Devyani Khobragade, the young Indian female diplomat who has unwittingly sparked a diplomatic tussle between Washington and New Delhi, after she was arrested by U.S. authorities for committing visa fraud and perjury, has been a largely unknown figure prior to the current imbroglio.
Devyani, the deputy consul general of India in New York, has been accused by American officials of falsifying documents of her housekeeper Sangeeta Richard (whom Khobragade also allegedly underpaid at a rate of $40 per week). But Indian officials have accused the U.S. of making an arbitrary arrest and were particularly aggrieved that Devyani was strip-searched during her detention.
But who exactly is this woman who has generated so much media ink?
The Times News Network (TNN), Indian news agency, reported that Devyani came from a privileged background in Mumbai, where she attended Mount Carmel School. Her father, Uttam Khobragade, is a retired officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). She later received a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree at Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College and King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. But instead of launching a career as a doctor, she chose the Foreign Service and passed an exam in 1999, leading to jobs in Indian missions in Pakistan, Italy and Germany and finally, New York.
OneIndia stated that she is proficient in English, Hindi, German, as well as her mother tongue, Marathi. The news website also described her as a “passionate traveler, reader, a yoga enthusiast, musician and dancer” and that she is also an “ardent social worker.”
Devyani is married to a professor and has two children, daughters aged 3 and 6.
But her past is not entirely spotless either. Indian media reported that two years ago she was implicated in a housing scam whereby, despite owning a house in Mumbai (allotted to her by the state government with below-market rent), she also received another apartment in the Adarsh Housing Society, a co-operative in Mumbai that she was not entitled to. She was never charged in that episode.
Still, she apparently has the support of Indian media and much of the public. The Times of India editorialized: “What began after her arrest can only be described as an assault on her person and her reputation. She was subjected to treatment that is reserved for hardened criminals. Humiliated and strip-searched, Devyani was held in a cell with drug addicts.”
She was able to finally send an email to friends after her arrest in which she expressed gratitude for the support and good wishes she has received. "While I was going through it, although I must admit that I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, hold up with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity, I got the strength to regain composure and remain dignified thinking that I must represent all of my colleagues and my country with confidence and pride," she wrote.
The Indian government has demanded that the U.S. apologize for the arrest and drop all charges against Devyani immediately.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.