What Americans really need to kick off the new year is a dramatic improvement in our relations with India. In a world where it sometimes seems that the United States doesn’t have many friends and allies, that south Asian country has become both. Most notably, since the attacks Sept. 11, 2001, India has been a partner in fighting the war on terror.
Now the relationship is on the rocks due to an ugly incident involving a 39-year-old deputy consul general of India who was taken into custody on Dec. 12 by the U.S. Marshals Service on charges that she lied on the application for her nanny and housekeeper to legally work in the United States.
That’s how it started. But to many Indians, this case is now about something much bigger. It’s about respect and what Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid has described as “our sense of self as a nation and our place in the world.”
U.S. authorities allege that Devyani Khobragade, who lives in Manhattan, stated on her visa application that she was paying the employee the minimum wage in New York — $9.75 per hour — when she was really paying only about $3.31 per hour. Despite Khobragade’s repeated insistence that she had diplomatic immunity, she was placed in a cell with other female detainees and strip-searched.
Technically, at the time of her arrest, Khobragade had limited immunity, according to U.S. officials; the Indian government is now trying to upgrade her status to full immunity.
Meanwhile, Khobragade’s attorney, Daniel Arschack, claims that a federal agent “erroneously and disastrously” misread the application. According to the New York Daily News, Arschack believes that the agent mistakenly thought a figure on the form — $4,500 per month — was what Khobragade intended to pay the worker. The attorney insists it was instead the base salary that Khobragade expected to receive at her job, and that it was on the form to show that she could afford to pay her employee the proper wage. U.S. officials had no response to Arschack’s comments.