Anger at Indian diplomat’s strip-search grows

Indian protesters have ransacked a Dominos Pizza outlet in a Mumbai suburb demanding a ban on American goods in reaction to the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York.

The arrest of Devyani Khobragade sparked protests across India, such as the one above outside the US consul in Mumbai. Pictures: Reuters/Getty
The arrest of Devyani Khobragade sparked protests across India, such as the one above outside the US consul in Mumbai. Pictures: Reuters/Getty

Police and the Indian franchise of the US chain said no-one was hurt in yesterday’s attack, a symptom of widespread anger in India over the arrest and strip-search of deputy consul-general Devyani Khobragade, 39, for alleged visa fraud and under-payment of her housekeeper.

India has urged the US to drop the case as Ms Khobragade’s father threatened to hunger strike to force the issue.

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US secretary of state John Kerry expressed regret over the case in a phone call to India’s national security adviser this week, but US prosecutors defended the Khobragade investigation.

Police in Mumbai said they were stepping up patrolling of major US outlets including McDonald’s after workers of the small Republican Party of India attacked the Dominos store.

“The fact is that American authorities have behaved atrociously with an Indian diplomat. And obviously, America has to make good for its actions,” said Manish Tiwari, minister for information and broadcasting. “So I think it is a legitimate expectation that if they have erred, and they have erred grievously, they should apologise.”

Ms Khobragade was arrested on 12 December and released on $250,000 bail after giving up her passport and pleading not guilty to visa fraud and making false statements about how much she paid her housekeeper. She faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted.

The US justice department confirmed she was strip-searched after arrest. An Indian government source said she endured an intimate search, but the US has not confirmed this.

“I want these false and fabricated charges to be dropped,” said her father Uttam, adding that he would go on a hunger strike if his demands were not met. “That will be my last option.”

Protesters also gathered at the US consulate in Hyderabad for a second day yesterday, shouting slogans. Furious that one of its foreign service officers had been handcuffed and treated like “a common criminal”, India on Tuesday removed security barriers outside the US embassy in New Delhi and withdrew privileges from US diplomats. The public reaction has been unmitigated by conciliatory language from politicians, who face an election next year and do not want to be seen appeasing a superpower.

Politicians, including the leaders of the two main parties, refused to meet a delegation of visiting US senators.

“Because of the election, they will try to outdo each other,” said Neerja Chowdhury, a political analyst. “They don’t want to be seen as weak when the mood in India is one of huge anger.”

The party that runs India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state urged Ms Khobragade to stand for parliament.

“Whatever happened with her is condemnable,” said Azam Khan, a state minister. “If she returns to India, we are ready to give her a ticket for the 2014 polls.”

Indian TV news has added to a sense that national pride has been wounded. There has been little focus, however, on the housekeeper, who feels it would be unsafe to return to India.

“One wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse,” Indian-born Manhattan US attorney Preet Bharara said.