Indian diplomat strip-searched by police, US admits amid Delhi fury

India steps up reprisals after arrest of New York consular official accused of work-visa violations

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 3:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 December, 2013, 11:16am

US officials have admitted that police strip-searched an Indian diplomat after she was arrested in New York, amid a growing row that has seen India hit back with reprisals such as removing security barriers around the US embassy in New Delhi.

In an e-mail published in India media yesterday, Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, said she had been treated like a common criminal despite her "incessant assertions of immunity".

Khobragade, 39, was arrested last week on charges that she had submitted false documents to obtain a work visa for her Manhattan housekeeper. Prosecutors say Khobragade claimed she paid her Indian maid US$4,500 per month but actually paid her less than US$3 per hour.

"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," she wrote.

"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 said.

In the e-mail, Khobragade implored the Indian government to ensure her safety and that of her children and preserve the dignity of the Indian diplomatic service which was "unquestionably under siege".

An Indian official said Khobragade would have to report to the precinct in New York every week to check in with the police. "India's top demand right now is: return our diplomat," he said.

Khobragade has pleaded not guilty and plans to challenge the arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity, her lawyer said last week.

Video: Anger in Delhi about treatment of Indian diplomat in US

The State Department sought to calm tensions, saying last Thursday's arrest was an isolated case, and should not be allowed to damage the close ties between India and the United States.

Marie Harf, US State Department deputy spokeswoman, noted that, as India's deputy consul general, Khobragade did not have full diplomatic immunity, but rather consular immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.

The case has escalated into a serious diplomatic issue. India has begun retaliating against American diplomats. The measures include revoking diplomat ID cards that brought certain privileges, demanding to know the salaries paid to Indian staff in US embassy households and withdrawing licences that allow the commissary at the embassy to import alcohol and food.

Police also removed the traffic barricades near the US embassy in New Delhi in retaliation. The barriers were a safety measure but India said that they clogged up traffic.

Harf said federal authorities would work on the issue with India. "We understand that this is a sensitive issue for many in India," she said. "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."

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse