New Delhi on Wednesday ordered the transfer of Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul in New York who has been charged with criminal offences, to India’s Permanent Mission in United Nations in an apparent bid to boost diplomatic immunity.
The decision to move her to the U.N. came amid fears that Ms. Khobragade, who was arrested last week and subjected to a strip search and other procedures such as an examination of body cavities, may be detained again. As a U.N. official, she would have full diplomatic immunity, which she does not have as an official at a consulate.
India also wants the U.S. to apologise, drop all criminal charges against Ms. Khobragade and allow her to return home. Though there have been two previous cases in which Indian diplomats at the New York consulate have been enmeshed in cases of ill treating a domestic employee, this is the first time that a diplomat is facing criminal charges for not paying her domestic worker the minimum wage and of giving false information on the wage in the visa application.
The controversy took a new turn after it emerged that the family of Sangeeta Richards, the domestic worker, was given U.S. visas though New Delhi had been regularly petitioning U.S. authorities to have her traced her after she went missing in June. Her husband and two children boarded an Air India flight for New York on December 10, just two days before Dr. Khobragade was arrested and strip searched.
Earlier this year, on a plea from the Khobragade family, a Delhi court had issued a warrant against Ms. Richards and this too was brought to the notice of the authorities in the U.S. The Khobragade family had complained that she had left the diplomat’s New York home with her diplomatic passport.
In another twist to the tale, Ms. Richards' husband had filed a case in July demanding the Government locate his wife but he withdrew the petition later.
The episode has prompted the government to push a proposal pending with the Union Finance Ministry to designate Indian domestic helps working abroad as government servants on contract in order not to fall foul of minimum wages laws in developed countries.