News / Asia

    Court Papers Show Abuse of Maid in US-India Row

    This Dec. 8, 2013 photo shows Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general, during the India Studies Stony Brook University fundraiser at Long Island, New York.This Dec. 8, 2013 photo shows Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general, during the India Studies Stony Brook University fundraiser at Long Island, New York.
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    This Dec. 8, 2013 photo shows Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general, during the India Studies Stony Brook University fundraiser at Long Island, New York.
    This Dec. 8, 2013 photo shows Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general, during the India Studies Stony Brook University fundraiser at Long Island, New York.
    Reuters
    An Indian diplomat accused of visa fraud and lying about underpaying her maid coached the nanny to mislead U.S. officials, confiscated her passport and made her work 100-hour, seven-day weeks, according to a U.S. grand jury indictment.
     
    Devyani Khobragade, who was India's deputy consul-general in New York, was effectively expelled from the United States on Thursday as part of a deal in which she was granted diplomatic immunity from the charges.
     
    U.S. court indictment papers, published on the website of the U.S. attorney's office of the Southern District of New York, painted a picture of a maid refused sick days and holidays while working for a salary of little over $1 an hour in New York, or about one-seventh the minimum wage.  
     
    Khobragade's arrest set off protests in India after disclosures that she was handcuffed and strip-searched. The dispute soured U.S.-India ties, leading to sanctions against American diplomats in New Delhi and the postponement of visits to India by senior U.S. officials.
     
    Khobragade denies all charges and has been backed by the Indian government. Khobragade's lawyer Daniel Arshack said on Thursday she would leave with her head “held high.”
     
    “She knows she has done no wrong and she looks forward to assuring that the truth is known,” he said in a statement.
     
    The indictment underscored the wildly divergent stories from both sides. The diplomat's relatives and government officials say the allegations are exaggerated and are being used by the maid, Sangeeta Richard, to get compensation or U.S. residency.
     
    Many Indian commentators said Richard had a relatively comfortable life, with full board and lodging, free cable TV and medical care. They say it is misleading to calculate weekly working hours for live-in staff.
     
    Uttam Khobragade, the diplomat's father, said Richard lived a luxurious life, that she went to the beauty parlor every alternate week, and purchased an iPhone.
     
    “Does even Nancy Powell's maid servant have such luxuries?” he said to Reuters, referring to the U.S. ambassador to India. “She was having a gala time there.”
     
    Two contracts
     
    The indictment said that Khobragade first made the maid sign a contract that stipulated she would be paid around $9.75 an hour. Khobragade told U.S. officials in the visa application that the maid would be paid $4,500 a month.
     
    But on the evening of flying from India to the United States, Richard was called to Khobragade's house in Delhi.
     
    She was told she needed to sign a second work contract, with a changed maximum salary, including overtime, of 30,000 Indian rupees ($480) a month, an illegally low amount under U.S. minimum-wage laws.
     
    Provisions about holidays and sick days were deleted from the contract. The indictment says that the actual hourly wage for the maid, given she was often working more than 100 hours a week, was a little over a $1 an hour.
     
    On one occasion, Khobragade told the maid not to get sick because it was too expensive, the papers say.
     
    On arrival in the United States, the diplomat took the maid's passport and never returned it, saying it would only be returned at the end of her three-year contract, according to the court papers.
     
    However, Khobragade in October filed a court case in India against Richard claiming she fled with a government passport.
     
    The case has shone a light on U.S. efforts to investigate and prosecute allegations of abuse of foreign employees of diplomats and consular workers after the strengthening in 2008 of the law that protects such employees brought to the United States.
     
    But some Indian commentators say they suspect many abuse allegations have been encouraged by the law and are trumped up charges by domestic workers.
     
    “The U.S. is a highly litigious country where suing people is a sort of favorite pastime,” said Prabhu Dayal, a former Indian consul general in New York, who in 2011 settled a case out of court after accusations he mistreated a domestic worker.
     
    Writing in the Indian newspaper Mail Today, he said the beefed-up law encouraged consulate staff like domestic helpers to complain of mistreatment in order to claim to be a trafficking victim, which in turn could lead to U.S. residency.
     
    Safe Horizon, an organization that helps victims of abuse, said Richard was likely to apply for a special “T-1” visa for trafficking victims. Such a visa would be valid for up to four years and allow her to work in the United States. It can also lead to lawful permanent residence.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Costco from: Wup Wup
    January 13, 2014 11:07 PM
    ha ha ha only person laughing - ha ha ha - 100 hrs - really ? what was she doing in a household where everyone went out including the kids? Making pickles and rolling papadams all day? As for what the court papers says - less said the better - it is so hard to fight - even when you say things jokingly - when someone is out to make a case, they recall innocuous comments and is written down in the case and you are shocked to see those things that characterise you as a demon - you cant deny because yes you said it but in what context what tone - no one is interested in knowing that - defintiely not the courts - have experienced this - By the way - will the visa officer in Delhi be also indicetd for vetting the form improperly when it said $4,500? really? an Indian Govt employee will pay that much - shouldn't I as a visa officer in Delhi know at least that much about the country in which I am posted? at airports and elsewhere people in US pounce on you for silly and little mistakes- what was the Visa officer doing? Will that person be indicted as well for ciminal negligence of his/her duties? there are so many issues at play - But then moral of the story is eveyone on this planet wants to improve their lot, Ms Richards found this route.

    by: indianzombie from: ny
    January 11, 2014 6:31 PM
    Before 1991 we were a happy go lucku nation. Then india globalized then came the US with my ass is bigger than u attitude trying to make our country one of its puppy like Japan and UK. I hope this thing takes a worst turn and we back to pur glorious days. Globalization has done nothing but given us high inflation and misery.

    by: Marina from: New York
    January 11, 2014 3:07 PM
    This is a misleading headline. It should say, "Court Papers Show Allegations of Abuse of Maid in US-India Row." Nothing has yet been proven.
    In Response

    by: Dee
    January 15, 2014 12:43 PM
    Well said.Noone ever speaks of the contempt of Indian courts shown by the US diplomat who "evacuated" the family from India.He should be the one charged for human trafficking.

    by: David Dempsy from: Maryland USA
    January 11, 2014 9:28 AM
    By Indian standards, The maid's job would be taken in a heart-beat by millions. By American standards it was slave labor in violation of the law. Indians, when working overseas, having two labor contracts and having passports taken is not uncommon. It is also not uncommon to not be paid at all when employees are supposed to get their pay-out at the end of the contract and be shipped home.
    It is hard to fight for labor "rights" in a country where many people are willing to do anything to keep from starving. Not to mention that India is very corrupt.

    by: Chatny from: India
    January 10, 2014 3:06 PM
    and the British are working hard to aggravate the situation... this "diplomatic" row is just what the British hopped would happen...

    by: Stephen Real
    January 10, 2014 12:54 PM
    The maid needs to have her voice heard in Indian court.

    Come with us.
    Let's fight for the poor.
    this is a fight worth having

    We need your help to defend the voiceless in all society.
    In Response

    by: vijay from: usa
    January 10, 2014 9:37 PM
    You have upper hand when USA is on your side. Previledged Indians class like devyani will learn lot of lessons from this single case.
    In Response

    by: James from: USA
    January 10, 2014 7:59 PM
    You know as well as everyone the maid would be railroaded in India and would be thrown in prison. Indian Government has no honor and little justice for the lower caste.

    by: asdf from: asdf
    January 10, 2014 12:33 PM
    Rich, Entitled girl from India. Tries to make a international incident because of her vain callous life style. She should get the death penalty with the rest of the scum that do things like this.

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