NEW DELHI — Since arriving back in New Delhi, Devyani Khobragade has gotten the full paparazzi-style treatment. But all she wants to do is talk with her children and stay out of the limelight.
“Devyani has two daughters, aged 4 and 7. It is not easy for a mother to be separated like this — is it not cruel?” Uttam Khobragade said about his daughter, the diplomat accused by U.S. officials of visa fraud.“They ask her, ‘Mommy, when are you coming home?’ She keeps assuring them she is away on official work and it will take some time before she can see them again.”
Devyani Khobragade is staying in a government-run guest house with her father, but she declined to join the interview, having been asked by the Indian government to keep a low profile. Since returning to New Delhi on Friday, she has been mobbed by the media, including a pack of photographers and television crews who chased her Saturday on her way to work at the Foreign Ministry.
“She is a bit angry, but I am a lot angrier at the way they [law enforcement officials] treated her in the U.S.,” her father said. “The battle is half-won. Now we have to work to get the charges against her dropped, it is a fight for her honor.”
Devyani Khobragade was indicted by the federal grand jury in New York on Thursday on charges of visa fraud and making false statements regarding the employment and wages of a domestic worker whom she had brought from India. After her arrest last month in New York, she was strip-searched and incarcerated briefly, which sparked outrage among many Indians and led to a series of retaliatory diplomatic curbs on the U.S. Embassy staff here by the Indian government.
According to the indictment, Khobragade was paying the domestic worker, Sangeeta Richard, $573 per month, which is a “legally insufficient” wage in the United States, even though the Richard’s visa application gave an amount that complied with U.S. labor laws. The indictment said that Devyani made Richard work for more than 100 hours a week, without a day off.
But Uttam Khobragade said Richard earned almost $1,600 a month, split between payment in India in rupees and in the United States. He said there are two independent witnesses, including a houseguest in New York, who have deposed in the U.S. court that Richard was not harassed.
“The maid used to be stressed in the morning because that is a time when everybody in the family is in a hurry and the children have to be readied for school,” Khobragade said. “But in the afternoon, she was more relaxed because she was by herself. She used to find time to go to the beauty parlor regularly, and she even had bought herself an iPhone. She even sent home two big boxes full of gifts for her family through an Indian houseguest of Devyani. Is that how a harassed, underpaid maid lives?”
Khobragade said that his daughter could have left as soon as she received the letter of diplomatic immunity from the U.S. government Wednesday. “But she wanted to leave the U.S. honorably, and she said that it would be unethical for her to leave before her immunity was conveyed to the court.”
Khobragade, a retired bureaucrat from the lowest rung of India’s rigid and hierarchical caste system, has political ambitions, as well. He said he is considering contesting in the upcoming national election scheduled to be held in May from the western state of Maharashtra. He said he will raise the issue of his daughter’s battle in the United States during the election.
Devyani’s husband, Aakash Singh Rathore, an American citizen and academic, has stayed in the United States with the two children.
“My son-in-law is also upset at the way the American government has treated Devyani,” Khobragade said. “Soon they may all relocate to India after the school year ends. America would lose an intellectual.”
Devyani has been calling her lawyer and her children in the United States ever since she returned, her father said.
“I wonder if I will be able to ever reunite with my family, my husband, my little kids. I miss them,” Devyani Khobragade told the Indian Express on Saturday, before the Indian government asked her not to speak to the media. “My little one even told me, ‘Mama, please get me some blue and golden bangles from India when you return.’”