NEW DELHI (AP) — India's national security adviser on Tuesday criticized the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York City on visa fraud charges, calling her treatment "despicable and barbaric," in a snowballing diplomatic row between the two countries.
India's foreign secretary summoned the U.S. ambassador, and angry politicians refused to meet with a visiting U.S. congressional delegation.
Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, was charged last week with visa fraud and making false statements on an application for her housekeeper to work for her in the United States.
According to Indian officials, Khobragade was arrested and handcuffed Thursday as she dropped off her daughter at school, then strip-searched and kept in a cell with drug addicts before posting $250,000 bail.
"It is despicable and barbaric," National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon told the Press Trust of India news agency.
Prosecutors in New York say Khobragade, 39, claimed she paid her Indian maid $4,500 per month but actually paid her less than the U.S. minimum wage. She has pleaded not guilty and plans to challenge the arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity, her lawyer said last week.
The arrest quickly became a major story in India, with politicians urging diplomatic retaliation and TV news channels showing the woman in a series of smiling family photos.
That reaction may look outsized in the United States, but the case touches on a string of issues that strike deeply in India, where the fear of public humiliation resonates strongly and heavy-handed treatment by the police is normally reserved for the poor. For an educated, middle-class woman to face public arrest and a strip search is almost unimaginable, except in the most brutal crimes.
Far less serious protocol complaints have become large issues in the past. Standard security checks in the U.S. regularly are front-page news here when they involve visiting Indian dignitaries, who are largely exempt from friskings while at home.
India's former speaker of Parliament, Somnath Chatterjee, once refused to attend an international meeting in Australia when he wasn't given a guarantee that he would not have to pass through security. Chatterjee said even the possibility of a security screening was "an affront to India."
The treatment and pay of household staff, meanwhile, is largely seen as a family issue, off-limits to the law.
The fallout from the arrest was growing. On Tuesday, Indian political leaders from both the ruling party and the opposition refused to meet with the U.S. congressional delegation in New Delhi. The Indian government said it was "shocked and appalled at the manner in which the diplomat had been humiliated" in the U.S.
Indian Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh summoned U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell to register a complaint.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday that standard procedures were followed during Khobragade's arrest.
Khobragade's father, Uttam Khobragade, told the TimesNow TV news channel on Tuesday that his daughter's treatment was "absolutely obnoxious."
"As a father I feel hurt, our entire family is traumatized," he said.
Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said there were "larger issues" involved in the case, but did not elaborate.
"We will deal with them in good time," he said.
Calls to the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi were not immediately returned Tuesday.