The case has wedged New Delhi between a rock and a hard place, balancing relations with Saudi Arabia, one of its key oil suppliers, and Nepal, where India is competing for influence with China.
The two women, aged 30 and 50, have accused the man, identified as Majed Hassan Ashoor, the first secretary at the Saudi Embassy in New Delhi, of illegally confining and raping them.
According to a statement by police in Gurgaon, the women allege they were “beaten up, raped and abused and threatened by the family and their guests” for the past four to five months, adding that they were forbidden to go out of the house during this period. The maids say they were raped by eight men on one occasion, Reuters reported.
The victims’ testimony and the medical reports reportedly corroborate their story. Last week, after receiving a tip off from a human trafficking group, police removed the women, who were assaulted and denied water and food. They have since reportedly returned to Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries.
According to The Indian Express, Ashoor, in his 50s, was the deputy head of the visa section. Sources allegedly told the newspaper that he was a key diplomat who held additional charge at the Saudi Ambassador’s office. Until the rape controversy, he lived in Gurgaon with his wife and three children.
The Saudi Arabian embassy sent their diplomat home before India could declare him persona non grata and expel him, the Times of India reported. It’s believed that the move would have affected relations between New Delhi and Riyadh, where millions of Indians live and work.
Although a case against the diplomat has been registered, police in India could not act against him because of diplomatic immunity. A police officer involved in the case told Reuters he is nonetheless confident that they will be able to track the other accused men because they have CCTV from the entrance of the apartment and will be able to track their mobile phones.
The Saudi Embassy has denied the allegations against its diplomat and refused to let police question him, protesting against the intrusion by the Gurgaon police into his home.
According to the 1961 Vienna Convention, to which India is a party, diplomatic immunity cannot be violated unless the diplomat’s country decides to waive it, making the chances of prosecution highly unlikely.