The arrest and strip-search of an Indian diplomat accused of visa fraud has sparked heated debate. Here’s a look at some of the major points of contention:
Argument: Her treatment was ‘barbaric’ and ‘deplorable’
Indian officials are furious over how Devyani Khobragade, 39, was detained. Arrested after dropping her daughter off at school, she was strip-searched – which included a cavity search – and held in a cell with other women.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the treatment “deplorable.” National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon called it “barbaric,” CNN sister network IBN reported.
Counterpoint: It was standard – and, in some ways, even better
U.S. officials deny the characterizations.
Strip searches are standard before placing someone in a cell, the U.S. Marshals Service said.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the prosecutor in the case, said Khobragade was “accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded.”
“She was not, as has been incorrectly reported, arrested in front of her children,” Bharara said. “The agents arrested her in the most discreet way possible, and unlike most defendants, she was not then handcuffed or restrained.”
The State Department said it is looking into how the case was handled.
Argument: She broke the law
Court papers allege that Khobragade had submitted false documents to obtain a work visa for her female housekeeper.
In a visa application, Khobragade said she would pay the housekeeper $9.75 per hour, the New York minimum wage, but in reality she paid the housekeeper the equivalent of less than $3.31 per hour, prosecutors allege.
“This type of fraud on the United States and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement last week announcing Khobragade’s arrest.
Nisha Varia of Human Rights Watch in a blog post complained that “there has been little public outrage or shame that Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, who has championed women’s rights in other settings, allegedly paid her domestic worker a fraction of New York’s legal minimum wage.”
Counterpoint 1: No, she didn’t
Khobragade’s father, Uttam, says his daughter “has nothing to do with the visa process” and “has not done any wrong.”
Counterpoint 2: Even if she did, the law is unfair, and many break it
“According to Indian diplomats serving in Western countries, paying lesser than what is actually on official papers is a common practice among the Indian diplomats,” IBN reports. “They claim that the salary fixed by the U.S. government is too high for the Indian diplomats.”
Varia of Human Rights Watch weighed in on that point. “No one has a right to a domestic worker. Yes, child care options in the U.S. need to be expanded. But if you cannot afford to pay your nanny, you shouldn’t hire one.”
Argument: Khobragade has immunity
Khobragade’s lawyer, Daniel Arshack, says his client is entitled to diplomatic immunity and can’t be prosecuted under U.S. law, IBN reported.
Counterpoint: Not that kind
The State Department says Khobragade’s consular immunity does not cover this kind of crime.
The world of diplomatic immunity is complex and murky. U.S. guidelines say consular officers, such as Khobragade at the time of her arrest, have some immunity involving official acts, but when it comes to personal activities their “inviolability” is “quite limited.”
It’s unknown whether Khobragade may argue the allegations against her involve official activities.
She has now been moved to India’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations – where, Indian officials say, she may get full diplomatic immunity.