India hits back at US action

India hits back at US action

India on Tuesday strongly reacted to the humiliation of its diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York and withdrew some of the courtesies it extended to officials and their families of the US embassy in New Delhi and the consulates across the country.

Five days after India’s Deputy Consul General in New York  Devyani Khobragade was publicly handcuffed by US law enforcement officials for alleged visa fraud, strip-searched and locked up with drug-addicts and sex workers, an angry New Delhi withdrew the ID cards issued to the officials of the American Consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Kolkata. US consular officials and members of their families were asked to return their ID cards immediately.

The Delhi Police removed all traffic barricades around the US Embassy at Chanakyapuri in New Delhi and opened the Nyaya Marg for public again. The police picket near the US Embassy would remain though. The government also withdrew duty exemptions granted to US consular officials for bringing certain items, including liquor.

The government also withdrew the special passes issued to the officials of the US Embassy and consulates for privileged access to airports across India. The Ministry of External Affairs asked for salary details of Indians employed by the US consulates in India, including the ones appointed as domestic helps by consular officials and their families.

It also asked for the salary details of the spouses or other family members of the US consular officials working outside the consulates.

The MEA also asked for visa and salary details of Americans and the salary details of Indians working at the US schools in Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi.

The move, according to the sources, is intended to send a strong message to Washington that New Delhi, if necessary, could ascertain whether or not the US laws regarding wages and work schedules were being adhered to in cases of Indians working at American missions and schools as well as the ones employed by the American diplomats and their families in India.

Khobragade was accused of making false statements in a visa application for an Indian woman whom she took to New York to baby-sit her children. She was also accused of not paying the baby-sitter as much salary as she should have paid according to the US laws.

“We have put in motion what we believe would be effective way of addressing the issue, but also (put) in motion such steps that need to be taken to protect her dignity,” External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told journalists shortly before the government took the slew of measures in reaction to the humiliation of Khobragade. “The incidents should be condemned by all. More steps should be taken till the US gives an unconditional apology,” said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath.

According to sources, the courtesies, which were withdrawn by New Delhi on Tuesday, had been extended to the officials of US embassy and consulates in India and their families, although Washington had never offered those to Indian diplomats in America.

New Delhi toughened its stand on a day the US government virtually justified the way Khobragade had been treated by US law enforcement officials before she was released by a court on a $250,000-bond. “Diplomatic Security, which is under the State Department purview, followed standard procedures during her arrest,” Deputy Spokesperson of US Department of State Marie Harf told journalists in Washington.

She said that Khobragade enjoyed immunity under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR) from the jurisdiction of US courts only for acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.

“There are different kinds of immunity. This is not just in the US; it’s all around the world. So in this case, she fell under that specific kind of immunity, and would be liable to arrest pending trial pursuant a felony arrest warrant,” said Harf. New Delhi has already contested the US government claim, citing the Article 41 of the VCCR, which says that the consular officers would not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of “a grave crime” and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority.

National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon described humiliation of Khobragade as “despicable and barbaric.” Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Menon had cancelled their meetings with a US delegation on Monday.

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