How an alleged cavity search is threatening India-US relations

Supporters of right wing Rashtrawadi Shivsena, or nationalist soldiers of Shiva, walk with people representing U.S. President Barack Obama near the U.S embassy to protest against alleged mistreatment of New York based Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday. (Saurabh Das/AP)

An Indian diplomat said U.S. authorities subjected her to a strip search and cavity search when she was arrested on visa charges in New York City, sparking outrage in India.

She’s accused of lying about how much she paid her maid

Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, was arrested Thursday outside of her daughter’s Manhattan school on charges that she lied on a visa application about how much she paid her housekeeper, an Indian national.

Prosecutors say she claimed she paid her maid $4,500 per month, but that she actually paid her less than $3 per hour.

What happened next

In an email published in India media on Wednesday, Khobragade said she was treated like a common criminal.

“I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, in a holdup with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity,” she wrote.

An Indian official with direct knowledge of the case confirmed to The Associated Press that the email was authentic.

Khobragade was released on $250,000 bail, but will have to report to police in New York every week.

How India is reacting

The case has sparked widespread outrage in India and infuriated the New Delhi government, which revoked privileges for U.S. diplomats to protest the woman’s treatment. It has heightened tensions with India-U.S. relations, which have cooled in recent years.

Police also removed the traffic barricades near the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in retaliation. The barriers were a safety measure but India said they clogged up traffic.

In New Delhi, the lower house of Parliament was temporarily adjourned Wednesday after lawmakers noisily demanded that it adopt a resolution against the United States.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Khobragade’s treatment as “deplorable.”

Why India is so upset

Khobragade’s case has touched a nerve in India, where the fear of public humiliation resonates strongly and heavy-handed treatment by the police is normally reserved for the poor. For an educated, middle-class woman to face public arrest and a strip search is almost unimaginable.

On Wednesday, dozens of people protested outside the U.S. Embassy, saying Khobragade’s treatment was an insult to all Indian women.

How the case is being handled in the U.S.

Khobragade has pleaded not guilty and plans to challenge the arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity.

Marie Harf, U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman, said Khobragade does not have full diplomatic immunity. Instead, she has consular immunity from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts — but only with respect to acts performed in consular functions.

If convicted, Khobragade faces a maximum sentence of 10 years for visa fraud and five years for making a false declaration.

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