeay!

December 20, 2013 at 06:41

One of their own arrested them it was great to see this

Indians abused their own people in the USA more than any other group

December 20, 2013 at 15:27

Very True!

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