“Absolutely unacceptable” US ambassador Nancy Powell told.
By Rajiv Theodore
NEW DELHI: Disbelief, shock and then rage engulfed the country after Devyani Khobragade, the Deputy Consul General at the Consulate General of India in New York was arrested as she was dropping her children to school on Thursday morning. US ambassador to India Nancy Powell was summoned to South Block for an explanation and the message was conveyed that the treatment to the Indian diplomat was ‘’absolutely unacceptable.’’
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh who had ordered for Powell is understood to have said that the Indian diplomat in New York is entitled to the courtesies under various multilateral conventions dealing with diplomatic fraternity posted in for countries.
Khobragade, a 1999-batch IFS officer, joined the consulate last year and was previously posted in Germany, Italy and Pakistan. She was serving as acting head of the Indian consulate at the time of her arrest. She was charged with one count each of visa fraud and making false statements, which carry maximum prison sentences of 10 years and five years, respectively.
Condemning the arrest, MEA Spokesperson, Syed Akbaruddin told reporters in New Delhi, “Nothing entails the humiliation of a young woman with two small children publicly. A person who has been a diplomat sent there to represent her country. We will take issue of legal nature separately but there is no justification or acceptability of what has happened to the young diplomat who had gone to drop her children in a school.’’
The Indian Embassy in Washington said in a statement that it had “immediately conveyed its strong concern” to the US government over the action. “The US side have been urged to resolve the matter with due sensitivity, taking into account…the diplomatic status of the officer concerned,” it said.
The allegations against Khobragade were that she took a babysitter/housekeeper with her to the US. She then told the US immigration department that the help would be paid the minimum wage of —$4,500 a month. But the actual payment was only $530 a month. US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara said the two sets of contracts were signed between Khobragade and her housekeeper, one offering her the minimum wage and another citing the real wage she would be paid. According to Bharara, the help was instructed not to say anything about the second contract during her visa interview.
The MEA stated “We were informed that Khobragade was taken into custody by law enforcement authorities in New York in the morning of December 12, while dropping her daughter to school. Khobragade was released that same evening. Action was apparently taken on the basis of allegations raised by the officer’s former India-based domestic assistant, Sangeeta Richard, who has been absconding since June this year. In this context, the Delhi High Court had issued an-interim injunction in September to restrain Richard from instituting any actions or proceedings against Khobragade outside India on the terms or conditions of her employment. The US Government had subsequently been requested to locate Richard and facilitate the service of an arrest warrant, issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate of the South District Court in New Delhi under sections 387, 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code. The Embassy of India in Washington DC had immediately conveyed its strong concern to the US government over the action against Khobragade. The US side has been urged to resolve the matter with due sensitivity, taking into account the existing court case in India and the diplomatic status of the officer concerned.”
There is another side to the story. Indian officials say the rash decision to arrest the Indian diplomat had a lot to do with Bharara’s burning political ambitions.
A former Indian government official who served in the US, said, “After taking down one state senator, two members of the assembly, a member of the council and many others in two alleged bribery plots; after going after Rajat Gupta and Raj Rajaratnam and putting him away for more than 10 years; and after pursuing the case against IMF (International Monetary Fund) chief Dominique Strauss Kahn (which was dismissed), Bharara was looking for another scalp. Now, he has one—Devyani Khobragade.”
The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 which has been ratified by 189 countries forms the legal basis for diplomatic immunity. It enables diplomats to function without fear of coercion or harassment by the host country.
But then on Thursday, India’s Deputy Consul General in New York Devyani Khobragade may have realized the sheer hollowness of such safeguards if at all it can be called so.
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