News / Asia

India Trims Perks for US Embassy Staff Over Diplomatic Row

A U.S. embassy security guard (L) and an Indian policeman stand in front of the main gate of the embassy as the bulldozer (unseen) removes the security barriers, in New Delhi Dec. 17, 2013.
A U.S. embassy security guard (L) and an Indian policeman stand in front of the main gate of the embassy as the bulldozer (unseen) removes the security barriers, in New Delhi Dec. 17, 2013.
Reuters
India took retaliatory measures against the United States on Wednesday in a row over an Indian diplomat who complained of being stripped and forced to undergo “cavity searches” while in U.S. detention.
 
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.
 
Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in an undated picture from her Twitter account.Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in an undated picture from her Twitter account.
x
Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in an undated picture from her Twitter account.
Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in an undated picture from her Twitter account.
Devyani Khobragade, a deputy consul general at the Indian Consulate in New York, was arrested on Dec. 12 on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her housekeeper, an Indian national. She was released on a $250,000 bail.
 
In an email to colleagues, Khobragade complained of “repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing” and being detained in a holding cell with petty criminals despite her “incessant assertions of immunity”.
 
The email, reported in Indian media and confirmed as accurate by the government, caused outrage. With a general election due soon, politicians are determined not to be seen as soft on such an issue or unpatriotic.
 
On Tuesday, authorities removed concrete security barriers used to prevent vehicles driving at high speed near the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. The barriers would offer some protection against a suicide-bomb attack.
 
The U.S. Justice Department has confirmed that Khobragade was strip-searched. A senior Indian government source confirmed that the interrogation also included a cavity search.
 
India has responded furiously to what it considers the degrading treatment of a senior diplomat by the United States, a country it sees as a close friend.
 
“It is no longer about an individual, it is about our sense of self as a nation and our place in the world,” Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told parliament, whose usually fractious members showed rare unity on the issue.
 
Khurshid said work conditions of Indians employed in U.S. consulates would be investigated, to root out any violations of labor laws, and there would be a freeze on the duty free import of alcohol and food for diplomatic staff.
 
Several politicians argue that India provides too many perks to U.S. consular staff. Khurshid reined in some of these on Wednesday, saying passes giving such staff access to airport lounges had to be turned in by Thursday.
 
Small protest
 
A police officer stops a group of Indians protesting against the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, an Indian consular officer in New York, outside the U.S consulate in Hyderabad, India, Dec. 16, 2013.A police officer stops a group of Indians protesting against the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, an Indian consular officer in New York, outside the U.S consulate in Hyderabad, India, Dec. 16, 2013.
x
A police officer stops a group of Indians protesting against the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, an Indian consular officer in New York, outside the U.S consulate in Hyderabad, India, Dec. 16, 2013.
A police officer stops a group of Indians protesting against the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, an Indian consular officer in New York, outside the U.S consulate in Hyderabad, India, Dec. 16, 2013.
Supporters of a right-wing opposition party held a small protest near the U.S. embassy on Wednesday. About 30 demonstrators, some wearing masks of President Barack Obama and sarongs made from the U.S. flag, demanded an apology.
 
“It was very good that the government removed the barriers yesterday. Until the USA says sorry, we should not give any security at all to the Americans,” said protester Gaurav Khattar, 33.
 
The U.S. State Department said it had told the Indian government it expects New Delhi to protect its embassy and stressed it did not want the incident with the diplomat to hurt ties.
 
The embassy did not respond to requests for information about what action would be taken to replace the barriers. The compound has several other layers of security and is protected by a high wall.
 
Status conscious Indian dignitaries are often able to skip security checks and deal with legal problems discreetly in India. Less delicate handling abroad can be a shock.
 
A series of incidents in which politicians and celebrities have been detained or frisked at U.S. airports has heightened sensitivities about what is seen as harsh treatment abroad.
 
Shah Rukh Khan, one of Bollywood's best-loved actors, was detained at White Plains airport near New York last year and at Newark airport in 2009. Former president APJ Abdul Kalam was frisked on board a plane at New York's JFK airport in 2011.
 
The Khobragade case is the latest concerning the Indian elite's alleged exploitation of their domestic workers, both at home and abroad.
 
Another official at India's consulate in New York was fined almost $1.5 million last year for using her maid as forced labor. Last month, the wife of a member of parliament was arrested in Delhi for allegedly beating her maid to death.
 
India says Khobragade's former housekeeper left her employer a few months ago and demanded help to obtain permanent resident status in the United States. She is thought to be in the United States but her whereabouts are not known.
 
One Indian government minister, Shashi Tharoor, has argued that it was not reasonable to expect diplomats from developing countries to pay the U.S. minimum wage to domestic staff, since the envoys themselves earned less than that.

You May Like

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid