India vows to 'restore dignity' of diplomat
By Trudy Harris, AFP
December 19, 2013, 12:10 am TWN
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 repeatedly stripped and cavity-searched.
As a leading daily hailed 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.
Khurshid's promise came a day after India announced a series of diplomatic reprisals and despite an overnight plea by the U.S. State Department not to let the issue 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.
“It's hurtful, it's distressing, it's unacceptable and it is something on which, as we said, we need to give a very clear clarion call that it must be reversed,” he later told reporters.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh fueled the furor by calling her arrest “deplorable” in brief comments reported by the Press Trust of India.
The U.S. 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.
U.S. 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 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.”
The revelation that a high-ranking diplomat could be subjected to such treatment has caused huge offence in a country that sees itself as an emerging world power.
India was locked in a furious 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 stop 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.