Row over arrest of Indian diplomat
Few days back USA police arrested an Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade on grounds of visa fraud. The allegations, which for the purpose of this writing only I would presume to be correct, are that she manipulated visas to have several underpaid servants in her house hold and mis-stated her expenses. The allegations constitute a kind of fraud which is stated to be common in many areas of USA. Having a servant who was not legally permitted to work for gain in USA.
The row involve several aspects. These are dealt with as under:
1. Humiliating manner of arrest.
It is in the reports that the diplomat was arrested while she was dropping her child to school. Arrest of a parent by handcuffing her, that too an Indian lady, in front of child or her school staff, which will make it a matter of gossip in the school, shows something. Was it a personal vendetta? A personal urge to humiliate? Who was that officer? Another parent from same school?
If that is so, it is a colourable exercise of power and illegal.
2. Handcuffing and strip search
As per laws of India handcuffing is illegal rather unconstitutional as it lowers the human dignity to that of an animal. It can not be resorted unless the person arrested, refuses arrest or turns violent or tries to abscond. Handcuffing an Indian citizen, that too a diplomat, is an act of gross insensitivity if nothing else.
Strip Searching a person, in India is another gross abuse of human rights and barbaric. It may be a fashion in USA to run naked on streets but Indians are very sensitive about this issue. Strip searching Indian citizens (besides others) has become a regular occurrence in USA recently. In this case strip search is not denied by USA as yet.
3. Diplomatic immunity
The act of arrest was all that could be done. Even if found guilty, the diplomat can plead her immunity and escape the sentence. It is entirely upon India to extend the ‘scope of diplomatic immunity’ and not on USA, as claimed in one of reports. So what is the point. In such case, the host state either informally or formally request the guest State to withdraw the unwanted person (a.k.a. persona non grata). Prosecution is an act to prove a point. What is the point? Are officials of Indian embassy in USA conducting in a manner which is unpalatable if not outright illegal?
4. The unprecedented Indian response.
It appears that the Government of India has shown un-precedent self respect in the matter and has withdrawn all the extra courtesies extended to USA. Extra means those not called for in International Law and those not extended by USA to Indian Consular Office in USA etc. It has already asked the embassy to submit the expenses of all its staff and employees etc. Hitherto free for all.
USA embassy in New Delhi, which was provided with same security as residence of Prime Minister, has now to do with normal security which is extended to other buildings under threat of terrorists. Still it is more than other embassies but no more blocking of road to create a fortress. (See pic.)
As per reports India has also asked U.S. diplomats across India to turn in their government-issued identity cards and airport passes that allow them special treatment. An Indian Minister has made statement that India can not be treated like “Banana Republic.”
In protest Indian political leaders have also canceled their scheduled meetings with US Congressional delegations.
5. My questions:
Apart from questions raised above, I have a few more:
I. Why not rewrite diplomatic immunity so that its abuse may be eliminated?
II. Why India has taken such stern view? Due to elections?
III. Who was the arresting officer and what is his background?
IV. Was such fiasco, over a trivial crime, worth it?
V. Is USA is suddenly cracking down on all immigration frauds involving servants?
VI. What if India acts on advice of opposition leader and starts prosecuting the same sex US couple under Indian laws or withdraws their visa?
VII. Has any Labour Inspector visited USA embassy? Why not? USA embassy is supposed to hang many ugly-looking notices on its walls, if nothing else.
But in these matters, nothing ever clearly comes out in light.
VIII. When was last visit paid by the Inspectors under Air and Water Pollution Act?
IX. Off course there is Central Excise Act and Punjab Excise Act. But they can not visit Embassy. It’s security can shoot and claim immunity. So when Delhi police checked drivers coming out of embassy for alcohol levels?
X. Forget everything. We have most hideous Information Technology Law. Have you checked for their messages/computers for obscenity as per Indian Law?
P.S.: The allegation against her are that she had a maid from India whom she was paying less than US law prescribed minimum wages of USD 4500/-. The salary of diplomat herself is USD 6500/-. All figures converted from Indian Rupee.
© Sandeep Bhalla