Devyani’s maid underpaid,’frustrating’ that focus shifted to diplomat: Lawyerhttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/devyanis-maid-underpaid-frustrating-that-focus-shifted-to-diplomat-lawyer/

Devyani’s maid underpaid,’frustrating’ that focus shifted to diplomat: Lawyer

Case is about Devyani lying to federal govt about wages she was required to pay to maid: Lawyer

The lawyer for Sangeeta Richard,employed as a domestic help by Devyani Khobragade,said 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,” said Dana Sussman,staff attorney in the anti-trafficking programme at victim assistance agency Safe Horizon.

Everything you need to know about Devyani Khobragade’s story

Avaloy Lanning,senior director of the anti-trafficking programme at Safe Horizon,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 Richard’s conduct,the charges against Khobragade “speak for themselves”.

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Sussman stressed that the case is about Khobragade lying to the federal government about the wages she was required to pay to her client. Khobragade “did not pay those wages,she grossly underpaid my client and required that my client work far more than she had expected”,she said,adding that Khobragade wrongly represented this information to the US government.

“My client worked for her for quite a while and eventually she decided that she could not tolerate the situation any longer,” said Sussman. However,she did not comment on the whereabouts of Richard and her family,on the police complaint lodged against her in India and the fact that she has been absconding since June. She also said she would not comment on the legal proceedings against Richard in India.

Sussman said her client would not talk to the media “at this point” . She said Richard wants “justice” for herself and the story that is being lost in this case is that Richard is a witness in a federal investigation and criminal case against Khobragade. She will continue to cooperate with authorities,Sussman added.

Richard 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 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 US 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,the issues that they face and the vulnerability they have in labour abuses and underpayment of wages,” said Sussman,adding that her agency applauds the US government’s action in the case.

Stating that Khobragade enjoyed only a “limited form of consular immunity” given to consular officials and employees of the consulate,Sussman said,“That does not pertain to her private actions in employing a domestic worker… The receiving country,in this case the US,determines what level of immunity a diplomat or consular official enjoys.”

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

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Meanwhile,Indian diplomats at India’s permanent mission to the UN remained tight-lipped about Khobragade’s transfer from the consulate to the mission.

(With inputs from PTI)