NRIs to diplomats: A history of ill treatment of domestic help
Himanshu Bhatia, the CEO of Rose International, has been accused of mistreating and underpaying her domestic help. HT looks at other cases involving India-born CEOs and diplomats who were charged with treating their domestic help badly.world Updated: Sep 08, 2016 16:45 IST
An Indian-American CEO of an IT consultancy firm has hit the international headlines – for all the wrong reasons. Himanshu Bhatia, the CEO of Rose International, stands accused of grossly underpaying her help and subjecting her to shocking cruelty, by making her sleep next to the dogs in the garage when she was unwell.
Bhatia, who was named as one of the top 25 women business leaders by Fast Company web magazine in 2012, paid Sheela Ningwal, her domestic help, a fixed amount of $400, much lower than the minimum wage in the United States.
The complaints, which are being investigated by the US labour department, also state that Ningwal’s passport was taken away and given to her only while travelling, and that she was threatened with firing multiple times.
This is not the first time an Indian American has hit the spotlight over the treatment of their domestic help.
The most high-profile case is that of Devyani Khobragade, India’s former deputy consul general in New York, who was indicted on the charges of underpaying her help in December 2013. The US Department of State investigated the issue based on the complaint by Khobragade’s help, Sangeeta Richard. A grand jury indicted Khobragade for visa fraud and making false statements about the payment to the help.
The incident led to a diplomaticface-off between India and the US. In India, there was outrage at the fact that Khobragade was arrested from her daughter’s Manhattan school and strip-searched. The rights of the maid, who was also an Indian, hardly figured in this narrative.
In 2015, India was left red-faced when the wife of Ravi Thapar, its high commissioner to New Zealand, was accused by one of her domestic staff of slapping him. Thapar was hastily recalled.
The complainant, who worked as a chef, alleged that Sharmila Thapar treated him like a “slave”. Thapar denied the allegations and maintained that he had returned to India to stay with his mother. A diplomatic crisis was averted because the staff member didn’t press charges, and only wanted to return to India.
Back in 2011, Prabhu Dayal, an Indian diplomat in New York, was accused of misconduct and sexual harassment by his domestic help, Santosh Bhardwaj. Dayal continued to deny the charges and called them lies. The case was later dropped, after an agreement was negotiated through the ministry.
A year before that, Neena Malhotra, a counsellor at the Indian consulate in New York, was accused by her maid, Shanti Gurung, of maltreatment. A US court asked Malhotra to pay $1.5 million in damages and she too was recalled.
In May last year, the Indian government decided that Indian diplomats will no longer have “domestic assistants”. The nomenclature was changed to “service staff” to restore some dignity to their position.
This was done after information provided to Rajya Sabha showed a sharp increase in the number of diplomats facing charges over the past two years. The list of 27 diplomats for 2014-15 is almost thrice that of 2013-14 (10), and over four times more than that of 2012-13 (six).