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HindustanTimes Thu,28 Aug 2014

Maid in diplomat row frustrated over portrayal of her case

PTI  New York, December 19, 2013
First Published: 14:36 IST(19/12/2013) | Last Updated: 14:37 IST(19/12/2013)

The lawyer for a domestic help employed by Devyani Khobragade on Thursday said it is frustrating and disappointing that the focus in the case has shifted from the crimes that were committed against her client to the Indian diplomat.

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"There is frustration and disappointment that the media (and the officials) has portrayed this story in the way that they have," Dana Sussman, staff attorney in the anti-trafficking programme at victim assistance agency Safe Horizon, told PTI.

Sussman is the lawyer for the Indian woman Sangeeta Richard, who had been employed by Khobragade as a domestic help and babysitter.

Senior Director of the anti-trafficking programme at Safe Horizon Avaloy Lanning said the victim and other advocates are "frustrated" that the crime in the case is being "overshadowed" and the focus should be on the "crimes that were committed rather than on the criminal defendant." She said irrespective of the position of the Indian officials about Richard's conduct, the charges against India's Deputy Consul General in New York "speak for themselves".

Sussman stressed that the case is about Khobragade lying to the federal government about the wages she was required to pay to her client.

Khobragade "did not pay those wages, she grossly underpaid my client and required that my client work far more than she had expected" and Khobragade wrongly represented this information the US government.

"My client worked for her for quite a while and eventually she decided that she could not tolerate the situation any longer," Sussman said.

Sussman, however, did not comment on the whereabouts of Richard and her family, on the police complaint lodged against her in India and the fact that she had been absconding since June.

She also said she would not comment on the legal proceedings ongoing in India against Richard.

She added that her client will not "at this point" come out and talk to the media.

She said Richard wants "justice" for herself and the story that is being lost in this case is that Richard is a witness in a federal investigation and criminal case against Khobragade.

She "will continue to cooperate with" authorities, Sussman added.

Richard is "not on trial here and we think that the message here has been lost in the fact that there are charges against Khobragade for violating US law and those charges relate to the underpayment of wages to a domestic worker. That is the story. The actual story has been lost" in the diplomatic row that has erupted between US and India.

Sussman said the case is representative of the experiences of a significant number of domestic workers of diplomats and consular officials from all over the world who come on special visas to the US but face labour issues.

"We would like to see this story told in a broader way that discusses the issues of domestic workers of diplomats and consular officials and the issues that they face and the vulnerability they have in labour abuses and underpayment of wages," Sussman said, adding that her agency applauds the US government's action in the case.

Sussman said the action of the government demonstrates that the US is taking crimes which lead to exploitation and abuse of domestic workers seriously.

On the case being made by Indian authorities that Khobragade enjoys diplomatic immunity, Sussman said Khobragade enjoyed only a "limited form of consular immunity" given to consular officials and employees of the consulate.

"That does not pertain to her private actions in employing a domestic worker. The receiving country, in this case the US, determines what level of immunity a diplomat or consular official enjoys," she said.

Whether Khobragade's transfer to the Indian Mission to the UN would weaken their case, Sussman said it is not upto Khobragade to determine what level of?immunity she has.

"The receiving state determines the level of immunity for any individual. I am sure the US government has considered this," she said.

Meanwhile, the Indian diplomats at India's Permanent Mission to the UN remained tight-lipped about the transfer of Khobragade from the Consulate to the mission, neither did they comment on the developments in the case.


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