Indian Diplomat Devyani Khobragade Row: Missing maid breaks silence

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Devyani Khobragade
New York, Dec 19: Igniting the controversy of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade's arrest in US and her alleged role in the visa fraud case, her maid Sangeeta Richard finally broke her silence on Thursday, Dec 19.

Sangeeta, who has been missing since June 2013, has not disclosed information regarding her whereabouts yet. Richard's lawyer on Thursday said that it is frustrating and disappointing that the focus in the case has shifted from the crimes that were committed against her client to the Indian diplomat.

"There is frustration and disappointment that the media (and the officials) has portrayed this story in the way that they have," Dana Sussman, staff attorney in the anti-trafficking programme at victim assistance agency Safe Horizon, told PTI.

There is frustration and disappointment that the real case has been twisted

Ms. Sussman is the lawyer for the Indian woman Sangeeta Richard, who had been employed by Ms. Khobragade as a domestic help and babysitter.

Senior Director of the anti-trafficking programme at Safe Horizon Avaloy Lanning said the victim and other advocates are "frustrated" that the crime in the case is being "overshadowed" and the focus should be on the "crimes that were committed rather than on the criminal defendant."

She said irrespective of the position of the Indian officials about Ms. Richard's conduct, the charges against India's Deputy Consul General in New York "speak for themselves".

Ms. Sussman stressed that the case is about Ms. Khobragade lying to the federal government about the wages she was required to pay to her client.

Ms. Khobragade "did not pay those wages, she grossly underpaid my client and required that my client work far more than she had expected" and Ms. Khobragade wrongly represented this information the U.S. government.

"My client worked for her for quite a while and eventually she decided that she could not tolerate the situation any longer," Ms. Sussman said.

Ms. Sussman, however, did not comment on the whereabouts of Ms. Richard and her family, on the police complaint lodged against her in India and the fact that she had been absconding since June.

She also said she would not comment on the legal proceedings ongoing in India against Richard.

She added that her client will not "at this point" come out and talk to the media.

She said Ms. Richard wants "justice" for herself and the story that is being lost in this case is that Ms. Richard is a witness in a federal investigation and criminal case against Ms. Khobragade.

She will continue to cooperate with authorities, Ms. Sussman added.

Ms. Richard is "not on trial here and we think that the message here has been lost in the fact that there are charges against Ms. Khobragade for violating U.S. law and those charges relate to the underpayment of wages to a domestic worker. That is the story. The actual story has been lost" in the diplomatic row that has erupted between U.S. and India.

Ms. Sussman said the case is representative of the experiences of a significant number of domestic workers of diplomats and consular officials from all over the world who come on special visas to the U.S. but face labour issues.

"We would like to see this story told in a broader way that discusses the issues of domestic workers of diplomats and consular officials and the issues that they face and the vulnerability they have in labour abuses and underpayment of wages," Ms. Sussman said, adding that her agency applauds the U.S. government's action in the case.

Ms. Sussman said the action of the government demonstrates that the US is taking crimes which lead to exploitation and abuse of domestic workers seriously.

On the case being made by Indian authorities that Ms. Khobragade enjoys diplomatic immunity, Ms. Sussman said Ms. Khobragade enjoyed only a "limited form of consular immunity" given to consular officials and employees of the consulate.

"That does not pertain to her private actions in employing a domestic worker.

The receiving country, in this case the U.S., determines what level of immunity a diplomat or consular official enjoys," she said.

Whether Ms. Khobragade's transfer to the Indian Mission to the UN would weaken their case, Ms. Sussman said it is not up to Ms. Khobragade to determine what level of immunity she has.

"The receiving state determines the level of immunity for any individual. I am sure the U.S government has considered this," she said.

Meanwhile, the Indian diplomats at India's Permanent Mission to the U.N remained tight-lipped about the transfer of Ms. Khobragade from the Consulate to the mission, neither did they comment on the developments in the case.

OneIndia News
(With PTI inputs)

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