India-US Diplomatic Row

After the arrest and mistreatment of the Indian lady-diplomat Devyani Khobragade, by the US officials, I am not-at-all surprised at the high-level of protest made by Indians and the Indian government. I think it was – and it is – necessary.

All through the last week, the diplomatic row between US and India kept escalating to great heights of complications.

I believe it is a very serious matter when someone who is supposed to have diplomatic immunity is completely strip-searched, and put in a cell with drug addicts, just like a common criminal.

How can a high-ranking official representative of a country – serving as the deputy consular-general of India in New York – be arrested and handcuffed in front of her children, as some reports say, and be subjected to such humiliation?

Where is respect for justice, and for human dignity, in a land that proudly claims and boasts itself as the great land of liberty?

Calling out against what many called US arrogance, I am glad that Indians rose up against this incident, with a loud cry. It has taken US by surprise.

Why did this protest take US by surprise?

Well, as Jen Psaki, US State Department spokesperson has said in connection with Devyani issue, “It’s not just about diplomatic ties. We have over $90 billion in bilateral trade. We’re supporting thousands of jobs in both of our countries.”

Whether to protect trade or not, no country should allow US, or any other country, to treat diplomats this way. At least, not unless it is proven that the individual is really a criminal.

Whether she is arrested on suspicion of visa fraud or on making false statements seems secondary to the fact that a government official was not recognised as such, and was subjected to this cruel manhandling.

Even if she is accused of underpaying her Indian maid Sangeeta Richard, and even if there has been some fraud somewhere, the way the US marshals handled it is downright deplorable and condemnable.

“They treated her like al-Qa’ida had come to Manhattan,” said analyst and former diplomat and KC Singh, and I agree with him.

Even arrested terrorists like those of Al-Qa’ida, they say, are accorded respect there and given a fair trial. Then, where has that great respect gone?

Now however, thankfully, much to the relief of both sides, Devyani is out on bail. But it had happened only after US agreed to India’s shifting of Devyani to its Permanent UN Mission in New York (from the Indian Consulate where she is currently the deputy), which will give her full diplomatic immunity from prosecution as long as she is there.

Although Washington has said the immunity will not be retroactive and charges against her will remain in the books, it is understood that she will not be prosecuted for the length of time she is accredited to UN.

Devyani’s former maid Sangeeta Richards could be a “CIA agent”, alleged Uttam Khobragade, former IAS officer and father of Devyani Khobragade .

I doubt if Devyani’s US-born husband, a wine-expert, who teaches Philosophy, can easily handle the soon-to-come legal tangles effectively.

But I have no doubt that Indian government’s firmness in handling this situation is showing the other nations how to stand up against the big bully of the school, used to getting his own way.

Let it show.