US Organizations Support Domestic Help Richard Against Diplomat Khobragade

Demonstration in support of domestic workers' rights across the street from the Indian Consulate General in New York

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Washington, DC – More than 40 organizations in the United States recently applauded the US Attorney’s office for upholding the rights of Sangeeta Richard, the worker who complained against the Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, last month.

Khobragade, 39, at the heart of an ongoing diplomatic spat between India and the US left the US on Thursday (January 9) as the US granted her complete immunity, two weeks after her transfer to the India’s permanent mission to the United Nation. Now the Government of India (GOI) transferred her to Delhi.

The controversial arrest and strip-search of Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, on December 12, after a complaint from her maid, Richard, kick started the diplomatic row between the two democracies.

Earlier before her departure from the US, a federal grand jury charged Khobragade with visa fraud and making a false statement for allegedly providing bogus information to get papers for a housekeeper she wanted to bring from India to the US and pay less than minimum wage.

“On two occasions when the victim became ill, the victim was not given a sick day,” the grand jury indictment said. “On one occasion, the victim had to ask to see a doctor several times before Khobragade relented. Khobragade told the victim not to get sick because it was expensive.”

“The victim was routinely called upon at all hours to perform her duties, which included caring for Khobragade’s two children, cooking, and cleaning Khobragade’s home,” the indictment read.

The National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), a network of community-based organizations, commended US Attorney Preet Bharara for bringing the grand jury indictment against Khobragade.

Citing the indictment which charged that Richard was working at least 100 hours per week for a wage that amounted to $1.42 per hour, the NCSO statement said, “We commend the US Attorney’s Office for enforcing the rights of Ms. Richard under the law. At the same time, it appears that Ms. Khobragade was granted diplomatic immunity and has now returned to India.”

The NCSO in its statement raised, “grave concerns about the extent to which we value the rights of domestic workers, and whether there will be a chilling effect on the willingness of domestic workers to pursue claims against their employers, diplomats or not.”

“We stand with Sangeeta Richard and call upon our community members to support her and domestic workers around the country,” said the NCSO statement, urging, “policymakers and government agencies to enact and enforce policies that will protect the rights of domestic workers, just as the US Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice did in this case.”

Highlighting “the struggles faced by many domestic workers like Ms. Richard,” the NCSO statement said, “There are between 1.8 and 2.5 million domestic workers in the United States – many of them South Asian immigrant women – who care for children, elderly parents, and disabled family members. Often, many workers are underpaid, overworked, and subjected to conditions and experiences that no one should endure.”

Earlier, Marie Harf, the US State Department deputy spokesperson told journalists that the department takes the obligations and duties of the incoming international diplomats very seriously and communicates this position to all embassies.

Harf, during a briefing recently, said, “We very clearly have said every year in diplomatic notes to every country that has diplomats here throughout the world that there are obligations they have for their staffs when they bring them to the United States. We make those obligations very clear and we take any allegations that they haven’t done so very seriously.”

An email to the Indian Embassy requesting clarification whether this information had been communicated to its diplomats on a regular basis, including Khobragade, received no response.

The NCSO that believes in common principles related to social change, and that provides services to work with, convene, organize, and advocate for South Asians in the United States, under the coordination of the South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), announced, “We will continue to collaborate with one another and with allies in conducting outreach, raising public awareness, and advocating for the rights of domestic workers in our ongoing work with South Asian communities in the United States.”

The signatories to the NCSO statement are Adhikaar for Human Rights, Andolan, Apna Ghar, ASHA for Women, Chaya, Chhaya CDC, Coney Island Avenue Project, Council of Peoples Organization, Counselors Helping (South) Asian/Indians, Daya, Desis Rising Up and Moving, Hamdard Center, Indo-American Center, Khadijah’s Caravan, MAI Family Services, Maitri, Manavi, Narika, Raksha, Saathi of Rochester, Sahara of South Florida, Sakhi for South Asian Women, Sapna NYC, Satrang, SEVA- Desis Vote!, Shakti Peer Group, Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund (SALDEF), Sneha, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), South Asian American Policy and Research Institute, South Asian Council for Social Services, South Asian Health Initiative, South Asian Mental Health Awareness in Jersey, South Asian Network, South Asian Progressive Action Collective, South Asian Public Health Association, South Asian Youth Action, The Sikh Coalition, Trikone NW, Turning Point and UNITED SIKHS. 

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