Chennai student bodies agitate against U.S. over diplomat row

Chennai, Dec.21: Student organisations led protests in Chennai on Saturday, demanding an apology from the United States over the arrest and alleged heavy-handed treatment of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York.

Cadres of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and Students’ Federation of India (SFI) marched on streets, shouting slogans against U.S. and urging the Indian Government to harden its stand on the issue.

On December 20, India had asked the United Nations to accredit Khobragade, who was arrested for visa fraud, in an apparent attempt to defuse a crisis with the United States over the treatment meted out to her by the U.S. authorities.

Khogragade was also strip searched at a U.S. District Court building in downtown Manhattan and placed in a holding cell.

As India’s deputy consul general in New York, she only had limited diplomatic immunity from prosecution.

Holding banners, protesters in Chennai stated that such acts by America would not be tolerated by India.

“We are condemning the American acts and we urge the Indian government to take immediate action for this. We cannot tolerate the acts of American imperialism and this is against the terms of the Vienna convention. It is an insult to the Indian Government and we cannot tolerate that,” said a protester, Siddhartha Kumar.

Khobragade was arrested last week and released on USD 250,000 bail after giving up her passport and pleading not guilty to charges of visa fraud and making false statements about how much she paid her housekeeper, also an Indian. She faces a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted of both counts.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed regret over the case in a phone call to India’s national security adviser this week, but India is still demanding an apology. U.S. prosecutors have defended the investigation against Khobragade and her treatment. Before this diplomatic blow-up, U.S.-Indian relations were seen as cordial and improving.

The Indian diplomat’s father threatened to begin a fast if U.S. authorities press ahead with the case. In an unusual move, the United States has flown the family of the housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, out of India.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said on December 18 that Richard’s family had been brought to the United States after legal efforts had begun in India “to silence her, and attempts were made to compel her to return to India.”

Furious that one of its foreign service officers had been handcuffed and treated like “a common criminal,” earlier this week India removed security barriers outside the U.S. embassy in New Delhi and withdrew some privileges from the U.S. diplomats.

The reaction in India has been even more intense because none of the political parties preparing for next year’s general election wanted to be seen as weak against a superpower. (ANI)