US 'regrets' diplomat treatment as India seethes

Published: December 19, 2013
Devyani Khobragade. PHOTO: REUTERS

Devyani Khobragade. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON: The United States voiced regret to India over the treatment of a diplomat whose account of being stripped and cavity-searched triggered outrage as the prosecutor in charge of the case defended the arrest.

With New Delhi vowing to “restore the dignity” of diplomat Devyani Khobragade, Indian media reported that the 39-year-old was being moved from her post as deputy consul general in New York to the UN mission in a bid to thwart her prosecution.

In a strongly worded statement, Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said the diplomat had “clearly tried to evade US law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers.”

Khobragade is free on bail after her December 12 arrest in New York for allegedly paying a domestic worker a fraction of the minimum wage and for lying about the employee’s salary in a visa application.

Bharara, who was born in India, stressed that the employee allegedly worked “far more” than the 40 hours a week in her contract and visa application.

The worker is said to have been paid just $3.31 an hour – well below New York’s required $7.25 – despite signing a contract to pay her three times that amount for childcare and other services.

“Is it for US prosecutors to look the other way, ignore the law and the civil rights of victims (again, here an Indian national), or is it the responsibility of the diplomats and consular officers and their government to make sure the law is observed?” Bharara asked.

While India retaliated against American diplomats in the usually US-friendly country, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to end the row in a telephone call to India’s national security adviser Shivshankar Menon.

Kerry “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,” in a call to Menon, the State Department said.

State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said it was “particularly important to Secretary Kerry that foreign diplomats serving in the United States are accorded respect and dignity just as we expect our own diplomats should receive overseas.”

The fury in India grew after an email from Khobragade in which the diplomat said she had been repeatedly stripped and cavity-searched by the US authorities after her detention.

“I must admit that I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, in a hold-up with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity,” she said in the email.

But Bharara, the US attorney, insisted that Khobragade was arrested in the “most discreet” way possible, was never handcuffed or restrained and was searched by a female deputy marshal in a “private setting.”

“One wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?” he asked.

But the diplomat’s allegations of harsh treatment at the hands of the United States has caused huge offense in a country that sees itself as an emerging world power.

In an address to parliament, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said it was his “duty to bring the lady back.”

“We have to restore her dignity and I will do it at any cost,” he said. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed the diplomat’s arrest “deplorable.”

Bulldozers dragged away concrete barricades that had been set up outside the US Embassy.

And US consular officials have been told to return identity cards that speed up travel into and through India, with their import clearances for duty free alcohol and other goods suspended.

State Department number three Wendy Sherman spoke to Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and voiced hope that Indian authorities “will continue to fulfill their host government obligations regarding the safety and security of our personnel and mission premises,” Harf said.

With a general election just months away, the ruling Congress and the nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party are both keen to be seen as standing up to the United States over the issue.

Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP foreign minister, said Tuesday that India should now arrest the same-sex partners of US diplomats after a court ruling last week that upheld a colonial-era ban on homosexuality.

The United States would be “very concerned” should gay diplomats be in danger, Harf said.

Harf said the State Department has not received any notice that India wanted to change Khobragade’s credentials to the UN mission.

Such a move “would have to be approved by all appropriate authorities” at the UN and State Department, she said.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • Lala Gee
    Dec 19, 2013 - 1:41PM

    Isn’t it the same regrets US offered to Pakistan on several occasions and level, but our Indian friends on ET insisted it was not the same as apology. Lets see what they say now.


  • Lala Gee
    Dec 19, 2013 - 1:58PM

    “The fury in India grew after an email from Khobragade in which the diplomat said she had been repeatedly stripped and cavity-searched by the US authorities after her detention.”

    This is really a very arrogant and inhuman act of US authorities, despite whatever the offense she had allegedly committed, treating a female diplomat in such an inhuman way, because she did not treat her maid well, does not make two wrongs right.


  • Crystal
    Dec 19, 2013 - 2:00PM

    I think this is first time Unites States “Regrets” any country over a deupty consulate!…seriouslly big hands for India!


