India’s deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, 39, was arrested on Thursday morning for an alleged visa fraud. She is accused of not paying her babysitter $4,500 per month as mandated under the US law. But Devyani Khobragade’s take-home every month is just $4,120, according to her father.
The arrest flouted diplomatic immunity and was made in full public view outside a school where Devyani had come to drop her daughter. The mother of two was handcuffed and taken into custody. On Friday, she was released on $250,000 bond by a Manhattan court.
The main charge levelled by US department of justice was that Khobragade had electronically submitted to the state department that she would be paying $4,500 per month ($9.75 per hour) to her domestic assistant Sangeeta Richard. She, however, made Richard sign a second contract later, reducing her salary to Rs30,000 ($3.31 per hour) a month.
Her father Uttam Khobragade, a retired IAS officer and a resident of Andheri, rubbished the allegations levelled against Devyani by the maidservant, Sangeeta Richard. He told dna that his daughter paid Rs30,000 per month as per a contract with Sangeeta who is from Punjab. “In fact, after three months, Sangeeta started blackmailing my daughter demanding $10,000. She threatened that if her demand was not met she would file a complaint against Devyani,” he said.
Devyani’s arrest has “shocked” and “appalled” New Delhi, which said there was no justification for the humiliating manner in which the US authorities executed her arrest, terming it “absolutely unacceptable”. On Friday, foreign secretary Sujatha Singh summoned US ambassador to India Nancy Powell and lodged a strong protest.
Singh is believed to have told Powell that the treatment meted out to the senior diplomat was “totally unacceptable” and that she was entitled to the courtesies under various multilateral conventions dealing with diplomatic fraternity posted in foreign countries.
MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said: “India is shocked and appalled by what the US has done to its diplomat in New York, who is entitled to diplomatic immunity. India is forcefully taking up with the US the treatment meted out to arrested diplomat, which is not acceptable.”
“You cannot humiliate a mother of two publicly,” Akbaruddin said.
Another government official said: “Handcuffing a diplomat is unprecedented. It shows disrespect towards the diplomatic community.”
Sangeeta Richard has been absconding since June. The complaint against Devyani is that she was paying only $3.31 per hour against the mandated $9.75, and that the contract does not mention how many hours the maidservant will have to work or how many sick leaves and weekly offs she was entitled to. Also, Devyani is accused of presenting wrong facts while obtaining a US visa for the maid.
Uttam Khobragade, however, told dna that Sangeeta was paid more than the regular monthly salary. “Besides the regular monthly salary, she was paid additional amounts whenever she required. This is nothing but harassment. When Sangeeta started demanding more and more money, we registered a complaint against her in Delhi. The metropolitan magistrate court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against Sangeeta. We are shocked that Devyani was arrested for no fault of hers and that too when she has diplomatic immunity,” Khobragade said.
He said the Delhi high court issued an interim injunction in September, restraining Sangeeta Richards from instituting any action or proceedings against Devyani Khobragade outside India, regarding the terms or conditions of her employment. (With inputs from Pradip Sagar)
As part of the international law adopted in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomatic passport holders cannot be subjected to the jurisdiction of local courts and other authorities for both their official and, to a large extent, personal activities. Diplomats are given safe passage and are considered not susceptible to lawsuit or prosecution under the host country’s laws. They cannot be arrested or handcuffed. But they can be extradited
$250,000 is the bond amount against which Devyani Khobragade was released on bail
What is A-3 visa?
An A-3 visa, on which Devyani’s maid Sangeeta Richard travelled to the US, is a US visa for domestic workers and servants. The US government has classified A-3 visa into: attendants paid through public funds of the foreign country. Personal employees employed in a domestic capacity and are paid by the principal A visa holder.