Indian Diplomat's Arrest Prompts Diplomatic Cracks Between U.S. And India

India has a problem with how it treats its women: From female infanticide to rape injustice, India was recently labelled the worst G20 country for women by a polled group of 370 gender specialists. But when it comes to India's privileged female diplomats, the country is furiously defensive. A rare and angry dispute has broken out between India and America after a female Indian diplomat working in New York, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested last Thursday and treated severely by U.S. authorities for allegedly submitting false documents and exploiting her housekeeper.

Deputy consul general Devayni Khobragade was arrested Thursday because US authorities believed she had lied on a work visa application for her housekeeper and under-paid her. Khobragade had allegedly told the US authorities processing the visa that the housekeeper would be paid $4,500 per month.

The federal prosecutors that ordered Khobragade’s arrest claim they have now found it be $573 a month, and for a working week of more than 40 hours. Khobragade’s lawyer, meanwhile, says she will be pleading not guilty to the charges on the grounds of diplomatic immunity.

In the meantime, numerous Indian dignataries have pronounced the arrest “despicable”, with the Indian government releasing a statement to say that they are “shocked and appalled at the manner in which [Khobragade] has been humiliated by the US authorities."

So what did this "humiliation" entail? Well, Indian authorities claim that Khobragade was held in a cell with drug addicts, and bailed for $250,000, not to mention the indignity of being arrested on the street. (FYI: none of the Indian officials have publicly discussed the possibility that Khobragade might be guilty.)

Indian newspapers are alleging that the deputy consul was also strip and cavity-searched, a claim the Indian embassy in New Delhi would not substantiate, and one that the US State Department’s deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf, has also denied. “After her arrest, she was passed on to the US marshals for intake and processing,” said Harf.

Now, India's rescinded a number of diplomatic privilege. Without any further American comment on Khobragade’s case, concrete security barriers surrounding the American Embassy in New Delhi have now been removed, and there's now a ban on the import of liquor. But that isn’t enough to satisfy India’s indignation. The country’s former finance minister and opposition leader Yashwant Sinha has called for openly gay US diplomats travelling to India to be arrested for offences relating to homosexuality.

Given that homosexuality has just been ruled illegal by India's high court, that's a pretty serious threat.

What India's response reveals is the deep injustice that exists when it comes to the relative status of class and gender in India. Embarrass one Indian woman with privilege in a public sphere, and everybody leaps to her defence; expose the likely abuse of another Indian woman of a lower social standing, and almost nobody says a word.

Indian women may all be second-class citizens, but some, it seems, are of an even lesser second-class than others.