A diplomatic row between India and the United States following the arrest of India's deputy consul general in New York on charges of visa fraud is showing its first signs of easing.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has reportedly expressed regret in a phone call to India's National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon over how the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, who was handcuffed in public on 12 December outside of her daughter's Manhattan school, was handled. Khobragade was later put through strip and cavity searches and DNA swabbing, and detained with drug addicts and sex workers before she was released on bail for 250,000 US dollars.
Khobragade faces charges that she allegedly lied on documents about her housekeeper from India, reporting she would pay her 9.75 US dollars an hour when the woman actually received about three dollars. If convicted, she could be sentenced to up to ten years in prison.
The treatment of Khobragade was met with outrage in India. The government responded by downgrading privileges of US diplomats in India and demanding information such as the salaries paid to all Indian staff employed by the consulate and by consular employees, including domestic workers. The government also put a halt to all import clearances, including all liquor for the US embassy.
Members of India's parliament strongly condemned Khobragade's treatment. The leader of the main opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party even suggested that the country retaliate by arresting gay US diplomats in India. The Indian Supreme Court reinstated a ban on gay sex last week.
Until Kerry's apology, US authorities had promised to review procedures, but stopped short of expressing regret over the arrest, only fueling the uproar in India.
Writer Rajeev Sharma highlighted the lack of logic in US law regarding diplomats in an article for news website First Post:
If the US were to implement its laws to the core with respect to all the 194 countries it has diplomatic ties with then it will have to handcuff and jail hundreds of diplomats, and that too maybe frequently. That is because the minimum wages US laws prescribe for workers hired by foreign missions happens to be more than the wages of the employer himself/herself.
The question is how can Khobragade pay her nanny $ 4500 per month when she is being paid $ 4120 per month, a point that has been stated by her father Uttam Khobragade, a retired IAS officer. It is an important point which Washington needs to take into consideration, because this is not India’s story alone.
Khobragade has been charged with visa fraud, an allegation that is yet to be proved. Even if proven, is it a charge grave enough to handcuff a diplomat and put her into jail?
Author S. K. Shah slammed the arrest on his blog:
Disgrace and humiliation to our Diplomat, the way Devyani treated in US. The Govt of India needs to retrieve the dignity of India as a whole.
However, Sandip Roy took a closer look at the charges Khobragade is facing in an article for First Post:
As consular staff member representing India abroad, Ms Khobragade enjoys many rights. The right to a domestic help at cut-rate wages however is not one of them.
The diplomat's arrest sparked reactions on Twitter both supporting and criticizing her. Shubhashish, a journalist in London, wrote:
The US has broken diplomatic rules and Khobargade has abused her position to disregard the US laws. Both at fault. Both must admit.
— Shubhashish (@shubHASHISH) December 17, 2013
Mumbai-based journalist Sudarshan Kumar tweeted:
Impressed with the Indian govt moves in Devyani Khobragade case…takes US head on..
— Sudarshan Kumar (@sudarshankr) December 17, 2013
Counsellor and photographer Smita Barooah saw the arrest as exposing the US's inconsistent rules:
US policy consistent:One set of rules for own people.Another set of rules for the rest of the world.Devyani Khobragade just another example
— Smita Barooah (@smitabarooah) December 17, 2013
Twitter user Anvesha defended Khobragade's housekeeper in light of her alleged low salary:
Devyani's political affiliations or property deals in India does not justify ill-treatment meted out to her in USA. This is the bottom line.
— Anvesha (@anveshaq) December 18, 2013
Twitter user Shyam Srikumar wrote:
— Shyam Srikumar (@shyamsrikumar) December 17, 2013
Meanwhile, Devyani Khobragade has been transferred to the permanent mission in New York, which entitles her to full diplomatic immunity.