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Michelle Young – Jan 16, 2014
Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, said the visa instructions listed on the teachers’ handout were “clearly a violation of tax law.”
The handout notes that India has placed restrictions on the number of tax-free visas available to school employees.
“So, if you are a teaching couple,” the handout says, “we usually have the male spouse apply for the ’employment’ visa and the female spouse be noted as ‘housewife’ on the visa application.”
One reason the Delhi school is widely admired is that it has a veteran and respected staff of teachers recruited in part by generous pay packages, including tax benefits.
A senior Indian official estimated that the American Embassy School had at least 16 teachers working illegally, and that smaller U.S. schools in Mumbai and Chennai probably had several more. Schools are not alone in this: Many tax laws in India are at best fitfully enforced and often widely ignored.
Last February, the country’s finance minister, P. Chidambaram, announced that just 42,800 people reported earning at least $162,000 a year. In a country of 1.2 billion, where some 25,000 luxury automobiles are sold every year, the actual number is almost certainly much higher.
Khobragade’s arrest has plucked at deep sensitivity over how India is portrayed, and the news media and the public have searched for examples of U.S. diplomats’ misbehaving. This has led to headlines and a dedicated website in recent days listing some of the Facebook posts of Wayne and Alicia Muller May, the U.S. diplomats who were expelled from India over the weekend in retaliation for the U.S. insistence that Khobragade leave the country after she refused to settle the charges against her in exchange for a modest fine.
“One week in country and I already miss STEAK,” Wayne May, head of embassy security in Delhi, stated in one post among many that caused outrage. Cows are venerated by Indian Hindus, and slaughtering cows is illegal in many places. In another, Alicia May, the embassy’s community liaison officer, responded to an article that claimed nonvegetarians were more prone to violence. “It’s the vegetarians that are doing the raping, not the meat eaters – this place is just so bizarre,” she wrote.
In a briefing Monday, a spokeswoman for the State Department, Marie Harf, said that these posts “absolutely do not reflect U.S. government policy, nor were they made on any official U.S. government social media account.”
Neither officials in Washington nor New Delhi have publicly identified the Mays as the expelled diplomats, but their identity has been widely reported.
On Tuesday, Khobragade was welcomed by nearly 60 people at the Mumbai airport as she arrived home after a weekend in New Delhi. The crowd, fired up by the fierce patriotism her arrest has provoked in India, shouted “Down with America, down with Barack Obama” and other slogans. When Khobragade finally appeared, she was swarmed by TV cameras and supporters.
“I am thankful to my city, Mumbai, for the love and support,” she said.
Khobragade’s husband and children are U.S. citizens and remain in New York. She said she was not sure when she would see them again since U.S. officials had promised to press charges against her if she returned.
Indian officials are negotiating with the United States on the status of at least 14 other maids of diplomats in the United States. Indian diplomats have proposed to the Finance Ministry that the government pay the maids’ salaries, which would make them immune to U.S. wage-and-hour laws. But in an editorial Tuesday, The Hindustan Times argued that the Finance Ministry should reject the request as “there is no argument in favor of the Indian taxpayer paying for household help for its officers.”
(Gardiner Harris reported from New Delhi, and Benjamin Weiser from New York. Neha Thirani Bagri contributed reporting from Mumbai, India.)
© 2014, The New York Times News Service