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India blocks cheap booze for US diplomats after envoy's arrest and strip-search in NYC

Devyani Khobragade, India's Deputy Consul General in New York.from Facebook

India has blocked perks such as cheap alcohol and food imports at the U.S. Embassy after one of its top diplomats was arrested on fraud charges and strip-searched in New York City. 

Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade has been accused of submitting false documents to obtain a work visa for her Manhattan housekeeper, an Indian national whom she allegedly paid less than $3 an hour.

The 39-year-old diplomat's arrest has sparked a storm between the U.S. and ally India, with lawmakers in Delhi calling her alleged treatment "despicable" and "barbaric."

On Tuesday, police in New Delhi removed security barriers around the city’s U.S. Embassy, which were installed to prevent vehicles approaching the building at high speeds. Reuters reported the barriers were aimed at safeguarding against threats such as suicide bombers.

"It is no longer about an individual, it is about our sense of self as a nation and our place in the world," Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told parliament Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Supporters of Rashtrawadi Shiv Sena, a Hindu hardline group, carry placards during a protest near the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi on Wednesday.Ahmad Masood / Reuters

The Associated Press reported that India was withdrawing import licenses that allowed the commissary at the U.S. Embassy to import alcohol and food. American diplomats have also been stripped of ID passes allowing VIP treatment at airports.

In an email sent to Indian newspapers published Wednesday, Khobragade said American police had conducted cavity searches after her arrest and imprisonment on Dec. 12.

"I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, in a holdup with common criminals and drug addicts, were all being imposed upon me, despite my incessant assertions of immunity,” she wrote.

She added: "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."

Khobragade was arrested and handcuffed while dropping her daughter off at school, then kept in a cell with drug addicts before posting $250,000 bail, according to Indian officials.

In a statement, the U.S. Marshals Service confirmed Khobragade was strip-searched, following "standard arrestee intake procedures."

She has pleaded not guilty and will challenge the arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity, according to her lawyer.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Khobragade does not have full diplomatic immunity, but rather consular immunity from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts only when it comes to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions, The Associated Press reported. 

Indian police remove barricades that had been erected as a safety measure outside the main entrance of the U.S Embassy in New Delhi, Tuesday.AP

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Harf said: "We understand that this is a sensitive issue for many in India. Accordingly, we are looking into the intake procedures surrounding this arrest to ensure that all appropriate procedures were followed and every opportunity for courtesy was extended."

New York prosecutors say Khobragade claimed she paid her Indian maid $4,500 per month but in fact paid her less than the U.S. minimum wage.

Supporters of a right-wing opposition party held a small protest Wednesday close to the U.S. Embassy in Delhi, Reuters reported. About 30 demonstrators demanded an apology while wearing makeshift Obama masks and sarongs made from the American flag.

The incident has caused what many in India say is the biggest rift with the U.S. since 1971, when Washington sent a carrier group to the Bay of Bengal during the Bangladesh war.

Indian lawmakers over the weekend summoned U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell to lodge a strong protest. And Meira Kumar, the speaker of India's lower parliamentary house, on Monday snubbed a meeting with a U.S. congressional delegation featuring Republican and Democrat members, The Times of India reported Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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