An Indian diplomat was arrested in New York recently on charges of visa fraud and underpayment of her housekeeper. The action has been seen as a retaliatory step after staff in American schools in India were probed for possible tax violations and ID cards of U.S. consular officials and their families were revoked.
The treatment of Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade this month suggests that that the two countries are no closer to a resolution of a diplomatic dispute. An outrage was sparked in India after Khobragade, who has denied the charges, was handcuffed and strip-searched while in custody.
On Friday, an Indian government official said that New Delhi had asked the U.S. embassy to provide details about people working in American schools and other U.S. government facilities to determine if they had permission to do so and if they were paying taxes that are mandatory under Indian law. It is the diplomat’s spouse’s responsibility to inform the host country when they take up work in schools or other embassy facilities. However, an official, speaking on condition of anonymity said that although violations of this kind had often been ignored, India would no longer turn a blind eye. Additionally, the Indian official said that some privileges U.S. diplomats and their families enjoy were withdrawn by India and that they would be treated how Indian officials are treated in the United States. At New Delhi airport, U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell was refused special privileges.
“We have said all access is on a reciprocal basis,” the government official said. “She is not going to get the benefits that the Indian ambassador in the U.S. doesn’t get.”
U.S. consular officials and their families have been asked to surrender identity cards that gave them a degree of immunity. Identity cards with fewer privileges would be given to consular officials, but not their families, under the new regime.
“Spouses and children have no more immunity. So if there is a parking offence or … something else happening in Bangalore etcetera, they would be held liable,” the Indian official said.
According to the NBC News, after giving up her passport and pleading not guilty to visa fraud and making false statements about how much she paid her Indian housekeeper, Khobragade was released in New York on $250,000 bail. If convicted on both counts, she faces a maximum of 15 years in prison.
In a phone call to India’s national security adviser last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed regret over the case, but India is still demanding that the charges be dropped and that the United States apologizes. The investigation against Khobragade and her treatment was defended by U.S. prosecutors. U.S.-Indian relations were seen as cordial and improving before this diplomatic blow-up.
India now argues that Khobragade was accredited to the United Nations at the time of her detention, giving her immunity from arrest in what is now a new twist. In August, she was temporarily moved to India’s U.N. mission to help with the workload ahead of the General Assembly session and a visit by the prime minister. She is listed as an advisor for a period from August 26 until December 31 according to a copy of her accreditation.
“At no stage we were told by the U.S. side what was going on. We were kept in the dark. A lot of these things could have come out had we been informed then,” the official said, explaining that India had not been warned she might be arrested.