In response to the alleged mistreatment of an Indian diplomat by American law enforcement officials, Indian authorities have taken a series of unprecedented steps to show their displeasure, including the removal of security barriers around the American embassy in New Delhi. The New York Times reports:
The diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, the deputy consul general in New York, was arrested last Thursday and accused of submitting false documents to obtain a work visa for her housekeeper and paying the housekeeper far less than the minimum legal wage. Indian officials said that Ms. Khobragade was arrested and handcuffed on the street as she was leaving her daughter at school, and that she was kept in a holding cell with drug addicts before she was released on $250,000 bail.
More infuriating for Indians was the allegation that Khobragade was strip-searched as well, later confirmed by American state officials.
Indian outrage over alleged mistreatment abroad is not new. It makes headlines every time celebrities like Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan and author Rohinton Mistry, a Canadian of Indian origin, are detained at airports. But the Indian response this time seems a tad over the top. The incident has been described as “a slap in the face of the country”, “barbaric” and “humiliating.” A politician even said gay American diplomats’ partners may be subject to arrest under India’s homosexuality laws. India has also downgraded American diplomats’ privileges and told them to turn in their identity cards. Both Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, normally on opposite sides of the political spectrum, refused to meet an American congressional delegation that was visiting.
Rhetoric is one thing, but American diplomats should be concerned to see that India has removed security barriers around the American embassy in New Delhi. Apart from compromising their security, the move may also contravene the Vienna Convention that reinforces host countries’ responsibility to protect diplomats.
The episode may blow over soon. Secretary of State John Kerry called the Indian national security advisor to express his “regret” over the incident. And governments rarely let tiffs like this sabotage important strategic partnerships. But during election season, politicians will use every tool available to look good, and anti-Americanism often plays very well.