NEW DELHI: India vowed Wednesday to bring one of its diplomats home at any price after her arrest in New York, as she told how she broke down in tears after being stripped and cavity-searched.

With one newspaper hailing the government for “taking on Uncle Sam”, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid pledged to “restore the dignity” of the diplomat — whose treatment at the hands of a superpower has touched a raw nerve here.

Khurshid's promise came a day after India announced a series of reprisals and despite an overnight plea by the US State Department not to allow the row to damage relations.

“It is my duty to bring the lady back,” Khurshid told lawmakers.

“We have to restore her dignity and I will do it at any cost,” he added in the highest-level intervention by an Indian official since deputy consul general Devyani Khobragade was arrested last Thursday.

The US Marshals Service confirmed on Tuesday that Khobragade, 39, had been strip-searched like other prisoners after being detained while dropping her two children off at school.

US authorities say she not only paid a domestic servant a fraction of the minimum wage but also lied in a visa application for the employee, an Indian national who has since absconded.

In an email to colleagues published in the media Wednesday, Khobragade said she told arresting authorities that she had diplomatic immunity — only to suffer repeated searches and to be jailed with “common criminals”.

“I must admit that I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, in a hold-up with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity,” she said in the email.

“I 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,” she added.

The revelation that a high-ranking diplomat could be subjected to such treatment while on a posting to the United States has caused huge offence in a country that sees itself as an emerging world power.

India was locked in a furious diplomatic row with Italy earlier this year when the Rome government initially reneged on a promise to fly two marines back to New Delhi to face trial over a fatal shooting.

The marines did eventually return after India ordered immigration authorities to prevent Italy's ambassador from leaving the country.

With a general election just months away, the ruling Congress and the nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are both keen to be seen as standing up to the United States over the issue.

Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP foreign minister, said Tuesday that India should now arrest American gays who were in India after a ruling last week that upheld a colonial-era ban on homosexuality.

“India takes on Uncle Sam,” read the front-page headline of The Hindustan Times, while the Mail Today splashed with “Bulldozer Diplomacy” on top of a picture of a digger outside the US embassy on Tuesday as it dragged away concrete barricades.

As part of a series of measures, US consular officials have also been told to return identity cards that speed up travel into and through India. Import clearances for them, including for alcohol, have been suspended.

A group of protestors from the ultra-nationalist Shiv Sena organisation staged an anti-US demonstration in New Delhi on Wednesday, shouting slogans such as “Down with Barack Obama!”

“The way America has tortured our diplomat is wrong. They stripped her down and humiliated an Indian woman, an Indian representative and we will not tolerate that,” said Jaiprakash Baghal, one of the protesters.

“We say if any American official comes to India, even if it is the American President himself, then he should be stripped down and mistreated in the same way.”

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf admitted the arrest was a “sensitive issue” but insisted it was a “separate and isolated incident” which should not be allowed to affect broader US-Indian ties.

Harf added that as a consular official, Khobragade does not have full diplomatic immunity but has consular immunity applicable only to her professional duties.

Khobragade is alleged to have paid her worker just $3.31 an hour despite signing a contract to pay her some three times that amount.

Pay and conditions for servants is kept mostly private in India but there have been a number of high-level cases in the US about their treatment.

In New York in 2011, an Indian diplomat was accused of treating his domestic helper as a “slave” by forcing her to work long hours for $300 a month, confiscating her passport and making her sleep in a closet.

India backed the diplomat and expressed disappointment over his treatment.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (23)

Rajab Ali
December 18, 2013 2:57 pm

What would have been our Government's reaction if there was a Pakistani diplomat?

December 18, 2013 3:01 pm

Diplomat has violated US labor wage law. Why Indian media is not discussing the main issue rather than making this a political issue. US is a law biding country. Respect the Law. It is illegal to pay less than the minimum wage to a worker in US.

December 18, 2013 4:47 pm

@Rajab Ali: They have shown it in the case of Raymond Davis

December 18, 2013 4:57 pm

She lost her dignity when she cheated her domestic servant. Now the entire Indian government has lost its dignity when it came running to support her rather than recalling and punishing her for abusing her privileges. In the US no one is a "servant" and no one is a "master" as is the case in a caste-ridden society like India or a "VIP culture" country like Pakistan. That is what the Indian-born but US-raised attorney in New York who brought charges against this corrupt bureaucrat understands and too many Indians and Pakistanis do not.

