Thapar to Khobragade: Troubled overseas world of Indian diplomats

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 28, 2015 14:30 IST

A total of 27 Indian diplomats posted overseas are facing charges related to corruption, harassment and dereliction of duty, adding to concerns in the foreign ministry after the recall of the envoy to New Zealand following an accusation that his wife assaulted a domestic staff.

The diplomats facing charges did not include India’s high commissioner to New Zealand, Ravi Thapar, who was recalled to New Delhi on Saturday to face an investigation into allegations that his wife assaulted a cook who apparently told police he was “kept in slavery”.

Thapar, who had been serving in New Zealand for the past two years, joined a deplorable list of diplomats getting into trouble for allegedly ill-treating their domestic help, the most controversial being Devyani Khobragade, whose arrest in 2013 took India-US ties to an all-time low.

Read: Indian envoy quits New Zealand after wife accused of assault

According to information provided in the Rajya Sabha by the government in May, the diplomats facing charges included five in the Indian missions in Britain and Madagascar, three each in Kazakhstan and Kenya, two each in Botswana and Mali, and one each in Afghanistan, Austria, Italy, Japan, Morocco, the Netherlands and Thailand.

The information further showed there had been a sharp rise in the number of diplomats facing charges over the past two years. The list of 27 diplomats for 2014-15 is almost thrice that of 2013-14 (10), and over four times more than that of 2012-13 (six).

The charges against these diplomats are being investigated by different committees set up by the external affairs ministry. Some of these panels include officials from other ministries and agencies, depending on the gravity of the charges, media reports said.

Unlike earlier, the foreign ministry now investigates anonymous complaints against Indian officials as well, reports said. In such cases, things are taken further only if the charges are found to have some merit during a preliminary probe.

However, Indian authorities are still to find an answer to diplomats posted abroad running into trouble with their service staff over charges of ill-treatment.

The incident involving Thapar was the fourth such incident in recent times and three similar incidents – the Devyani Khobragade case being the most talked about – took place in New York.

The charges against Khobragade — then India’s deputy consul general — of visa fraud and underpaying her nanny caused uproar. There was outrage over her being arrested and strip-searched in December 2013.

In July 2010, Indian diplomat Neena Malhota’s domestic help filed a legal suit against her, which finally resulted in a US court awarding $ 1.5 million in compensation to the maid.

In 2011, a domestic worker charged the then Indian consul general in New York, Prabhu Dayal, with underpaying her and the case was settled in 2012, details of which were never made public.

Following the outrage over the Khobragade case, a proposal for considering domestic workers posted with diplomats as government workers gained some momentum. But it never got past the finance ministry due to huge monetary implications. However, some senior diplomats’ domestic helps are now employed as mission staff.

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