The U.S. State Department is in the midst of a growing controversy over the arrest and strip search of India diplomat Devyani Khobragade by U.S. Marshals over charges that she was violating federal minimum wage laws by underpaying her housekeeper. Khobragade has openly denied those claims following her arrest.
Following the report, protests have erupted across India, and Indian officials have gone to great measures to show their grievance with the U.S., rejecting identification cards and privileges for U.S. diplomats in India. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi is the latest target in India’s retribution after police removed security barriers around the building. U.S. officials say the move is dangerous and could put the lives of U.S. embassy workers at risk, while Indian officials maintain the security was “blocking traffic.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh weighed in on the incident, saying that the treatment of India’s diplomat Khobragade was “deplorable”.
U.S. officials maintain that there are no hard feelings between the two countries, and Khobragade’s arrest and subsequent strip search was in no way indicative of the long standing alliance with the Indian government.
Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman at the State Department made a statement about the event.
“We don’t want this to negatively impact our bilateral relationship (with India), and we’ll keep talking about it with them on the ground,”
This latest blemish on America’s diplomatic relations doesn’t bode well for the U.S. as officials try mending broken relations with other allies over allegations of blatant abuses of power, most namely the NSA’s spying program.
The initial charge against India’s diplomat involved her housekeeper, who according to an investigative report was being paid $3 an hour, far less than the minimum wage. Khobragade pleaded not guilty and said she can prove she was paying her employee a fair wage, she estimates $4,500 a month.
In response the mistreatment of their diplomat, India has mandated the release of payroll information for Indian housekeepers in U.S. Embassy households.
While India is up in arms over the issue, U.S. officials are treading lightly on the issue, saying while the situation could have been handled better, these measures were necessary to ensure security.
Khobragade maintains her treatment was cruel and unusual given the charges.
Khobragade wrote in a statement following the incident “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,”
The U.S. Marshals Service received the detained diplomat after she was nabbed by the U.S. Department of State’s diplomatic security team. From there, she was placed in a cell with other female diplomats, a measure officials said is a “standard arrestee intake procedure,” Khobragade was released on a $250,000 bail with requirements that she check in with New York police once a week.
While Khobragade claims she is immune from U.S. prosecution, reports indicate that her immunity is limited. She is insulated through consular immunity “from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions,” making her assertions of full diplomatic immunity void. Still, critics and observers agree that the punishment did not fit the crime and that Khobragade as India’s diplomat should have been treated with greater respect.
Leaders in India’s parliament have made there voices heard, saying that India should review their relations with the U.S. over the “lack of respect for India.”
Observers say the strip search of an foreign diplomat is a symptom of a bloated security agency within the U.S. government.