Stand vindicated

The dismissal of charges against Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade by a US Court is a vindication of India’s position in the case. 

Khobragade was charged with visa fraud and making false statements about an Indian maid she employed. She was accused of paying the maid below the US minimum wage. She was arrested and strip-searched. Right from the start India’s position was that US law enforcement agencies’ treatment of Khobragade was a violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. Delhi maintained that she enjoyed diplomatic immunity. To bolster her position, Delhi moved her to India’s Permanent Mission at the UN, which unambiguously gave her full immunity from prosecution.

Throwing out the case against Khobragade, the US court declared as “undisputed” the fact that she had full diplomatic immunity at the time when charges were filed. However, the court ruling cannot be interpreted as a victory for Khobragade. She has been let off on a technicality rather than on the merits of the case. What is more, the relief she has got with the dismissal of charges could prove to be short-lived as the ruling leaves open the possibility for prosecutors to initiate a new indictment against her. The Office of the US attorney has said it intends to proceed against her.
India was rightly outraged over the treatment of its diplomat by US authorities. Its relations with Washington cooled considerably and a string of bilateral visits suffered consequently. With its position finding endorsement by the US court, India must set aside its indignation over US double standards in dealing with diplomats and take steps to revive the India-US bilateral partnership.

The Khobragade case is a wake-up call for India in more ways than one. While it underscored the importance of India standing up to US bullying, it should serve as a reminder to our diplomats that they need to conduct themselves with dignity abroad. The Ministry of External Affairs needs to make it clear to its diplomats that while the government will protest any attempt at undermining their immunity from prosecution when they are posted abroad, their conduct must be above reproach or question. Khobragade’s treatment of her maid triggered an avalanche of negative media reporting on India. Our diplomats are representatives of India abroad. Their violation of local laws and distasteful behaviour reflects on India badly.

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