Between U.S. And India, One Diplomat Stirs Dispute

The diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and India over allegations of visa fraud continued on Wednesday. U.S. prosecutors plan to indict an Indian diplomat on charges that she lied on a visa application for her domestic servant; the diplomat denies the allegations. The Indian government has objected to the way the matter has been handled and has introduced a number of restrictions on the activities of U.S. diplomats in India.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The relationship between the world's biggest two democracies is under strain over an incident involving a low-ranking diplomat. U.S. prosecutors are preparing to indict a government representative from India. She's accused of lying on a visa application for her housekeeper. That indictment and the diplomat's treatment by American authorities have ignited a furious response in India. And the Indian government is retaliating.

NPR's Julie McCarthy joins us from New Delhi. And, Julie, start with a little background on this case. What's the alleged crime?

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, an Indian diplomat in New York was arrested in December for allegedly falsifying documents that were used to give a visa for the Indian citizen that she'd employed to work as a nanny and a cleaning woman. She's said to have reported that the maid was paid about $9 an hour when she was to be paid about $3 an hour. Now, what's wrong with that? It's below the U.S. statutory minimum wage and she's one of several Indian diplomats to have run into this kind of trouble over employment of domestic help in recent years, Audie.

And the New York prosecutor, himself of Indian origin, ran with it. She was picked up outside her daughter's school and, in her words, subjected to handcuffing, stripping, cavity searches and holed up with common criminals and drug addicts. The prosecutor denied some of that and is preparing an indictment for next week.

So you see in this clash between India and the United States, this internal clash between the Indians who adopt the U.S. as home and see the maid as the victim and the Indian bureaucracy who sees its diplomat as the victim.

CORNISH: So what are you hearing from the Indian government? What do they want?

MCCARTHY: Well, they want an apology, first of all. The United States has made that, not vocally obvious, but by their silence has made it clear that that's not going to be in the offing. They do want an apology. The foreign minister said the case is no longer about an individual. It's about our sense of self as a nation and place in the world.

That is the significance this case has come to take in an election year. India says it wants the charges dropped. They want the Americans to approve Devyani Khobrogade's transfer to the permanent mission at the UN so there's no doubt about her diplomatic status and thus her immunity. And until that happens, India looks ready to ratchet up the pressure here on the U.S. embassy in New Delhi.

CORNISH: So what sort of reprisals are we seeing from India?

MCCARTHY: Well, India is taking retaliatory steps against American diplomats here in India. Today, it ordered the U.S. embassy to, quote, "end all commercial activities" inside a club that's housed in that compound. And that club is for American citizens who use the pool, the restaurant, for a steep price. And the Indians say, look, that is incompatible with the function of a mission.

The facilities are meant for diplomats and if you extend it to non-diplomats, that's a commercial venture, which means you must pay taxes. That is going to open an entire new can of worms with the Americans. Last week, they said the U.S. embassy couldn't screen any movies at the American Center without obtaining a license from Indian officials.

They're also cracking down on any sort of immunity in traffic violations that were before granted to U.S. officials, so a raft of measures to make their point.

CORNISH: Any sense that this is going to be resolved any time soon?

MCCARTHY: Well, the United States prosecutor in New York seems intent on pushing this forward quickly. He wants an indictment by next week. And behind the scenes, there are a lot of negotiations at the highest levels. The ambassador, Nancy Powell, is meeting here with her counterparts to try to resolve this thing diplomatically and quietly.

But the antagonism, Audie, toward the United States that has surfaced is enormous and something that, I think, is making the Americans sit up and notice. It's become a major news story. It's amplified the public mood here, which is indignation at the United States.

CORNISH: NPR's Julie McCarthy in New Delhi, thanks so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Audie.

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