India vowed yesterday 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 stripped and cavity-searched.
As a leading daily hailed the government for “taking on Uncle Sam,” Indian 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 in India.
Khurshid’s promise came a day after India announced a series of reprisals and despite an overnight plea by the US Department of State not to allow the row to 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 on Thursday last week.
“Today, our paramount concern, interest and determination is to be able to intervene effectively and specifically to ensure the dignity of our officer is absolutely preserved,” he said.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh then further stoked the furore by calling her arrest “deplorable” in brief comments reported by the Press Trust of India.
The US 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.
US 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 e-mail to colleagues published yesterday, 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 e-mail. “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.”
That a high-ranking diplomat could be subjected to such treatment while on a posting to the US has caused huge offense.
India was locked in a furious row with Italy earlier this year when the Italian 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 prevent the Italian ambassador from leaving the country.
With a general election just months away, the ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are both keen to be seen as standing up to the US.
Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP foreign minister, said on Tuesday that India should now arrest US homosexuals in India after a ruling last week that upheld a colonial-era ban on homosexuality.
“India takes on Uncle Sam,” read the front page headline of the Hindustan Times, while the Mail Today splashed with “Bulldozer diplomacy” on top of a picture of a digger dragging away barricades outside the US embassy.
US consular officials have also been told to return identity cards that speed up travel into and through India. Import clearances for them, including for alcohol, have been suspended.