The curious case of Devyani Khobragade

The case of Devyani Khobragade has left the whole nation fuming. How the case pans out is yet to be seen, but the so called healthy relationship between India and U.S. probably stands as a casualty here.

On 11th December 2013, Indian diplomat for the U.S., Devyani Khobragade was charged of committing visa fraud by the US Department of State Diplomatic Security Service. Following the charge, she was arrested on 12th December.

She was then transferred into the custody of US Marshals Service. What followed has left the whole of India fuming. Devyani Khobragade was strip searched and had to undergo a cavity test and was forced to spend the night with criminals and drug addicts. The next day she was presented to the magistrate where she pleaded of not being guilty and was released the same day on a bond of $250,000.

Devyani Khobragade is an Indian Foreign Service Officer formerly functioning as the Deputy Consul General in the Consulate General India in New York. In what has panned out as the most controversial decision, the US government disregarded the diplomatic status of Devyani and treated her as a criminal before trial. What we ought to remember here is that Devyani Khobragade was not in the US as a tourist, student or a person seeking big bucks. She was there as the official flag bearer of India. Disregard for her respect has been directly seen as a disregard to India, the biggest democracy in the world and a rising superpower.

The question is not whether Devyani is guilty or not , the question is why was her diplomatic immunity not considered while dealing with the case. She being an Indian citizen and a representative on diplomatic level, is governed by Indian laws and regulations. Any crime committed by her is the Indian government’s problem, which is very well capable of dealing with it. Diplomatic Immunity via the Viena Convention- a privilege to States’ representatives such as Devyani states that she is not liable to arrest or detention pending trial expect in cases of grievous crime. Was this case befitting a grave crime that she was subjected to both arrest and detention?

The outrage in India was justified and called for. But what followed was something blown a bit out of proportion. Removal of barricades from the US embassy sent out the wrong message. Yes, Devyani is the nation’s representative. Yes, this is a matter of national pride. But the focus should have been more or correcting the wrong rather than adapting a tit for tat attitude. Even that did not bring out the desired effect . Though John Kerry expressed regret over the way the case was handled, the US government refusing to take back the charges against Devyani nor take any action against the concerned personnel who handled the case.

Maybe this is an indication that powers of the West have stopped taken India seriously. If the same case had happened with a Russian or Chinese diplomat, things would have been handled a lot more differently. Despite a sizeable population in the United States, despite having ‘healthy relations‘ between the two countries it has now become clear that India’s foreign policies are no longer taken seriously as it used to be a decade ago. The rampant corruption, lawlessness and a weak government at the Centre is not helping matters.

Devyani who just returned to New Delhi no longer holds immunity according to the US Government. She may no longer go back to the US but to submit to a court of law and may face criminal charges. The Indian Government reacted by pulling strings and forcing the US government to ‘withdraw’ a similar ranking officer. This officer was allegedly involved in helping Sangeeta Richard, the victim in the case against Devyani.

For now, personal life has taken a hit for Devyani as she leaves behind her husband and children in New York.  How the case pans out is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain- the U.S. India foreign relations stand as a casualty in this curious case of Devyani Khobragade.


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