Sangeeta Richard, the Indian national who was a housekeeper for former Indian Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade, said that during her employment in New York she had so much work to do that she barely had time to sleep or eat and was refused the option to quit and return home.
Even as Ms. Khobragade left the U.S. on Thursday evening with a criminal indictment for visa fraud hanging over her, Ms. Richard spoke publicly for the first time about her alleged ill-treatment in the Khobragade household.
Speaking via her representatives at Safe Horizon, an agency that provides assistance to victims of trafficking and violence, Ms. Richard reached out to others in her situation saying, “I would like to tell other domestic workers who are suffering as I did – you have rights and do not let anyone exploit you.”
She said that when she decided to come to the U.S. her hope was to work for a few years “to support my family and then return to India… I never thought that things would get so bad here, that I would work so much that I did not have time to sleep or eat or have time to myself.”
She added that after being treated this way she requested that she be permitted to return to India “but that request was denied.”
According to the indictment of Ms. Khobragade the diplomat withheld Ms. Richard’s passport in contravention to U.S. law, besides allegedly underpaying her for hours worked.
Further, India’s Ministry of External Affairs was said to have cancelled her official passport when she left the Khobragade residence around June 2013.
Safe Horizon meanwhile said that it applauded the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in the Southern District of New York for indicting Ms. Khobragade on charges of visa fraud and making false statements in connection with her treatment of their client. “This indictment demonstrates the seriousness with which the U.S. government treats labour exploitation,” it added.
Referencing U.S. laws that specifically target domestic worker abuse by diplomats, some of which were passed as far back as 2008, Avaloy Lanning, Senior Director of the Anti-Trafficking Program at Safe Horizon, said, “I hope that this case sends a clear message to diplomats and consular officials that the U.S. will not tolerate the exploitation of workers and marks the beginning of an increase in prosecution of these cases.”
Ms. Khobragade is the third diplomat at India’s New York consulate to face abuse allegations by a domestic worker in the last two years, the others being Consular Officer Neena Malhotra and former Consul General Prabhu Dayal.
Mr Lanning added, “Unfortunately, Sangeeta’s story is tragically common. Safe Horizon has seen a number of cases over the years involving diplomatic employers and exploitative labour conditions for their domestic workers.”
Ms. Richard said, “I would like to express my appreciation to everyone who has supported me through this process.”