Dubious Strip Search of Indian Diplomat in New York Sparks Uproar

Today, in "horrible story becomes even more horrible," Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat accused of egregiously underpaying her full-time babysitter and lying on a visa application, has said that U.S. authorities humiliated her by subjecting her to a strip search, cavity search and DNA swabbing after her arrest, in spite of her "incessant assertions of immunity."

In a letter to her colleagues, Khobragade wrote that she "broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, hold up with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me." She also stated that she hopes that the support of her colleagues will "be translated into strong and swift action" — something that's happened rapidly and vociferously. According to CNN, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called her treatment "deplorable" and the nation's National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon has declared it "despicable" and "barbaric." "We are shocked and appalled at the manner in which she has been humiliated by the US authorities," Indian external affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said in statement.

In retaliation, New Delhi police have removed the security barriers around the American Embassy, and Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said in parliament that the government will cancel airport passes for U.S. diplomats and freeze import requests. Disturbingly, one politician has even called for the arrest of "same-sex companions of American diplomats" now that gay sex has been declared illegal in the country.

In a statement, the United States Marshals service maintains that it followed "the same procedures" in detaining and searching Ms. Khobragade that it follows with all "other U.S.M.S. arrestees held within the general prisoner population in the Southern District of New York." Marie Harf, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, has also pointed out that Khobragade only has consular immunity — which only extends to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions — and not full diplomatic immunity.

But government officials (and many protesters) see Khobragade's treatment as an affront to India and an insult to all Indian women. And, according to the Associated Press, the reaction to Khobragade's case is particularly strong because "the fear of public humiliation resonates strongly... For an educated, middle-class woman to face public arrest and a strip search is almost unimaginable, except in the most brutal crimes."

"India's top demand right now is: return our diplomat," an unnamed official told the AP. Clearly, though, merely returning Khobragade won't mitigate the government's ire: "More steps should be taken against the United States until they give an unconditional apology," India's Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told the press.

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