What does this phrase mean?
It is not the illegality that she is accused of, but the illegality she refused to oblige
It's from a recent article in The Times of India.
I think this is a misuse of the word oblige.
I suspect that Mr. Khurshid was thinking of the adjective obliging, which is what is called a ‘deverbal’—that is, a word which derives from a verb and retains a verbal form, but has evolved away from the meaning of the verb. Mr. Khurshid has back-projected the meaning of obliging, “helpful, willing to help”, onto its parent verb, as if oblige could mean “be willing to help”; and he has then generalized that meaning towards something like “cooperate, acquiesce‘.
I think what he meant was “the illegality in which she refused to acquiesce”. And I think the “illegality” which he had in mind was not the crime Ms. Khobragadi was charged with but her detention by the NYPD, which many in India feel was both gratuitously demeaning and a violation of her diplomatic status. He is suggesting that Ms. Khobragadi was subjected to unwarranted indignities because she refused to cooperate with the authorities.
Three points need to be noted before attempting to "interpret" this one...
Also note the common English construction typified by...
...where "it" refers to the thing which the speaker thinks is most important.
In light of that background, we see that Khurshid is saying there are two different illegal act(s) involved. Those which "she" (Khobragade) is accused of, and those which she refused to oblige. And there are three credible interpretations of oblige there. The first two are listed as "obsolete" in EOD...
The third (which I think is most likely), is uncommon and incorrectly used...
So it's feasible Khurshid is using one of those obsolete senses - the important thing is either that she agreed to or caused to be unavoidable some other illegal act(s) in addition to those she's formally accused of. But probably he's misusing the third sense above...
In case it's not clear from the definitions, to oblige in this sense means to do what someone wants (in principle placing them under an obligation of gratitude). It's not a usage you'd come across often today, but you might still occasionally hear the "mock-formal"...
I think StoneyB has the right sense of it, but the wrong application: It's not that she committed a criminal act, but that she refused to participate in some criminal scheme, and thus is suffering a reprisal. (And I disagree that it's a misuse of the word.)
If you read farther down in the article, there's a quote that says
Khobragade refused this settlement offer, and (supposedly) as a result of that refusal, was later arrested, strip-searched, and thrown in jail.
That settlement was the "illegality" which she "refused to oblige" (in the sense of to do something that someone has asked you to do).
I'm no wordsmith, but it sounds to me like this:
"Its not just that she is accused of breaking a particular law, but she refuses to acknowledge that what she is accused of is even illegal."
This is some sort of Indian English construction which possibly may be intended to mean:
"To oblige" means to do something as a favor to someone, when someone has a choice; the concept of refusal is not applicable to this verb, but of course one can "refuse to comply". "Refused to comply" does not apply here because this person did in fact comply, since arrest took place.
Rather, "refuse to oblige" seems to be used in place of "complied with reluctantly" which is an interesting semantics, but not one that "refuse to oblige" is understood to have in mainstream English dialects, in which "refuse to oblige" is nonsensical.
The logic that the speaker applied is clear: if "to oblige" means "to do willingly" (which is not exactly true: it means to do something as a favor), then "refuse to oblige" means "refuse to do willingly", by naive word substitution.
The problem is that we cannot substitute words like this; language doesn't work that way.
The phrase "refuse to willingly" does mean "to do, but only unwillingly". However, it only functions this way because it is an open phrase in which the adjective explicitly appears. If we apply the verb "refuse" to a verb which by itself "to do willingly" without any adjective, then it doesn't have this effect.
For instance "to comply" means, roughly speaking, "to do willingly", but "refuse to comply" means not to be willing and not to do it; it does not mean "refuse to do willingly".