Devyani Khobragade, 39, who was India's deputy consul-general in
New York, was arrested in December on charges of visa fraud and
lying to U.S. authorities about what she paid her housekeeper.
Khobragade's arrest and strip-search provoked protests in India and
dealt a serious blow to U.S. efforts to strengthen ties.
An indictment announced by U.S. prosecutors on Thursday accused
Khobragade of making her Indian housekeeper and nanny, Sangeeta
Richard, work 100-hour, seven-day weeks for a salary of little more
than $1 an hour and refusing her sick days and holidays. The legal
minimum U.S. wage is $7.25 an hour.
Khobragade, who has denied the charges, arrived in New Delhi on
Friday night and was met by her father, Uttam Khobragade. "I want to
thank my nation for the support they have given me," she told
Shortly after Khobragade's return home, the U.S. State Department in
Washington said it would recall a U.S. diplomat, whom it did not
identify, at India's request.
"This has clearly been a challenging time in the U.S.-India
relationship," department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "We expect and
hope that this will now come to closure and the Indians will take
significant steps with us to improve our relationship and return it
to a more constructive place."
The continued presence in the United States of the housekeeper could
pose a challenge to Washington as it seeks to repair its
relationship with New Delhi, an important U.S. ally in Asia. India
has asked U.S. authorities to arrest Richard over the Indian
government's allegations that she stole cash, a mobile phone and
documents from Khobragade. Richard has denied the charges.
The United States has so far rebuffed those requests and further
enraged India by spiriting Richard's family out of India for safety
reasons. Psaki declined to comment on Richard's status, citing
David Beasley, a spokesman for Safe Horizon organization that has
provided Richard with legal representation, said that she and her
family have been granted what is known as "continued presence"
immigration status. It is available to victims of human trafficking
who may serve as potential witnesses in a criminal case, allowing
them to live and work legally for up to a year and can be renewed in
The monthlong dispute set off reprisals against American diplomats
in New Delhi and led to the postponement of visits to India by U.S.
officials and another by a U.S. business delegation.
India removed some security barriers near the U.S. Embassy and
reduced the number of embassy staff with diplomatic immunity. On
Wednesday, it ordered the embassy to close a club frequented by
American expatriates and other foreign residents.
The deal allowing Khobragade to return to India had been expected to
help mend the rift, but there was no sign, in the short term at
least, that India was ready to forgive and forget.
"We called the U.S. mission to withdraw an officer of similar rank
of Devyani as reciprocal action," an Indian official said.
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The official told reporters the government believed the U.S.
diplomat had a role in the Khobragade case but gave no more details.
Analysts say it will take time to dispel the bad feelings built up
between New Delhi and Washington, and some fear lasting damage has
been done to a relationship Washington hoped would serve as both as
a counterbalance to a rising China and as an engine to boost the
With national elections due in India by May, political parties there
have seized on the case and labeled it an attack on national
Political analyst Persis Khambatta of the Center for Strategic and
International Studies in Washington said that now Khobragade had
returned to India "tensions may begin to ease between the U.S. and
India, but I fear that this episode has caused significant damage."
During the crisis, both New Delhi and Washington repeatedly stressed
the importance of their strategic partnership, which includes $100
billion of annual trade.
The president of the U.S.-India Business Council, Ron Somers, called
the Khobragade incident "deeply regrettable."
"The U.S.-India relationship is strategic to both countries, and is
simply too important to allow it to be degraded or side-tracked," he
Although Khobragade was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York
on Thursday, she had already been transferred to India's U.N.
mission, a move that accorded her diplomatic immunity. India denied
a U.S. request for that immunity to be waived and she was asked to
leave the country.
Many Indians felt the case was an example of U.S. arrogance and
taking its friendship with India for granted and they supported the
government's tough stand.
"India's perception that it is not treated on par with other
strategic partners, and the U.S. frustration with a relationship
that is too long on 'potential' have come to the fore over a
seemingly small, but not unimportant incident," Khambatta said.
Middle-class Indians sympathized more with Khobragade than with her
housekeeper. Indian political circles are calling Khobragade a hero,
with one party in her home state of Maharashtra saying it would talk
to her about running for parliament.
(Reporting by Sruthi Gottipati in India, David Brunnstrom in
Washington; additional reporting by Nate Raymond, Joseph Ax and
Chris Francescani in New York, Louis Charbonneau at the United
Nations; editing by Eric Beech, Doina Chiacu, Grant McCool and Ross
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