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HindustanTimes Thu,25 Dec 2014

Sangeeta was exploited; wrong to blame her: lawyer

Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times  Washington, December 21, 2013
First Published: 08:21 IST(21/12/2013) | Last Updated: 12:29 IST(21/12/2013)

Sangeeta Richard, Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade's housekeeper at the centre of the India-US stand-off, never tried to extort money from her employer or made any other demand as alleged, the former's lawyer has said.

Richards' lawyer Dana Sussman, a staff attorney with a New York non-profit Safe Horizon, said she just wanted a better deal for herself — better wages and more reasonable working hours. Safe Horizon works with victims of trafficking and violence.

When she her requests were turned down, she left Khobragade's house.

"There was no extortion or anything along those lines," Sussman told a US news agency.

"She essentially worked very long hours, was isolated within the home, and attempted to ask for more time off, ask for more reasonable hours, but those attempts to resolve the issues were unsuccessful."

The Indian government has alleged Richard tried to extort $10,000 from Khobragade, wanted to be allowed to work elsewhere as well and be given a different passport.

Read: Khobragade's transfer to UN mission won't save her, US tells India

Read: India has other options to get diplomat out

Read: India applies to UN to try to solve diplomat crisis

A file photo of Sangeeta Richard, whose allegations led to diplomat Devyani Khobragade's arrest in the US. (PTI)

These demands were conveyed to Khobragade first on the phone by a woman who refused to identify herself.

Two meetings followed, according to Indian officials, at the offices of a New York immigration services firm. Richard was present in one of them, the officials added.

The Indian government has said Khopragade couldn’t meet Richard’s demands because she was on an official passport, and hence could not be allowed to work elsewhere.

And, they have said if she was not happy with her working conditions or her wages or the atmosphere at Khobragade’s home, she could have gone back to India.

That, however, may have ceased to be an option once Khobragade went to court in India and obtained an arrest warrant for Richard in September. Richard had left Khobragade’s residence in New York on June 23.

Read: A timeline of events emerging since the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade

HT Blog: Its open season for all on Devyani

A group supporting domestic workers' rights demonstrate across the street from the Indian Consulate General in New York. (AFP)

Sussman said from then Richard was on her own, living largely on help from strangers in the Indian-American community, including a Sikh gurudwara.

The housekeeper and Sussman subsequently complained to the US state department. Though it isn't clear from the published interviews when that happened. They could have possibly approached the authorities in late August.

"She was basically just trying to find her way. She was left with the clothes on her back, with very little money," said Sussman, who was not available for more interviews, said Safe Horizon.

Safe Horizon said Sussman was not available for more interviews. Richard and her family are also not speaking to the media.


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