Now, in damage control mode, and amid reports that Mr Verma's wife is missing (she is obliged to return to India too), the Indian High Commission has issued a press release that explains what Mr and Mrs Verma said about their marriage and their fight over a Christmas tree, that led to Mrs Verma being injured. The press release follows:
On the incident involving Mr. Anil Verma, Minister(Economic) at the High Commission, the High Commission would like to state that the sequence of events are as follows:
• Mr. Anil Verma, Minister(Economic) in the High Commission of India, joined his diplomatic assignment in London on 24 August 2009. He was accompanied by his wife, Mrs. Paromita Verma, two sons (now aged 19 years and 5 years), Mrs. Paromita Verma's mother, and a service staff. In addition to being wife of Mr. Verma, Mrs. Verma is a salaried Central Government servant with the Indian Railways, and is in London on paid study leave for two years.
• On 11 December 2010, a regrettable and highly unfortunate incident involving Mr. & Mrs. Verma took place at their residence which was subsequently brought to the notice of the High Commission.
• Apparently, the incident was provoked by a gift (a Christmas tree) made by Mrs. Verma's aunt (her mother's sister who is married to Mr. Robert Chase and lives near their house) to their son. This was objected to by Mr. Verma and led to an altercation. (The background to this is that Mr. Verma had offered to buy a Christmas tree for their son. However, Mrs. Verma had said that since they already had a tree from the previous year, they did not need to buy one. Subsequently, when a Christmas tree was gifted by Mrs. Chase, Mr. Verma said that he felt humiliated. He wanted to remove the tree from the house. When he went upstairs to do this, Mrs. Verma followed him and tried to prevent him from doing so. In the scuffle that followed, she was injured.)
• According to Mr. Verma, Mrs. Verma was hit on the face when he was trying to remove the Christmas tree from the house and Mrs. Verma was trying to forcibly prevent him from doing so. According to Mrs. Verma, she was slapped. This resulted in bleeding from her nose due to damage to tissues in the nose.
• Mrs. Verma ran out of her house and her neighbours called the police and an ambulance. The police recorded Mrs. Verma's statement (which was also signed by her) after which Mrs. Verma was taken by the ambulance to the Hospital and returned to her residence the same day.
• High Commission officials visited Mr. Verma's residence on 13 December 2010 to enquire about the incident and Mrs. Verma's welfare.
• The High Commission officials informed Mrs. Verma that the High Commission had a responsibility towards welfare of all officials and their dependants and that Mrs. Verma should feel free to be in touch with the High Commission in regard to her own situation and welfare. High Commission officials also informed Mrs. Verma that they viewed this incident very seriously as use of force/violence was, from their point of view, totally unacceptable under any circumstances. At no point was Mrs. Verma berated or threatened by the High Commission officials.
• Mrs. Verma, while expressing dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in her marriage, said that her continued stay in the UK was important from the point of view of treatment of her younger son (who was at that time bed-ridden and was being tutored at home by a visiting teacher). She requested that Mr. Verma should be firmly spoken to and should be advised to go in for counselling. Mrs. Verma also indicated that she would like to sort out matters with her husband and would also go with him for counselling.
• Mr. Verma was spoken to in appropriate terms and told that the use of force was totally unacceptable and that under no circumstances or provocation should this recur. Were this to happen again, it would be untenable. In his response, Mr. Verma said that this was the first time such an incident had happened and he promised that it would not recur. He also agreed to go for counselling along with Mrs. Verma.
• Both Mr. & Mrs. Verma were suitably told that as diplomats, they were expected to conduct themselves with dignity and decorum. The High Commission's concerns over such incidents notwithstanding, the differences between Mr. & Mrs. Verma would basically have to be sorted out by the two themselves.
• In the circumstances, it was decided that the couple be given a chance to amicably sort out their differences.
• On 3 January 2011, Mr. Verma formally informed the High Commission that he was being subjected to harassment and tension by his wife, mother-in-law and Mr. & Mrs.Chase. He was also being repeatedly taunted that he was a "criminal". On account of this, Mr. Verma said that he was finding it difficult to live at his official residence as he was afraid that another incident might take place and he wanted to move out at the earliest.
