US judge recommends $1.5 million to 'enslaved' Indian maid

US judge recommends $1.5 million to 'enslaved' Indian maid

In a setback to an Indian diplomat, a US judge has recommended that her maid be awarded nearly USD 1.5 million for the ''barbaric treatment'' and ''emotional distress'' suffered by her at the hands of her employer for three years.

Shanti Gurung had accused her employer, Neena Malhotra, who at the time was "serving as the Counselor of Press, Culture, Information, Education, and Community Affairs at the Consulate General of India in Manhattan" of slavery. She had come to New York city in 2006 to work as a domestic help, according to court documents.

In the 28-page recommendation filed by US Magistrate Judge Frank Maas yesterday to Judge Victor Marrero of the US District Court Southern District of New York, Maas said he "recommends that Gurung be awarded judgment against the Malhotras in the amount of USD 1,458,335" because of their "barbaric treatment" of her while she was employed as their domestic worker and forced to work long hours without adequate compensation for three years.

Maas said Gurung, who is now in her early twenties was a victim of "outrageous and shocking conduct". Her "documents were seized, her travel was restricted, and she was not permitted to telephone her family.

Significantly, Gurung also was deprived of food, which caused her to lose more than sixty pounds in just over three years and was subjected to physical and mental abuse," Maas said adding that Gurung's compensation should also include USD 500,000 as damages for "emotional distress".

According to the court papers, Gurung came to the US at the "behest" of Neena and her husband Jogesh Malhotra and was promised a monthly salary of approximately USD 108 in exchange for "light cooking, light cleaning, and staffing the occasional house party." However, Gurung's work from the outset was "far more arduous" than the Malhotras had represented it would be.

She was made to work 16 hours a day and in addition to her cooking and cleaning duties, was "required to give Neena Malhotra daily massages, a chore that made her extremely uncomfortable," the court papers said.

Over the more than three years that she worked for the Malhotras, Gurung received only a single payment of less than USD 120.

Gurung's passport was also seized by the Malhotras, who allegedly threatened her that if she tried to escape, "the American police and Homeland Security would take [her] money and would find, beat, rape, and imprison [her] before shipping [her] back to India as 'cargo'."

Gurung has also alleged that she was not provided adequate boarding and made to "sleep on the floor" of the Malhotra's three bedroom apartment.

She "often went hungry" as the Malhotras gave her leftovers to eat from the meals she had cooked.

The court papers said Gurung "desperately summoned the courage" to leave the Malhotras' home in July 2009 "fearing continued mistreatment" and went to a woman she had previously met at a grocery store.

Shortly after she "escaped," Gurung became "very sick" and was hospitalised.
She said she had developed physical ailments due to the "stress, abuse and malnutrition" she experienced at the hands of the Malhotras.

When contacted, an official at the Indian Consulate said Neena Malhotra finished her tenure at the Consulate several years ago. The official did not comment on the case saying it was a matter before the court.

Maas's recommendations are subject to approval by Marrero, who is overseeing the case.

The External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi had then said the media reports containing allegations against the senior diplomat "do not appear to be in conformity with facts".