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Treated as ‘slave’, Indian maid sues British lawyer

world Updated: Feb 25, 2012 01:48 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

Close on the heels of a US judge ruling against an Indian diplomat for mistreating her domestic help, an Indian housemaid in London has accused a high-profile Indian-origin lawyer of enslaving her for four years.

In a case that could end up in the British Supreme Court, housemaid Pratima Das has accused her former employer, Shibani Rahulan, principal legal officer at Britain’s health ministry, of treating her like a “modern day slave”.

Das, an illiterate 43-year-old widow, says she was brought to Britain by Rahulan in 2004 and made to work 15-hour days, seven days a week as housemaid and nanny. She escaped from Rahulan’s house in 2008 and had to be taken to hospital for treatment, her lawyer said.

Das accused her former employers of confiscating her passport. But Rahulan’s partner Rex Waldron said, “Pratima lived as a member of the family. We’ve got photographs of her at all our parties and family gatherings. Her passport was kept with all the family passports in the house. She had a bedroom upstairs with cable TV.”

Das's lawyer Peter Grant told HT on Friday that she can’t return to India as she fears her ex-employer's "wealthy and influential" family will seek "retribution” – a charge denied by Rahulan. Both come from a town in north Bengal.

The case has two tracks – one is an attempt by Das to recover allegedly unpaid salary. A judge hearing her case in 2009 ruled that she was given “pocket money, food, clothing… that would not have satisfied by any stretch of imagination the provisions of the Minimum Wage Act”. The other is the serious charge of human trafficking that Grant said could be heard by the Supreme Court.

Maid trouble for Indian diplomat in US

Meanwhile, a day after a US judge recommended nearly $1.5 million to an Indian maid for the "barbaric treatment" by an Indian diplomat and her husband, the woman's lawyer said he plans to go after the couple's assets as he asked Delhi to take appropriate action in the case. US judge had recommended Shanti Gurung be awarded $1.5 million as compensation.