NEW DELHI - India launched a series of reprisals Tuesday against US officials, foreign ministry sources said, as outrage grows over a diplomat’s arrest in New York, which New Delhi has branded “humiliating”.
In an escalating row over the arrest, the government ordered a range of measures including the return of identity cards for US consular officials that speed up travel into and through India, the sources said.
“We have ordered the withdrawal of all ID cards that are issued by the Ministry of External Affairs to the officials at the US consulates across India,” a senior ministry source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The government will also stop all import clearances for the US embassy including liquor, the sources said, while Indian security forces removed barricades from outside the US embassy in New Delhi.
Tow-trucks and mechanical diggers were seen taking away the heavy barriers which control traffic from the streets around the embassy.
The moves come after deputy consul general Devyani Khobragade was arrested last week while dropping her children at school, for allegedly underpaying her domestic helper who is also an Indian national and for lying on the helper’s visa application form.
Anger over the incident has been mounting in the Indian press with front-page reports Tuesday claiming Khobragade had been handcuffed and “strip-searched and confined with drug addicts” after her arrest.
Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said Tuesday the government had “put in motion” measures to address the arrest, calling Khobragade’s seizure “completely unacceptable”.
“We have put in motion what we believe would be effective ways of addressing the issue but also (put) in motion such steps that need to be taken to protect her dignity,” Khurshid told reporters without confirming the new reprisals.
India last Friday summoned the US ambassador to protest at the arrest, with a foreign ministry official saying at the time that India was “shocked and appalled” at the US handling of the incident.
In another development, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon said the treatment of the diplomat was “barbaric” and in protest refused to meet a delegation of US lawmakers on a visit to India. The delegation has also been snubbed by the leaders of the two main political parties, a cabinet minister and the speaker of parliament.
India’s foreign ministry and the U.S. embassy Delhi said they were unable to comment on the reports.
The arrest cuts into a series of issues in India where fear of public humiliation, particularly among the middle and upper classes, resonates deeply.
The case is also the latest involving alleged mistreatment of domestic workers by wealthy Indian families. Many are poorly paid in India and rights groups regularly report cases of beating and other abuse.
US State Department deputy spokesman Marie Harf said on Monday that diplomatic security staff “followed standard procedures” during the arrest before she was handed over to US Marshals.
The diplomat’s father urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene in the case and ensure his daughter’s safe return to India.
“I am concerned with the safety and dignity of my daughter. I want my daughter back safe in India,” Uttam Khobragade told TV stations.
With general elections just months away in India, both the ruling Congress party and the main opposition are keen not to be seen as being too lenient with the United States over the issue.
India’s national security adviser called the diplomat’s treatment “barbaric” while a string of senior politicians from both major parties snubbed a visiting US Congressional delegation over the issue.
Opposition candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, said he had “refused” to meet the US delegation over the arrest.
“Refused to meet the visiting USA delegation in solidarity with our nation, protesting ill-treatment meted to our lady diplomat in USA,” Modi said in a tweet.
The speaker of the lower house of parliament also called off a meeting with the US visitors, her office said, while Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s office said he was too busy in parliament.
The Indian embassy in Washington said on Friday that the detention was based on “allegations raised by the officer’s former India-based domestic assistant”.
The domestic worker had “absconded” from her employer in June and was already the subject of an injunction issued by the High Court in Delhi, the embassy added in a statement on its website.
The case is the latest concerning alleged ill-treatment of domestic workers by India’s elite, both at home and abroad.
In June 2011, an Indian maid working for the country’s consul general in New York filed a lawsuit alleging that he was using her as forced labor. A member of parliament’s wife was arrested last month for allegedly beating her maid to death at her home in Delhi.
Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, consular officials enjoy immunity from arrest only for crimes committed in connection with their work.