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'Why was she arrested when she was taking her child to school?'

By Suman Guha Mozumder
December 17, 2013 12:43 IST
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'This arrest was totally unnecessary and disproportionate to the gravity of charges. What was truly required was a more measured and calculated approach, keeping in mind the strain such an action could cause to the growing bilateral relationship between these two great nations.'

Indian-American organisations condemn Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade's arrest.'s Suman Guha Mozumder reports from New York.

Last week's arrest of Dr Devyani Khobragade, India's Deputy Consul General in New York, on charges that she had allegedly presented fraudulent documents to the United States State Department in support of a visa application for her babysitter and housekeeper in Manhattan has evoked strong reactions from the Indian-American community.

Dr Khobragade, 39, left, an Indian Foreign Service diplomat, was arrested from outside the school her daughter attended in Manhattan on December 12, but was released by US Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman the same afternoon on a $250,000 personal recognisance bond co-signed by three people.

The arrest was announced December 12 by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara.

'Arresting and handcuffing an Indian diplomat in public is equivalent to humiliating the person and dishonoring a country for those issued charges and we as a community are shocked and saddened by this development,' George Abraham, chairman, Indian National Overseas Congress (I), said in a statement.

'The Obama administration that considers the relationship with India as a defined partnership ought to be ashamed of this action,' Abraham said. 'It is another example of selective application of the law for which this administration is making a name for itself.'

One could argue about the merits of the case from a legal standpoint, Abraham added, or whether a diplomat should have full or partial immunity. 'However, what is of serious concern to all those who aspire to see growing ties between the world's oldest and largest democracies is the way this fiasco has unraveled,' he said.

'This arrest in full public display was totally unnecessary and disproportionate to the gravity of charges the prosecutor has leveled against her. What was truly required was a more measured and calculated approach, keeping in mind the strain such an action could cause to the growing bilateral relationship between these two great nations,' Abraham said.

Thomas T Oommen, chair, Political Forum, Federation of Malayalee Associations of Americas, said, "If this was a matter of a visa and payment to a domestic help, then it would have been better to ask the parties involved to come to the attorney's office for appropriate resolution."

"We, as a community, do not see that a proper code of conduct was followed in this matter. We are wondering why the arrest was made while she was taking her daughter to school and why didn't they wait until the end of the day," he added.

"We do not believe that she would have run away, especially while her child was in school. We do not agree with this arrest in the first place," Oommen said.

In a statement, the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin condemned 'the harsh and disrespectful' treatment of Dr Khobragade.

'Irrespective of the merits of the complaint against Khobragade, we believe that the officials should have exercised better judgment rather than arresting her in the presence of her children and in public,' GOPIO said.

'We believe that US officials should have conducted the investigation with dignity and respect that is deserving of a high ranking diplomat; in particular from a country with a long and continuing history of shared values and interests,' the organisation said.

'Even if the charge had been a serious one, which was hardly the case, we believe she should have been treated with the same dignity and courtesy as India regularly accords US representatives who have been and are accorded diplomatic immunity,' Norman Solovay, chairman, Inter-Agency Graft Coordinating Council, and Robert Stranniere, director, Government Relations, said in a statement.

Dr Khobragade has to surrender all her travel documents, the court order directed the diplomat during the bail hearing.

Her travel is restricted to within the US, and she has to notify the authorities if she travels outside the state of New York.

She is not allowed to sponsor any visas and should not have any contact, directly or indirectly through others, with the domestic worker or her immediate family.

In a statement, Jalandhar-born Bharara, arguably the most high-profile Indian-American law officer, said foreign nationals brought to the US to serve as domestic workers are entitled to the same protection against exploitation as those afforded to US citizens.

'The false statements and fraud alleged to have occurred here were designed to circumvent those protections so that a visa would be issued for a domestic worker who was promised far less than a fair wage,' Bharara said.

'This type of fraud and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated in the US,' Bharara, whose office prosecuted Indian-American business icon Rajat Gupta last year, declared.

Unlike the other community activists, Peter Kothari, a community leader in the New Jersey area, told that he does not believe any US law has been violated by Dr Khobragade's arrest and her reported handcuffing.

"The US has one set of laws. Just because one happens to be a high ranking consular official, he or she is not supposed to get special treatment," Kothari said.

"You remember the case of former Illinois governor Rod R Blagojevich who was arrested on corruption charges a few years ago. He was taken away by law enforcement officials in handcuffs."

"They did not make an exception because he was the governor," Kothari said.

The issue came at the daily briefing at the State Department on Monday. Marie Harf, the deputy spokesperson, told reporters that after Dr Khobragade's arrest, in which 'standard procedures were followed', the diplomat was passed onto the US Marshals for 'intake and processing'.

Therefore, Harf said, any questions regarding her treatment would have to be directed to the US Marshals, and not the State Department.

Harf was asked why the US expects other nations to respect Americans diplomats and why the US does not respect the basic courtesies that should be accorded to a diplomat.

Asked to comment why the State Department had not initiated action on the Indian government's alert that Dr Khobragade's help had left her home in June and that the woman's official passport had been revoked, Harf said that is why diplomatic security, which is under the State Department's purview, followed standard procedures during the diplomat's arrest.

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