The US said it was withdrawing a diplomat from India in hopes it would end a bitter dispute that started with the arrest and strip search of an Indian diplomat in New York.
Washington’s announcement on Friday that it was complying with a demand from New Delhi for the expulsion of the US official came hours after Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul-general in New York, left the US.
Khobragade, 39, is accused of exploiting her Indian-born housekeeper and nanny, allegedly having her work more than 100 hours a week for low pay and lying about it on a visa form. Khobragade has maintained her innocence, and Indian officials have described her treatment as barbaric.
In an apparent compromise, she was indicted by a federal grand jury, but also granted immunity that allowed her to leave the US. Khobragade arrived in New Delhi on Friday, where she was met at the airport by her father and a sister.
“She just said, ‘Papa, I love you,’ and that’s all. And she’s happy to be back,” her father, Uttam Khobragade, told reporters.
Khobragade left the airport separately through an exit that is not accessible to the public.
Many believed that Khobragade’s return to India would be enough to give both countries a way to save face. However, India asked the US on Friday to withdraw a diplomat from the US embassy in New Delhi, and the US State Department said it was complying, although with “deep regret.”
“We expect and hope that this will now come to closure, and the Indians will now take significant steps with us to improve our relationship and return it to a more constructive place,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.
Requesting the recall of a diplomat is a serious and fairly unusual move that sends a message to Washington that India’s government does not accept the legitimacy of the court action in New York.
Given the strategic partnership between India and the US and more than US$100 billion in trade, any further escalation in the case would not be in the interest of either country, analysts said.
Psaki did not identify the US diplomat, but said it was the individual whose expulsion was sought by India. India’s Foreign Ministry described the person as of the same rank as Khobragade and somehow involved in the case, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Much of India’s outrage stems from the circumstances of Khobragade’s arrest, which were seen as unnecessarily humiliating.
Khobragade was picked up on Dec. 13 and then strip-searched while in custody, which the US Marshals say is common practice.
In India, the process was seen as a brutal affront to a middle-class, educated woman and a violation of courtesies afforded to diplomats the world over. The case has also led to complaints in India that the US is not treating it like a powerful nation on equal footing with Washington.
“The case goes beyond the dignity of one diplomat,” said Sreeram Chaulia, an international affairs expert at Jindal School of International Affairs in New Delhi. “India made its point, which is that you can’t take India for granted.”