NEW DELHI – An Indian diplomat at the center of a bitter row with the United States told Sunday of her “immense stress” at leaving behind her young family in New York and vowed to clear her name.
Indian consulate official Devyani Khobragade was allowed to leave the United States on Friday after a monthlong dispute over her arrest and strip-search on suspicion of visa fraud involving her domestic servant.
She was granted full diplomatic immunity and allowed to fly back to India, just hours after charges were filed in court alleging she had lodged false documents to obtain a visa for her servant, and then underpaid her.
Khobragade, 39, told an Indian newspaper of her anguish at leaving behind her daughters, ages 7 and 4, in New York along with her husband, a U.S. citizen, who works as an academic. “I wonder if I will be able to ever reunite with my family, my husband, my little kids,” she said.
Her arrest on Dec. 12 outside her children’s school, and treatment in custody — where she was subjected to a cavity search — outraged India, which claimed that she had full diplomatic immunity.
U.S. prosecutors disputed this and filed charges in New York accusing her of occasionally forcing her Indian maid to work 100-hour weeks, even when sick and often without a day off, for pay as little as $1.22 an hour.
However, she did obtain diplomatic immunity last week, when New Delhi asked Washington to grant her a G1 visa given to diplomats at India’s U.N. mission, which is also in New York.
The row between the two countries, which had embraced each other as strategic partners, saw weeks of feisty exchanges that strained bilateral ties and left resentment simmering on both sides.
India has removed extra security barriers at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, demanded contract details for domestic staff employed by American diplomats and even stopped the mission importing duty-free food and alcohol.
On Wednesday, it ordered an embassy leisure center that is popular with American expatriates in the capital to stop admitting nondiplomatic members, and visits by U.S. officials to India have been canceled.
In a fresh retaliatory measure late Friday, India asked the United States to withdraw an embassy official in New Delhi. The expelled American diplomat was a “similar rank” to Khobragade, and is thought to have helped the family of her maid travel to America where they were granted protection by prosecutors.
U.S. prosecutors say the family of the maid were evacuated to the United States because of attempts to intimidate them.
In her newspaper interview, Khobragade said she would continue a legal fight to clear her name, including her ongoing attempt to have her case in New York dismissed in a federal court.