India plays hardball with US as diplomat maid row escalates

Dec 18 2013, 08:38 IST
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US consulate ID cards withdrawn, embassy’s security trimmed. US consulate ID cards withdrawn, embassy’s security trimmed.
SummaryUS consulate ID cards withdrawn, embassy’s security trimmed.

Outraged by details of the alleged harsh treatment meted out to its deputy consul-general in New York, India Tuesday retaliated strongly with a series of tit-for-tat measures that jolted the perception of friendly ties between New Delhi and Washington.

US consulate staff and their families were asked to return their diplomatic ID cards. New Delhi also sought details of Indians employed, along with their bank accounts and PAN numbers, apart from names and salaries of teachers employed at US embassy schools. Besides, import duty waivers, including permits to import liquor, were withdrawn and security barricades outside the US Embassy in New Delhi removed.

Deputy consul-general Devyani Khobragade was arrested last week for alleged visa fraud while she had gone to drop her daughters at school.

Apart from being handcuffed in public, Khobragade, 39, was not only stripped but also allegedly forced to undergo repeated body cavity searches — a treatment usually reserved for drug suspects — before she was freed on a $250,000 bail bond.

Subsequently, Khobragade narrated her ordeal in an email to her colleagues.

“I must admit that I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, holed up with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity,” the 1999-batch IFS officer wrote.

She thanked her colleagues for their support and said that during her confinement, she “got the strength to regain composure and remain dignified thinking that I must represent all of my colleagues and my country with confidence and pride”.

Disturbed by the details, New Delhi upped the ante and stripped US diplomats and their families in India of several privileges.

Taking the position that American staff at consulates will be treated on par with how Indian diplomats are treated in consulates in the US, all personnel posted in consulates and their families have been asked to turn in their diplomatic ID cards immediately.

On the instructions of the government, the special barricading outside the US Embassy in New Delhi that had closed a part of Nyaya Marg to the public, was also removed. While the barricading and closing of the stretch of road has ended, a police picket will remain for security purposes.

Making a distinction between consulate and embassy staff – the US has four consulates in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad – instructions have been sent out that details of all Indians employed at the

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