India’s row with US over strip search of female diplomat worsens

Deputy consul accused of lying on visa application

Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York. Photograph: AP

Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York. Photograph: AP


India’s simmering diplomatic row with the US, over the arrest and strip search of one of its female diplomats last month, has worsened.

Furious over the handcuffing, cavity search and incarceration of Devyani Khobragade, its deputy consul in New York, India has cancelled high-level visits by US officials and curtailed privileges offered to American diplomats in New Delhi.

Ms Khobragade was accused by prosecutors of underpaying her Indian maid and lying about it on a visa application.

The US authorities, refusing to recognise diplomatic immunity, jailed Ms Khobragade overnight and launched criminal proceedings against her, which are continuing.

The dispute, almost a month on, has begun to adversely affect the bilateral relationship – two high-level visits by US officials have been postponed at Delhi’s insistence.

Trips postponed
The US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, delayed her proposed January 6th visit to India to avoid it becoming embroiled in the dispute, and on Wednesday, US energy secretary Ernest Moniz postponed his Delhi trip planned for next week.

Meanwhile, in Delhi the Indian authorities ordered the US embassy to close down all “commercial activities” at its club for expatriate Americans which is located on embassy premises.

The club, known as the American Community Support Association, is a second home to many US diplomats and expatriates where they can eat hamburgers, bowl, swim and play baseball.

India’s foreign ministry also banned the sale of duty-free alcohol and foodstuff at the club, claiming it violated local custom and excise laws. The ministry also demanded the club submit its tax returns by January 16th. The spouses of diplomats have been accused by Indian authorities of teaching “illegally” at the American School and have been asked to provide the their salary details, which would render them subject to local taxation laws. Delhi’s traffic police have also been authorised to waive diplomatic immunity for traffic violations and unauthorised parking by American embassy vehicles.

In Washington, state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki stressed the importance of maintaining good bilateral relations with India. “We are continuing our conversations with the Indian government with the importance of the broad strategic US-India partnership firmly in mind,” she said.