• High Commission officials visited Mr. Verma's residence in the evening of 3 January 2011.
• It was once again reiterated by the High Commission officials that their main concern and responsibility was for the welfare of Mr. & Mrs. Verma and other members of their family. The High Commission would not take sides in the matter; nor was it in a position to provide expert advice on the marital issues. In the circumstances, it was conveyed to Mr. & Mrs. Verma that it was best if they proceeded to India on home leave at the earliest for 3-4 weeks and made an attempt to sort out their differences and then return. They both agreed. In the context of the suggestion for the Vermas to proceed on home leave at the earliest, Mrs. Verma raised the following issues:
(i) The forthcoming Doctor's appointment for her younger son; and
(ii) the commencement of the academic year from 10 January 2011 for her older son.
On (i) above, the High Commission officials informed that it was important that they went to India after this appointment and the Vermas should try to see if it could be pre-poned.
On (ii), Mrs. Verma said that she would need to inform the University about her son taking leave. Further, she enquired if he could be given an ordinary passport so that a fresh visa could be obtained for him. On the second point, she was apprised of the UK rules. Mrs. Verma then said that she would send an email to the High Commission on this (this was never received). At no point was Mrs. Verma berated or threatened by the High Commission officials.
• In the evening of 3 January 2011, Mr. Verma moved out of his official residence into a hotel. His wife and other members of the family continued to stay at the official residence.
• Mr. Verma got the doctor's appointment for his younger son pre-poned to 7 January. He conveyed this to Mrs. Verma on 4 January. According to Mr. Verma, Mrs. Verma said that it was convenient for her and they agreed to take the younger son to the doctor on that day.
• On 5 January 2011, Mr. Verma informed the High Commission that his wife and other members of the family were no longer contactable at his official residence and that Mrs. Verma was not responding to his telephone calls. The High Commission also tried to establish contact with Mrs. Verma but without success. According to Mr. Verma when he went to the house of Mr. Chase (who lives in the neighbourhood) in search of his family, he saw his service staff in the house, peering from behind a curtain. However, when Mr. Verma contacted Mr. & Mrs. Chase, they denied any knowledge about his family's whereabouts.
• As Mr. Verma did not have the keys to his house and he needed to access it, he went to his residence on 6 January 2011, along with a High Commission official, to get the locks changed. While Mr. Verma and the High Commission official were waiting in the car outside Mr. Verma's residence for the locksmith to arrive, they saw Mr. & Mrs. Chase arrive in a car. Mr. Chase got out of the car and approached Mr. Verma's residence. When he saw Mr. Verma, he returned to his car without going into the house. However, he threatened Mr. Verma by saying "do not come in my way".
• At the request of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the High Commission officials met officials of the Protocol Directorate of the FCO on 10 January 2011. The High Commission officials emphasised that the incident was unfortunate and that the High Commission was taking appropriate steps in its wake. They also said that the Government of India takes such matters very seriously and that they were careful considering the incident from the point of view of what an appropriate action would be.
• On 13 January 2011, FCO wrote to the High Commission requesting for waiver of Mr. Verma's diplomatic immunity. The note further stated that failure to waive Mr. Verma's immunity will result in an immediate request for Mr. Verma and his dependents to be withdrawn from the UK.
• On 17 January 2011, the High Commission informed the FCO through a Note Verbale that a decision has been taken by the Government of India to transfer Mr. Anil Verma and his family to India. The High Commission had been asked to make necessary arrangements for Mr. Verma, his family members and his service staff to return to India at the earliest. The High Commission further sought assistance of the FCO to facilitate their early return.
• The Ministry of External Affairs has taken a serious view in the matter. The matter has been looked into actively and with all the seriousness that it deserves. There is no question of condoning domestic violence which is totally unacceptable. Once the officer returns to India, the matter will be thoroughly investigated and acted upon appropriately. The laws of the land would take care of any acts that need to be taken care of, consequent to the enquiry.