  • Crystal
    Dec 19, 2013 - 2:21PM

    @Lala Gee: u said pakistan reallllly lool i dont knew when US regrets to pakistan over killing of pak people by drones…!Raymond Davis case also!! I think pakistan accept regrets in dreams lol!


  • Waqas
    Dec 19, 2013 - 2:33PM

    @ Crystal

    If US regrets (after repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, in a hold-up with common criminals and drug addicts), could feel that diplomat better – good for you / US…Recommend

  • lolz
    Dec 19, 2013 - 3:20PM

    What? no thousand apologies?Recommend

  • lolz
    Dec 19, 2013 - 3:23PM

    Drones attacks are inexcusable. Indians, of course, have more maturity to let it all go after offering unwanted rectal examinations.


  • Malatesh
    Dec 19, 2013 - 3:38PM

    US still has chance restore friendly relationship with India. Regret is not enough, they have to restore her dignity and withdraw all cases. They should take preventive measures in order to not to repeat this kind behavior in future.Recommend

  • Crystal
    Dec 19, 2013 - 3:49PM

    I think u did not knew how mulsim countries diplomates treated & searched at their airports without any regret!


  • lol
    Dec 19, 2013 - 3:59PM

    meanwhle in india….
    3 nepalese sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for raping an american…..of course this might be a different case… but strip searching is too much…….thoda toh khayal karo


  • Crystal Clear
    Dec 19, 2013 - 4:05PM

    US regrets to Pak after Salala attack..US regrets to Afghanistan after killing of innocent childs…US regrets to Iraq after firing incident on civilians…and this time they regret to India….Seriosuly big hand claps for all these countries right??


  • lol
    Dec 19, 2013 - 5:20PM

    @Crystal Clear:
    here no one has been killed mate…… regretting is enough by us even if it kills people of muslim states including the nuclear powered muslim state…. however it cant get away if it does the same with other countries….. too bad this point din strike u


  • YAN
    Dec 19, 2013 - 5:41PM

    Somehow pakistanis wanted to feel better about the treatment meted out to India.After killing 24solidiers of pak army it was bussiness as usual since all the aid is comming from US.Its important to know once worth in world polity.
    ET atleast dont block this


  • Crystal
    Dec 19, 2013 - 6:04PM

    @Crystal Clear:
    Oh reallly!!!!! give me some news links of those Regrets which published by cnn and bbc as their top story! lolRecommend

  • Crystal
    Dec 19, 2013 - 6:07PM

    Rightly said!!! Regret is not enough for a country like India!


  • lolz
    Dec 19, 2013 - 6:10PM

    “Its important to know once worth in world polity.”
    After what the yanks did to your ex-president & defence minister at the airport, we surely know your worth.


  • unbelievable
    Dec 19, 2013 - 6:33PM

    @Lala Gee:

    Isn’t it the same regrets US offered
    to Pakistan on several occasions and
    level, but our Indian friends on ET
    insisted it was not the same as
    apology. Lets see what they say now.
    As I recall it was Pakistan that didn’t recognize the USA language as an apology – which is why they kept asking for an apology over and over and over.


  • Stranger
    Dec 19, 2013 - 7:06PM

    This Devayani does not look straight forward to me . There is more to it than that meets the eye .


  • Crystal Clear
    Dec 19, 2013 - 7:21PM

    @Crystal: u enjoy this “success” of india and keep clapping…until US will do it again…and by the way I checked both CNN and BBC news…there is no mention of any “regret” in their top stories..but yeah it must be a top story in some indian newspapers…


  • YAN
    Dec 19, 2013 - 8:30PM

    Well US regretted and mark my words they will apologize or else they will be the losers.But pakistan tell me after Osama, 26/11 and other incidents the world knows are liars.But after killing ur soildiers its bussiness as usual for pakistan.Plz note that u r dependent on their money and aid .We r not so plz dont try to assume moral high ground as ur countries worth is well know all over the world as I have personally seen the treatment metted out to pakistanis in US airport


  • Khan
    Dec 19, 2013 - 8:31PM

    No need India to push its luck too far, Secretary of State regrets are enough and India needs to settle with it. Indian politician language n words used in this context may aggravate the situation – Indian needs to live within it’s limits.


