US: Indian Counsel General slapped with forced labour suit

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Prabhu Dayal, the Indian Consul General in New York
New York, Jun 21: Prabhu Dayal, the Indian Consul General in New York, has been accused of treating a former domestic help as a slave and making sexual advances, a charge rejected by Dayal as "complete nonsense".

Santosh Bhardwaj, Dayal's former maid, has filed a forced labour-suit against him for making her work for long hours everyday at USD 300 a month, confiscating her passport and letting her sleep in a storage closet. She has also alleged him of making sexual advances.

"I filed the complaint because I want to be paid for all the labour I provided and for all the injustice I suffered - and I want my passport returned," Bhardwaj (45), the mother of four children, said.

"The Dayals did not treat me fairly," she said in a statement issued by the Legal Aid Society, which is representing her.

Dayal, however, has rubbished the charges against him. "Complete nonsense. These are mischievous and malicious lies," he told PTI.

Bhardwaj said she was lured to the US with a promise of an hourly pay of USD 10 and overtime pay. Instead, she said her payment was less than USD 1 an hour, and her passport was confiscated.

She also alleged that on one occasion Dayal told her she could only have the additional money if she gave him a "massage."

"Bhardwaj interpreted this as a sexual advance and was deeply offended. After that incident, Bhardwaj left the Dayals home and did not return," said the statement.

Dayal rejected the accusation, saying, "No question. I never asked for a massage... I deny it outright...I don't need a massage... I'm fit."

According to Dayal, Bhardwaj had absconded in January 2010 after he did not allow her to work outside the Consulate since it was not permitted under the terms of her visa. "She wanted to moonlight (earn more money). But it was against the rules, so I did not permit it," he said.

Dayal said Bhardwaj did not sleep in a storeroom but had her own room on the fifth floor of the Consulate building in Manhattan, which was equipped with a television and phone. "She lived in the lap of luxury. We paid her line with regulation."

The Indian official said that Bhardwaj received money in the US as well as "Rs 14,000 was deposited in her bank account in India every month." He also said she was only made to work for six hours and was paid overtime when asked to cook for guests.

"She had lots of money in US dollars. How else has she survived for this year-and-a-half," he said.

On confiscating her passport, Dayal said he kept the passports of all his family members for "safe keeping". Her passport, he said, "had now been cancelled".

The complaint has been filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York against Dayal, his wife and daughter yesterday. It charges the defendants for luring Bhardwaj from India with false promises of good working conditions but then subjected her to approximately one year of forced labour.

An official of the Consulate, on the condition of anonymity, said Bharadwaj had not complained to any of the other officials. "Perfectly like a family member," he said, responding to a question about how she was treated.

The official, however, added that he did not see Bharadwaj very often since she rarely appeared on the official floors of the Consulate.

PTI

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