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India-US diplomat row: The Devyani Khobragade case looks all maid up

Thursday, 19 December 2013 - 8:24am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Why did the US grant visas to Sangeeta Richard's family and fly them out to the US two days before Devyani was arrested?
  • Manit DNA

Questions are being asked. Like, why is the United States of America, India’s so-called friend, putting all its might behind maid-in-absence Sangeeta Richard? Why did the US grant visas to her husband and children and fly them out to the US two days before Devyani Khobragade was arrested in full public glare and strip searched?

Why has the “inconsequential maid” become so important for the US? According to the US, she remains untraceable, if so, on what grounds were the husband and children granted visas, and on whose application? These and other questions hover, unanswered. For example, isn’t it a fact that Sangeeta’s  husband and children flew to the US the same day they got their hands on the US visas? Where was the hurry? And, isn’t it a fact that Sangeeta’s father-in-law is in the staff of the US embassy in New Delhi?

The US argument that the attorney general’s office was only obeying the law of the land does not hold water. Fresh details coming in suggest that the US State Department, the US embassy in India and the US Immigration Bureau as well as the New York security establishment were protecting Sangeeta Richard while going all out to “teach the diplomat a lesson”’.

On Wednesday, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid told Parliament that there was a conspiracy behind Devyani’s arrest, and humiliation. Later, when asked to explain by the media, he said that such behaviour can only be “conspiracy” or “irrational”.

Diplomatic circles were abuzz with talk that Sangeeta might have been passing on vital information to the US. “Granting visas to Sangeeta Richard’s husband and children just two days prior to Devyani’s arrest goes to confirm such fears. Sangeeta’s husband Philip and children left for the US on the same day they got the visas, which was on December 10,” top government sources told dna.

Meanwhile, India has accused the US of immigration fraud because it granted visas to Sangeeta’s family members even as Sangeeta remains mysteriously untraceable. The timing also coincided with foreign secretary Sujatha Singh’s visit to the US. “If US visas have been granted to the maid’s family members, how can they keep parroting that the maid remains untraceable?” a top official asked.

India had lodged a complaint with the New York police way back in June that Sangeeta was absconding but the New York police sat on the complaint and did nothing. “The US did not respond to repeated requests to help find Sangeeta when Khobragade was arrested. India also asked the American embassy to help find Ms Richard way back on July 5,” sources said.

Richard, who remains in hiding, reportedly met an immigration lawyer in the US in September and asked that Sangeeta should pay her $10,000 and that she be given documents to stay on in the US. On September 21, the Delhi High Court passed an injunction against Richard restraining her lodging cases against Khobragade outside India, which India shared with the US Embassy.

In case the US doesn’t reply satisfactorily to all questions, the government of India may move ahead to prosecute visa officers at the US embassy in Delhi. The case clearly seems to be an attempt to compromise and trap Devyani Khobragade, sources said. Devyani had confided in India’s ambassador to the US that to pre-empt action against Sangeeta Richard an exercise to discredit her (Devyani) may take place.

India has called for the “unconditional release” of Devyani stating that it was perhaps for the first time that such behaviour was reported against any diplomat. In another development, Devyani has been shifted to India’s permanent mission in New York where she will enjoy full diplomatic immunity that her consular status did not give her.

The Association of Indian Foreign Service Officers has also passed a resolution condemning her arrest and the treatment meted out to her, calling them a violation of the Vienna convention. It demanded that all charges against her be dropped.

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