‘Message lost’: lawyer says it’s about wages,not search

Sussman said the case is representative of the experiences of a number of domestic workers of diplomats.

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi | Published:December 20, 2013 1:44 am

The lawyer for Sangeeta Richard says it is a case not of strip search but of underpayment by Devyani Khopragade. “We should be absolutely clear that this is not a case of strip search but one of underpayment of wages. Our client is a victim who is a domestic worker who has been paid less than $3 an hour that is contrary to the law,” Dana Sussman,lawyer for Safe Horizons that is representing Sangeeta,told The Indian Express from the US.

In New York,she told PTI,“There is frustration and disappointment that the media has portrayed this story in the way that they have.” This was echoed by senior director of the anti-trafficking programme at Safe Horizon,Avaloy Lanning,who said advocates are frustrated that the crime 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 Indian officials about Sangeeta’s conduct,the charges against Devyani “speak for themselves”.

Sussman said,“She (Devyani) grossly underpaid my client and required that my client work far more than she had expected. My client worked for her for quite a while and eventually she decided that she could not tolerate the situation any longer.”

However,she did not comment on the whereabouts of Sangeeta and her family,on the police complaint lodged against her in India,and the fact that she has been out of reach since June. She would not comment on the legal proceedings against Sangeeta in India either.

Sangeeta is “not on trial here and we think that the message here has been lost in the fact that there are charges against Khobragade for violating US 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 US and India,she said.

Sussman said her client would not talk to the media “at this point”. She will continue to cooperate with authorities,she added.

Sussman said the case is representative of the experiences of a number of domestic workers of diplomats and consular officials from all over the world who work in the US and face labour issues.

On whether Devyani’s transfer to India’s permanent mission to the UN would weaken the case,Sussman said,“The receiving state determines the level of immunity… I am sure the US government has considered this.”

— With PTI

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