  • Khan
    Dec 19, 2013 - 8:44PM

    Secretary of State already offered regrets, it would be much advisable for India to settle with it. It’s not in Indian short or long-term interest to try confront USA. Indian government n it’s diplomats need to self examine their behaviors oversea’s as well. Indian politician for some odd reason forgetting their limits (use threats n show of emotional out burst) they need to evaluate their limits before issuing such threats or words especially addressing USA.


  • Manish
    Dec 19, 2013 - 9:07PM

    @Lala Gee: It is surely not an apology and no one is accepting a regret as an apology. This is the reason why the demand for one is outstanding . However to bull doze baricades near US embassies, recall id cards of US consulate workers so as to withdraw benefits and other measures have put US on a backfoot. I remember some years ago our serving defense minister was strip searched twice in US airport and India could do nothing about it. Things have changed now slightly, its good to see a befitting reply. I am sure US will be cornered further on this issue. It looks unlikely India will be arm twisted like pakistan was in the Richard Davis case or the usual drone case owing to no dependence whatsoever on US aid in fact the relations will suffer and eventually normalise due to trade relations, as a counter to chinese influence and India’s role in Afghanistan post US troop withdrawal.


  • gp65
    Dec 19, 2013 - 9:45PM


    @Lala Gee: Yes regret is not apology whether uttered for PAkistan or India. I hope that India does not let things slide simply by expression of regret. The charge against her is that she underpaid the staff. I agree with you that this is not a charge that should require someone to be handcuffed and strip searched and cavity searched.


  • lolz
    Dec 19, 2013 - 9:50PM

    Stop being another judgemental Indian and re-read my post. P.S, I have been marking your words ALREADY.


  • gp65
    Dec 19, 2013 - 9:53PM

    @lolz: Our former PResident Kalam was asked to remove his shoes. This is normal in US and everyone has to do this. President Kalam never even complained. IT is others who observed reported it and made a big deal out of a non-issue. For that reason it was never taken up by our foreign office.
    @Manish: George Fernandes was never strip searched. He went through the regular body search that is not uncommon at all.


  • logic_needed
    Dec 20, 2013 - 6:58PM

    Sunita Richards gets a job at Rs. 30,000/= per month to work in USA as maid / nanny with Indian Diplomat Devyani Khobragade. Thjis salary is 5 to 10 times what a maid / nanny would earn in Delhi or Mumbai. All expenses are paid what she gets is net savings. She is very happy and signed the contract willingly, no one forced her to go to USA.
    (Unlike some one would say she is exploited, by that standards a class action suite should be taken against all US Multinationals for paying even less than $3 per hour to their call center employees in India – got the point?)
    Six months later she wants to make extra bucks by working part time but her Visa status doesn’t permit. She absconds, leaves the house without telling leaving 3 and 6 years daughter which were under her care.
    Her passport is diplomatic and visa sponsored by Indian Diplomat. If she is not happy with the work, she can happily go back to India, give back her diplomatic passport, apply a new passport and try to get a Visa on her own qualifications and come back to USA and work. She knows she has no qualifications that would allow her to work in USA and she doesn’t want to go back.
    She goes to an immigration lawyer. The lawyer finds a loop hole and contacts Indian Diplomat and threatens to sue her unless she agree to their conditions. Not succeeding there, lawyer files a law suite alleging exploitation (exploited by receiving 10 times the salary !! Millions women will gladly accept this job if they recive Rs. 30,000/= a month.) and Visa Fraud (This can be Valid.)
    Americans cries exploitation take a hasty / irrational action and soon we have government of two of the most important nations at loggerhead with each other fighting …
    All these because Ms. Sunita Richards wants to migrate to the USA ….
    Brilliant !!!!


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