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Film licence jab at US embassy

Devyani Khobragade

New Delhi, Jan. 4 (PTI): India has asked the US embassy not to screen films at the American Center without a licence and set it a deadline of January 20 to get one.

The government notice is the latest in a series of retaliatory steps India has taken since the arrest and humiliation of its deputy consul-general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, a 1999-batch IFS officer who was handcuffed on the street in front of her children.

In the notice, sent yesterday, a deadline of January 20 has been given to the American Center “to comply with government of India laws and Delhi government regulations and obtain licence for screening films”, sources said.

“Failure to comply with the directive would result in the American Center having to cease screening films from January 21,” they added.        

The American Center regularly screens films for invited audiences.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had yesterday described the strain in ties following Khobragade’s arrest as “temporary hiccups” and said diplomacy should be given a chance to resolve the issue.

Khobragade, 39, was arrested in New York on December 12 on charges of making false declarations in a visa application for her children’s nanny and subjected to strip search and cavity search, sparking outrage in India. She was released on bail.

The Indian government has since enforced strict “reciprocity” and withdrawn extra privileges allowed to American diplomats in India.

US consular officials in India are being issued new identity cards specifying limited immunity, which will not protect them from serious offences. This is in line with the restricted immunity granted to Indian consular officials in the US. Families of American consular officials will no longer have diplomatic identity cards, an out-of-the-way privilege they enjoyed in India.

The US consular staff, who could earlier import their requirements over the three-year tenure, are now permitted imports only during the first six months after assuming office, as is provided in the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations.

Barricades on the road outside the American embassy in Delhi have also been removed. However, security has been stepped up.

Video ‘hoax’

The US has dismissed as “hoax” a video purportedly showing CCTV footage of Khobragade’s strip search, saying it is a “dangerous and provocative fabrication”.

“This video, which we are aware of, is absolutely not footage of Ms Khobragade. We would call it a dangerous and provocative fabrication,” state department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said yesterday.

The video circulated on social media shows a woman screaming during the search.

“I want to make very clear this is not video of her,” Harf said. The state department had spoken with the US Marshals Service about the video and officials had confirmed that it was not genuine, she said. “I haven’t watched the video myself. But I want to be very clear in saying this is not how we do things here,” Harf said.