Devyani Khobragade is returning home. The diplomat from India who has been at the center of a dispute that has caused tension between Washington and New Delhi is leaving the United States (US) and headed back to India.
A month ago, Khobragade, who recently held a position in New York as India deputy counsel general, was arrested and strip searched by US authorities. This set off a huge angry reaction in India at the time.
At the time, prosecutors accused the Indian diplomat of lying when apply for a visa about the amount of compensation she gave her housekeeper. She was issued an indictment by a federal grand jury charging her with both visa fraud as well as making false statements. The United States asked the government of India to waive her diplomatic immunity in order to be tried for the charges. India denied that request and instead, relocated her to New Delhi with the Ministry of External Affairs.
The Indian government said that Khobragade continues to maintain her innocence of all the charges. As she heads back to India, the government said she is determined to make sure that the event will not leave a lasting impression on her family and, more specifically, her children who still reside in America.
The arrest and treatment of Khobragade at the hands of US officials has escalated tensions between the two nations. New Delhi officials have been demanding an apology from Washington as well as asking that the charges be dropped.
Prosecutors with the US government say the visa application for the housekeeper included a promise from Khobragade to pay her a minimum hourly wage of $9.75. This is minimum wage in New York. Khobragade also promised to require the housekeeper to work a maximum for 40 hours weekly. Prosecutors then say Khobragade had the housekeeper put a signature on another contract which paid less than $4 per hour and required much more lengthy hours. Khobragade’s lawyers have continually maintained her innocence and her right to diplomatic immunity.
Two senior officials with the State Department said that full immunity had to be given because she did not pose any type of threat to United States national security. The officials said such a threat is the only reason immunity is denied and that is a rare occurrence. When India refused to waive immunity, the only other choice was for Khobragade to return immediately to India.
Although he would not say that US authorities were guilty of doing anything wrong, John Kerry, US Secretary of State, did express regret about last month’s arrest. Law enforcement officials have continued to say that the strip-search was normal procedure and that Khobragade received many privileges not given to most defendants.
In the midst of all this controversy, Indian officials removed cement barriers from outside of the US embassy. They also confiscated identification cards of all United States diplomats. These actions came after an order that the United States government discontinue any activity at a recreational center at the US Embassy located in New Delhi.
Khobragade’s father, Uttam, called the charges against his daughter atrocious and inhuman. He supported all of India’s actions in reaction to the treatment of daughter.
Officials from both countries have expressed hope that the issue will not hurt relations between them even as Khobragade returns to India from the United States.
By Rick Hope