December 18, 2013 5:21 pm

@Rajab Ali: Give a few dollars and all will be ok.

December 18, 2013 5:27 pm

And what Pakistan is doing for Dr. Afia?!

December 18, 2013 5:34 pm

@Girdhari: Main issue??? You must be kidding. Mistreating a diplomat as any other petty criminal is the main issue. India would not have said anything had US treated her with dignity and allowed her rights of being a diplomat. And don't tell me US being law abiding and all that non sense. It will soon come out when you see what US diplomats are paying to their Indian maids in India. And where this law abiding nation goes when thousand illegal migrants being forced to work under payed by their American companies for petty jobs?

December 18, 2013 6:03 pm

@Rajab Ali: Don't we know that? Nations with self esteem react the way Indian have reacted.

December 18, 2013 6:09 pm

@Girdhari: it is about how that women have been treated , not about she is guilty or not

Kamran Ashraf
December 18, 2013 6:12 pm

@Rajab Ali: They would've said it's ok just send some more dollars in aid

December 18, 2013 9:16 pm

@ahmed: Did your beloved Captain 'Justice' America followed the same procedures in case of Raymond Davis, which it is following now in case of Davyani? Why they say an consul can't have diplomatic immunity but pressurized Pakistan to grant it to a CIA contractor.

December 18, 2013 9:51 pm

The white elements of the New York police are notorious for their racist treatment of the people of color -- apparently the new mayor Mr. Blasio has yet to extend his writ over these Klu Klux Klan men of the NY police department.

May be it is time to transfer the UN to the West Coast which is more civilized and more color blind.

December 19, 2013 3:38 am

@Rajab Ali: US always plays with money. The concept of US is always business. They would have tried to humiliate Pakistan by holding whatever the $ they are supposed to give - let us say toward fight against terrorism by allowing NATO vehicle or other modes of manipulations. This is the history of US throughout... they don't try to play on sympathetic or moral issues - the always try to manoeuvre with laws of land though the law may be international....

December 19, 2013 7:40 am

Ahmed. Its a shame you say that. I am with the Indian government on this one. No women deserves to be stripped searched like that. I guess they took the Indian government to be timid like our Pakistani government.

December 19, 2013 8:03 pm

US strip searches an Indian lady, In return, India strips all the privileges given to all the US diplomats in India. That's how we do it!!!! You like it or not, we don't care!!!

Shyam Kokku
December 19, 2013 9:12 pm

@ahmed: Is that so? Then why has the Secretary of State John Kerry call up a senior official in Indian PM's office to convey "regrets"? You don't subject diplomats to treatments like that even in countries ruled by dictators.

December 19, 2013 11:10 pm

India should be rather inspired by how US police follow their laws. Indian police, as we all know, have their own laws along with the law of the land. Let the Indian government let loose the Indian police to take what ever legal and appropriate action they want to against any American diplomat doing anything wrong. I am sure everything will change in few hours. More than that it would be great to see what the International over literate media has to say. Will they still be so racial in commenting as they are now?

Ram Narayanan
December 20, 2013 11:03 pm

@Girdhari: In India, people care only about the rich and poweful. No one cares about the poor maid because maids are subjected to indignities in India all the time. Indians are the world's biggest hypocrites and abusers of women.

Ram Narayanan
December 20, 2013 11:08 pm

@Shyam Kokku: She lost her "diplomat" status when she did not pay the maid as promised and as per the law. I guess you do the same to your poor maid also.

Jaswinder Singh
December 21, 2013 4:31 am

I think the authorities in New York discharged their duties in pretty professional way thumbs up.

December 21, 2013 9:37 am

Law or not you don't strip search and treat a diplomat like a common criminal.

Roxana R
December 21, 2013 5:21 pm

@vishal: She's apparently being treated no differently than any other person arrested there. The bigger question is: who is standing up for the maid in question?

December 21, 2013 10:29 pm

@kashif: Dr. Afia is not a diplomat and was also a US citizen so please compare apples with apples Besides this ha nothing to do with Pakistan so focus on the main issue

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