New Delhi: Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde today refused to meet a US Congress delegation amid an escalating row over Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade who was reportedly subjected to a humiliating strip search and kept in a cell with drug addicts after her arrest for alleged visa fraud in New York last week.
National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon has described Ms Khobragade's treatment as "despicable and barbaric."
Ms Khobragade has refused to comment on this, but the new revelations have escalated the diplomatic row between India and the US over her arrest. Government sources have said that India is considering taking "reciprocal steps" later today, "to convey a clear message that this treatment of the diplomat is unacceptable."
Ms Khobragade's father Uttam Khobragade, a former IAS officer, says he will meet External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid today to take up the matter. "My daughter is brave, but I'm worried. There's more than what meets the eye," he told NDTV.
Yesterday, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Mr Menon had cancelled meetings in Delhi with a visiting US Congressional delegation.
Sources said senior officials in the Ministry had urged Mr Khurshid to cancel his meeting with the US team too, but the minister chose to meet them and convey India's displeasure.
Ms Khobragade, 39, was arrested on Thursday on the street while she was dropping her daughter to school and was handcuffed in public. She was later released on a $250,000 bail. She has been accused of lying on the visa application for an Indian national who worked at her home from November to June for less than four dollars an hour. (Indian diplomat arrested in US for alleged visa fraud, handcuffed in public)
A day later, Foreign secretary Sujatha Singh had summoned American ambassador in New Delhi, Nancy Powell, and lodged a strong protest over what India has described as "unacceptable treatment" meted out to its senior consular officer. (India summons US ambassador to protest diplomat being handcuffed)
Responding to a questionnaire mailed out by NDTV, Noel Clay, a spokesperson for the US State Department, said standard procedures had been followed during Ms Khobragade's arrest. "After her arrest, US Marshals processed her for intake. For any additional questions on her treatment, we refer you to the US Marshals," Mr Clay wrote.
NDTV has contacted the US Marshals office and is awaiting a response.
At the heart of the diplomatic row is the legal definition of diplomatic immunity. Mr Clay told NDTV, "Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Indian Deputy Consul General enjoys immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions."
But India has argued that the Article 41 of the Vienna Convention was violated; it states that a diplomat will only be arrested for a grave crime, and even if arrested, all courtesies will be extended to the diplomat.