Notwithstanding Secretary of State John Kerry expressing regret,India on Thursday hardened its stand accusing the US of not acting on several letters to it about the missing maid of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade whose arrest and strip-search has triggered an outrage.
Conflicting statements on the issue came out from the US side with Kerry regretting the treatment meted out to Khobragade,India’s Deputy Consul General in New York,and India-born prosecutor Preet Bharara defending her arrest on December 12.
Bharara not only justified her arrest,he conceded that she was strip-searched and confirmed reports that maid Sangeeta Richard’s family was “evacuated” to the US,claiming that efforts were being made in India to “silence” them.
The Indian Embassy here said it had sent a series of requests to the US government to trace the maid and prevent her from blackmailing Khobragade.
“No response was received from the US side for any of these communications,” the Embassy said as it gave details of the series of communications it made to the US government in the last several months.
It said the only communication received from the State Department sought to defend the maid.
The statement was issued by the Embassy after Bharara criticised India’s handling of the case.
Refuting reports about the manner in which the diplomat was arrested and kept in a prison with drug addicts,Bharara said she was treated well and even offered coffee and allowed to make telephone calls.
He also vowed to hold those breaking the law accountable “no matter how powerful,rich or connected they are.”
In a statement,Bharara said the victim’s family was confronted in numerous ways regarding this case.
“Some focus should perhaps be put on why it was necessary to evacuate the family and what actions were taken in India vis-a-vis them. This office and the Justice Department are compelled to make sure that the victims,witnesses and their families are safe and secure while cases are pending.”
A 1999-batch IFS officer,39-year-old Khobragade was arrested on December 12 on visa fraud charges by the State Department’s diplomatic security bureau,and then handed over to the US Marshals Service (USMS). She has since been posted to India’s Permanent Mission in New York.
In her complaint,the maid accused the diplomat of violating US laws by underpaying her and forcing her to work for long hours.
Khobragade was taken into custody as she was dropping her daughter to school before being released on a USD 250,000 bond after pleading not guilty in court.
The Indian Embassy in Washingtomn said it received State Department’s letter dated September 4,which requested it to enquire into the allegations brought in by the maid disputing her terms of employment with Khobragade and seeking the findings of the Embassy.
The letter,sources said,was one-sided and projected the interest of the missing maid and did not take note of any of the communications made by the Indian officials to the US in this regard.
As a result,both the Indian Embassy in Washington DC and the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi in separate but similar communications to them said that the “tone and the content” of the letter was objectionable.
India also sought action against the alleged blackmailing by Richard demanding that she be permitted to change her passport,visa status and to work elsewhere,which would be in violation of US regulations.
On October 8,a written response was sent by the Indian Embassy to the State Department rebutting the allegation and bringing out the facts of the case whereby Richard is seeking to subvert both Indian and US laws.
“The US side was also requested to assist in implementing an injunction issued on September 20,2013 by the Delhi High Court against Ms Richard restraining from initiating any legal action against Dr Khobragade outside India,” the Embassy said.
“Separately,on July 15,2013,Mr Philip Richard,husband of Ms Sangeeta Richard filed a Writ Petition against Dr Khobragade and the Union of India alleging that Ms Sangeeta Richard was in police custody in New York and charging Dr Khobragade. On July 19,2013,Mr Richard voluntarily withdrew his Writ Petition,” said the Indian Embassy statement.
But,in his three-page unusual explanation,Bharara said that Khobragade evaded US laws designed to protect the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers from exploitation.
Bharara’s terse statement came after Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and expressed regret over the arrest and strip-search of Khobragade.
He said this “isolated” incident should not hurt “close and vital” bilateral ties.
“In his conversation with National Security Advisor Menon,he expressed his regret,as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India,” the State Department said in a statement.
On Tuesday,India retaliated with a slew of measures to pare down the privileges of American diplomats after details of Khobragade’s arrest became public.
The measures include,downgrading privileges enjoyed by US diplomats and their families,including withdrawing of airport passes and stopping import clearances for the US Embassy.