India has announced a freeze on duty free alcohol in tit-for-tat tactics over a high-profile diplomat spat with the US. The scandal began when an Indian official complained of a humiliating arrest and strip-search including “cavity searches” in New York.
Devyani Khobragade, a deputy consul general at the Indian Consulate in New York, was arrested in the US, accused of visa fraud and false statements on payments.
“I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, in a holdup with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity,” Khobragade said in an email statement published in India media on Wednesday, almost a week after her arrest.
India’s foreign minister, Salman Khurshid, called her treatment while in the US “completely unacceptable.”
A flurry of retaliatory measures did not take long to follow.
Initially, all ID cards issued by the Ministry of External Affairs to officials at US consulates across India were withdrawn, a senior ministry source told AFP.
Shortly afterwards, Indian police removed concrete ‘safety’ barriers which prevented the movement of traffic around the US embassy.
Then a freeze on duty-free alcohol and food imports followed topped with promises to review work conditions and salaries of Indians working in US consulates.
“It is no longer about an individual, it is about our sense of self as a nation and our place in the world,” Khurshid said as he reined in the privileges of US diplomatic staff.
“The case has caused a lot of outrage in India because the diplomat was actually humiliated…this was a very unusual incident,” Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the Center for Policy Research told RT. They have also warned of the possibility of future actions, he said. “It hasn’t shared those possible steps with the public yet, but there is a lot of pressure on the government in India.”