As the date of indictment of Devyani Khobragade nears, the diplomatic row between India and the U.S. deepens. Khobragade, the deputy consul general of India was arrested outside the school of her daughter, strip searched, presented before a magistrate, and then freed on furnishing $ 250,000 bail bonds. Khobragade is adamant that not only was she cavity searched but also held with drug addicts while in police custody, a charge that NYPD denies.
The charge sheet against Khobragade is one count of visa fraud and one count of misrepresenting facts. She is to be indicted on January 13. The Indian government initially asked John F. Kerry and the Department of State, to tender an unconditional apology and to drop the charges against the diplomat. When nothing of the sorts happened, in a move to save Khobragade, India transferred her from the consulate and made her a member of the staff of the Indian permanent mission to the U.N. All this was done by the Indian government so that Khobragade could enjoy full diplomatic immunity of which she was not eligible being a member of the consular staff under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963.
In a tit-for-tat move, India also withdrew the amenities afforded to the U.S. diplomatic staff in New Delhi and other parts of the country. The security given to the U.S. diplomats and the embassy at New Delhi was also withdrawn. After all these moves by the Indian government, nothing changed as far as the case against Khobragade was concerned. The trial was conducted and now a decision is to be announced in less than a week’s time. In view of this the Indian government has intensified its campaign to save her from serving a jail-term if she is held guilty as charged. As the date of the expected court decision nears the diplomatic row between the two countries deepens.
In a recent move the Indian government has asked the U.S. Embassy to discontinue all commercial activities carried on by the embassy under the American Community Support Association (ACSA). The embassy premises houses a restaurant/bar, beauty parlor and a gym which includes a swimming pool and a bowling alley. These facilities are used by non-diplomats as well. This, according to the Indian authorities is a clear violation of the Article 41(3) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, which states that “the premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State.” In addition all embassy vehicles would be penalized if found violating any traffic law, including vehicles with the applied for (AP) number plates, a common practice in India.
Khobragade is charged with ill-treating and under-paying her ex-maid whom she brought with her from India. According to the contract Khobragade was to pay her $ 4,500 a month, instead she was paid less than the legal minimum wage. Khobragade holds that she is being blackmailed by her ex-maid and all the allegations against her are false.
There are also reports in the media that a process of plea bargain is also a possibility in this case. The ground reality is that unless and until a clear-cut verdict is reached in U.S. vs. Khobragade, the diplomatic row between the two countries will continue to deepen.
By Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada