A New York City Magistrate Judge on Wednesday recommended that an Indian diplomat, Neena Malhotra, and her husband Jogesh be required to pay out nearly $1.5 million for forcing an Indian girl, Shanti Gurung, at the time said to be underage, to work without pay and meting out “barbaric treatment” to her in their plush East 43rd Street Manhattan apartment.
According to reports the Malhotras induced Ms. Gurung to “work without pay by seizing her passport and visa, restricting her ability to leave their apartment, and constantly warning her that if she traveled on her own without their permission, she would be arrested, beaten, raped and sent back to India as ‘cargo',” in the words of Magistrate Judge Frank Maas.
In 2010 Ms. Gurung's lawyer, Mitchell Karlan, had said to The Hindu, “Shanti's story is one of almost unimaginable cruelty. Over three years without pay, without a passport, without freedom to leave, without friends or family, and unable to speak English to get help.” He added that she continued to live with the emotional scars of this ordeal.
The recommendations by the Magistrate will be subject to approval by Judge Victor Marrero, who is overseeing judge in the case. In December 2010 Judge Marrero granted Ms. Gurung a default judgment against her former employers, who had by that time returned to India.
While Ms. Malhotra was said to have been in the continuing employment of the Ministry of External Affairs, the first ruling in the case against her and her husband was aimed at expediting the serving of legal papers to them in New Delhi, after repeated attempts to do so through authorised agents and official channels for several months had failed to elicit any response.
Outlining the initial lawsuit filed by Ms. Gurung, Mr. Karlan said that during the time in question Ms. Malhotra served as the Counselor of Press, Culture, Information, Education and Community Affairs at the Consulate General of India in Manhattan.
In her lawsuit Ms. Gurung alleged that in bringing her over to the U.S. in 2006 on an A-3 visa Ms. Malhotra instructed Ms. Gurung to tell the U.S. embassy in New Delhi that she would be paid $7 per hour. She also “asked Ms. Gurung to lie about her birth date, so that she would appear to U.S. officials be eighteen, not her actual age of seventeen”, according to the filing.
With a steady deterioration in her living conditions from June 2006 onwards, Ms. Gurung was required to “perform substantially more duties than had been represented at the time of recruitment,” and this included cooking and cleaning, daily massages for Ms. Malhotra, grocery shopping and laundry, and waiting upon guests for dinner parties that the Malhotras regularly held, which often went on until 3 a.m., the lawsuit alleged.