The diplomatic spat between India and the United States flared up again yesterday, with India asking the American Embassy to remove one of its officers despite the US allowing an indicted Indian diplomat to return home.
The move is a sign that US-Indian relations remain tense, after a month of diplomatic drama during which incensed Indian officials described the arrest and strip search of Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, as outrageous and barbaric.
Ms Khobragade, a 39-year-old mother-of-two, was allowed to fly home to India on Thursday after being indicted by a US federal grand jury on accusations that she exploited her Indian-born housekeeper and nanny, allegedly forcing her to work more than 100 hours a week for low pay and lying about it on a visa form. She has maintained her innocence.
Many Indian analysts thought that would be enough to give both countries a way to save face and cool the smouldering diplomatic spat. But yesterday, the Indian government asked the US Embassy in New Delhi to remove an official of similar rank to Ms Khobragade.
Ms Khobragade flew out of New York late on Thursday after securing broad diplomatic immunity, one of her key demands. In a televised news conference yesterday, her father described the outcome of the case as a national triumph.
“Devyani today left the US with full diplomatic immunity, vindicating the stand that whatever dispute being raised in the US is a prerogative of a sovereign country, India, and only can be adjudicated by Indian courts,” said Uttam Khobragade, a retired bureaucrat.
Much of the outrage over the case in India stems from the circumstances of her arrest, which were seen as unnecessarily humiliating – something that resonates deeply in India. Ms Khobragade was picked up December 13 and then strip-searched in custody, which the US Marshals say is common practice.
But in India, the process was seen as a brutal affront to a middle-class, educated woman, and a violation of courtesies afforded to diplomats the world over.