The arrest of a senior Indian diplomat last week—over visa fraud charges—has now boiled over into a bona fide international incident. Secretary of State John Kerry called India's national security adviser Shivshankar Menon to apologize about Devyani Khobragade's arrest and strip-search.
Khobragade, a 39-year-old deputy consul in the Indian consulate in NYC, applied for a visa for her caregiver, and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharaha's office alleged that she claimed she was paying the woman $4,500, but it was actually only $573. She is also accused of asking her caregiver to lie. Indian officials blasted Khobragade's arrest, calling it "barbaric and despicable" and had the barriers (to prevent bombings) outside the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi removed.
Now, India is continuing to retaliate, especially after the State Department confirmed that Khobragade was subject to a cavity search: Reuters reports, "The measures included a revision of work conditions of Indians employed at U.S. consulates and a freeze on the import of duty-free alcohol."
State Department spokesperson Marie Harf described Kerry's call, "As a father of two daughters about the same age as Devyani Khobragade, the secretary empathizes with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded after Khobragade's arrest. In his conversation with national security adviser (Shivshankar) Menon, he expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India."
Khobragade's position at the consulate did not give her full diplomatic immunity, so she has now been transferred to India's Permanent Mission to the U.N.—which does give her full diplomatic immunity. But, the Washington Post explains, "A senior Indian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, acknowledged the transfer would not give the consular employee retroactive immunity. However, he said, it would protect her from future charges."
The U.S. Marshals maintained that Khobragade "was subject to the same search procedures as other USMS arrestees held within the general prisoner population in the Southern District of New York.”
That reaction may look outsized in the United States, but the case touches on a string of issues that strike deeply in India, where the fear of public humiliation resonates strongly and heavy-handed treatment by the police is normally reserved for the poor. For an educated, middle-class woman to face public arrest and a strip search is almost unimaginable, except in the most brutal crimes...The treatment and pay of household staff, meanwhile, is largely seen as a family issue, off-limits to the law.