India recalls envoy to New Zealand after wife accused of assaulting staff
New Delhi/Wellington, June 27: India on Saturday asked its envoy in New Zealand to return following allegations that his wife assaulted a member of the domestic staff. The envoy said he was not leaving because of the assault allegations but because he wanted to take care of his mother living in India.
High Commissioner Ravi Thapar said this to reporters in Wellington on Saturday.
Thapar's wife Sharmila has been accused of physically assaulting a domestic help, the chef, at their residence.
He denied the allegations and said his wife was an "experienced diplomatic spouse" incapable of assaulting an "able-bodied man".
"I'm going but to take care of my mum because my dad passed away last year. I cannot keep up 13,000 km away just talking to her on the phone," The New Zealand Herald quoted Thapar as saying.
According to reports, in May, the staff member was found wandering the streets in a distressed state after walking nearly 20 km from the Indian High Commission. He was taken to a police station by a member of the public. The man ended up staying several nights at the Wellington Night Shelter.
The man spoke to police through an interpreter and alleged that he was physically assaulted by Thapar's wife.
Fairfax Media reported that the man alleged he was kept in slavery and was threatened with assault by the envoy. The staff member lived in the envoy's official residence.
Police said the domestic help did not want to take the matter further and wanted to go home. The staff member left New Zealand on May 28.
In New Delhi, external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said the matter was brought to the ministry's notice when the service staff member was found missing.
Swarup said the High Commission immediately informed both New Zealand Police and the Foreign Office.
"The New Zealand authorities then informed that the service staff member had presented himself to the New Zealand Police on May 11, 2015 and made certain allegations."
He said the ministry "takes all such cases very seriously".
A team was deputed to New Zealand to conduct an independent inquiry. The team liaised with the New Zealand authorities to resolve the matter.
The team also helped in the return of the service staff member who wanted to return to India.
"Though no charges were pressed by the service staff member, the ministry will investigate the matter further. The High Commissioner has been posted back to headquarters," the spokesperson said.
According to media reports, a moving van was stationed at Thapar's $1.1 million Lower Hutt residence on Saturday morning.
Both Thapar and his wife declined to be interviewed by police and have barred other members of the mission from speaking to the authorities.
Sharmila Thapar refused to answer questions at the house on Saturday morning.
Referring to the alleged assault charges, Ravi Thapar said: "You must understand that people who are not exposed, people who are not educated, people who are sometimes first-timers abroad, who have heard of these will use this opportunity sometimes to get sympathy from other agencies," according to stuff.co.nz.
The media outlet quoted government sources as saying that the staff member had directed allegations at both the high commissioner and his wife.
Police have decided not to press charges because the worker declined to lay a formal complaint, a source said.
New Zealand police had contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), which alerted India's external affairs ministry, said stuff.co.nz.
A neighbour of the Thapars, who did not want to be named, said they were shocked by the allegations.
"I thought she was a very nice person. She was very kind and very giving."
The neighbour recalled a previous houseboy at the residence who had returned home to India before being replaced by the domestic servant at the centre of the allegations.
"He was extremely shy and couldn't speak English," stuff.co.nz said.