NEW DELHI: A female Indian diplomat told how she broke down in tears after being arrested, stripped and cavity-searched in New York, as the United States (US) embassy became the focus on Wednesday of outrage at her treatment.
Devyani Khobragade, the deputy consul general in New York, described how she endured “repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches” after her arrest, which has sparked a series of diplomatic reprisals from India.
Nationalist protestors were due to gather at the American embassy in New Delhi to vent their anger, the day after mechanical diggers and tow-trucks removed security barricades from outside the mission.
Rattled by the scale of the anger in India, the US State Department sought to calm tensions and said the arrest on Thursday should not be allowed to damage bilateral relations.
The Indian media meanwhile hailed the government for its strong line as Khobragade’s case dominated television news bulletins, in the build-up to national elections.
In an email to colleagues published by the media, Khobragade said she stressed to arresting authorities that she had diplomatic immunity only to suffer repeated searches and 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 published in the Times of India.
“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,” she added.
Khobragade was arrested as she dropped her children at school for allegedly underpaying her Indian domestic helper, and for lying on the helper’s visa application form.
The arrest touches a number of hot buttons in India, where fear of public humiliation, particularly among the middle and upper classes, resonates deeply, and pay and conditions for servants is kept mostly private.
In New York in 2011, an Indian diplomat was accused of treating his domestic helper as a “slave” by forcing her to work long hours for $300 a month, confiscating her passport and making her sleep in a closet. India backed the diplomat and expressed disappointment over his treatment.
Protesters from the hardline nationalist outfit the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have organized a rally outside the embassy on Wednesday.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf admitted it was a “sensitive issue” but insisted it was a “separate and isolated incident” which should not “be tied together” and allowed to affect broader US-Indian ties.