The 2013 visa fraud case of New-York based Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, appeared to be classified as an example of human trafficking by the U.S. State Department, based on its inclusion in the Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, revealed this week.
Buried within the India chapter of the report, which enumerated a string of alleged trafficking crimes committed on Indian soil or by persons of Indian origin worldwide, the report mentions, “An Indian consular officer at the New York consulate was indicted in December 2013 for visa fraud related to her alleged exploitation of an Indian domestic worker.”
The arrest and strip-search of Ms. Khobragade, then the Deputy Consul General of the Indian mission in New York, sparked off a months-long diplomatic crisis between the two countries, leading to retaliatory measures undertaken by Indian law enforcement agencies in the form of removing security barriers around the U.S. embassy in New Delhi.
Ultimately Ms. Khobragade was able to leave the U.S. after India’s Ministry of External Affairs reassigned her to the United Nations and thus afforded her full diplomatic immunity from prosecution for allegedly underpaying and exploiting her domestic employee, Indian national Sangeeta Richard.
This week’s inclusion of her case in the TIP report shines a light on the U.S. categorising the episode as one of human trafficking.
The report classified India as a “Tier 2” country, which implied that the U.S. considers it to be one that is not meeting “the minimum standards of fighting human trafficking… but is striving to do so and has results that you can point to, to show that it’s doing a decent job, but could definitely improve,” according to Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador-at-Large in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Overall, the TIP report noted, India was a “source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking,” and the forced labour of an estimated 20 to 65 million citizens constituted India’s largest trafficking problem.
The report criticised the government of India officials for allowing “continued complicity” that enabled traffickers to exploit additional men, women, and children, adding that such officials “facilitated trafficking by taking bribes, warning traffickers about raids, helping traffickers destroy evidence, handing victims back to traffickers, and physically and sexually assaulting victims.