India’s Female Diplomat Arrested and “Molested”



India is outraged over the U.S. arrest and reported strip search of one of its female diplomats in New York. Devyani Khobragade was arrested and allegedly molested by officials in New York as she was dropping off her children at school, and the treatment she allegedly received afterwards has caused significant outrage in India. The procedures involved in her arrest have been referred to as standard by U.S officials involved, but India’s public views the actions more so as Devyani being molested.

Tensions are rising quickly as a result of Khobragade’s arrest and subsequent poor treatment. India has decided to take retaliatory measures after hearing of the treatment of their diplomat. The decision has been made by Indian officials to revoke some of the privileges enjoyed by U.S. diplomats and their families within India. The reprisals include the revoking of ID cards which help speed up travel into and within the country, along with the removal of large roadblocks which regulated traffic into and around the U.S. embassy in India. In addition to the travel comforts being revoked, officials have also decided to revoke special import privileges for U.S. officials including liquor.

The public outcry is mounting inside of India as the press has devoted significant attention to the events surrounding the arrest of Khobragade. The Indian diplomat was allegedly arrested for underpaying her domestic worker and lying on the worker’s visa papers. Khobragade was arrested as she was dropping off her children at school, and it is the subsequent treatment of the diplomat which has caused the outrage. New Delhi papers ran front page reports stating that the female diplomat was arrested, strip searched, and thrown into holding with serious criminals and drug addicts.

Indian officials have referred to the treatment of Khobragade as “completely unacceptable.” This reaction was quickly followed up by statements highlighting the decision to take action and implement reprisals in response to the situation.

The competing pressures are now coming to a head as officials for both India and the U.S. attempt to sort out the sticky political situation which has stormed onto the public stage. Within the U.S., officials have quickly begun to backtrack and explain the actions which were taken. In speaking about the matter, U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf referred to “standard procedures” to explain the diplomats treatment. Harf did not deny the allegations of a strip and cavity search being conducted, but simply referred back to standard procedures while refraining to directly comment on the allegations.

When having to answer directly to the charges of strip and cavity searches taking place, Harf replied, “Diplomatic Security, which is under the State Department purview, followed standard procedures during her arrest.” When again having to directly address the treatment of Khobragade, Harf directed attention to the U.S. Marshals stating that Diplomatic Security had handed the Indian official over to them after the arrest.

India’s outrage over the arrest and alleged strip and cavity search of its female diplomate comes at a politically charged time. General elections are just less than a month away, and with the public attention being heightened, the resolution of the recent events in a satisfactory matter is sure to play into the political success of the candidates.

The situation is already serious enough within India that U.S. representatives, summoned in attempts to solve the matter, have been snubbed by Indian officials as a statement of their disgust. In addition, while retaliatory measures have already been taken, additional action is being encouraged by the father of Devyani Khobragade along with the general public.

While the case appears to be one that is focused in fact around the pay of domestic servants, it is incidents like this one which come at poor political times like these that have the capability of becoming significant international issues.

India’s close economic ties with Iran, centered around India’s heavy use of Iranian oil, also adds another dimension to the already touchy situation. As the U.S. attempts to reach a solid agreement in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, positive Indian relations could certainly add to the west’s political position. At a minimum, an India which does not feel the need to actively oppose or interfere with U.S. foreign policy would certainly be preferable to a less neutral position.

In light of such issues, the recent incident in New York however presents a complex political situation for both the U.S. and India. Kobragade and her father, along with the Indian general public will be seeking remedy for what they feel is disrespectful and unacceptable behavior, however the officials tasked with resolving the matter will have to navigate a formidable political minefield in order to put the matter to rest.

For now, tensions remain high as the many interested parties decide what more can and should be done.

By Daniel Worku

The Globe and Mail