By Abhaya Srivastava, AFP
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 month-long dispute over her arrest and strip-search on suspicion of visa fraud involving her domestic servant. Khobragade was granted full diplomatic immunity and allowed to fly back to India — just hours after charges were filed in court alleging she 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, aged seven and four, 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. I miss them,” Khobragade told The Sunday Express. “What if my children choose to study and work in the U.S.? What if I can never return to the U.S., which I cannot now? Does it mean we will never be able to live together as a family again?” she said. “I know I am honest, and I will come out clean. But we do not know how much time it will take and for how long my family will have to suffer due to this,” she added. Her arrest on Dec. 12 outside her children’s school and treatment in custody, where she said she was subjected to a cavity search, outraged India which claimed she benefited from full diplomatic immunity. U.S. prosecutors disputed this, and filed charges in New York accusing Khobragade of sometimes forcing the Indian maid to work 100-hour weeks, even when sick and often without a day off, for pay as little as US$1.22 an hour. Khobragade did obtain diplomatic immunity when last week 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 on both sides.