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Khobragade Issue – SFJ urges US to suspend India from Domestic Visa program

January 10, 2014 | By

New York, US (January 10, 2014): In a communiqué to US Secretary of State, John Kerry, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a NY based human rights organization has urged that India should be suspended from domestic worker Visa program pursuant to the “Trafficking Victims Protection Act ’(TVPA).

January 7, memorandum to Secretary Kerry states that exploitation of domestic worker Sangeeta Richard by diplomat Khobragade is not the first time that an Indian consular officer is found involved in visa fraud, worker exploitation and human trafficking in violation of the laws of the United States. In fact, this is the third case since 2010 when charges of forced labor amounting to slavery and human trafficking are brought against Indian officials in New York.

Devyani Khobragade, a 1999-batch IFS officer who was deputy consulate general in New York, was arrested on December 12 last year for allegedly making false declarations in a visa application for her domestic worker Sangeeta Richard. Indian diplomat Devyani was released on a $250,000 bond.

In June 2011, India’s then Consul General in New York Prabhu Dayal was sued by his domestic worker {Bhardwaj v. Dayal et al (SDNY 11-cv-04170)}, who accused him of intimidating her into a year of forced labor. In another instance, Neena Malhotra, a Press and Culture Counselor at the New York Consulate from 2006-2009 was sued by her domestic worker for labor exploitation {Gurung v. Malhotra (SDNY 10-cv-05086)}. Indian Consulate General Prabhu Dayal settled the case by agreeing to pay an undisclosed amount to the domestic worker while the domestic worker against Consular Officer Neena Malhotra won a judgment of USD 1.4 million.

Section 203 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act provides that notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary shall suspend, for such period as the Secretary determines necessary, the issuance of A-3 visas or G-5 visas to applicants seeking to work for officials of a diplomatic mission or an international organization, if the Secretary determines that there is credible evidence that 1 or more employees of such mission or international organization have abused or exploited 1 or more nonimmigrants holding an A-3 visa or a G-5 visa, and that the diplomatic mission or international organization tolerated such actions.

According to Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, legal advisor, SFJ, instead of honoring the US laws that protects the rights of domestic workers, Indian government has acted contemptuously and put in danger the lives of US diplomats serving in India by removing their security and confiscating their identity documents. This act of retaliation by Indian Government against the US interests in India is alarming though “it is perfectly in line with India’s practice of impunity granted to its officials who are accused of criminal acts as proven in the case of November 1984 Sikh Genocide”.

The communiqué to US Secretary that suspension of India from the program to obtain domestic workers visas for its diplomat will send a strong message to the world community that United Sates abides by its laws and enforces them irrespective of the nationality of the perpetrator. Sikh rights group urged the Secretary to uphold and follow the laws of the United States by suspending India pursuant to section 203 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from the program to obtain domestic workers visas for its diplomats.

US-based Sikhs groups will hold a “Justice Rally” on January 13 in New York – when the district court of New York would hold the pre-trial hearing in Khobragade case. The rally by Sikh groups will support prosecution of Indian diplomat and will highlight the plight of domestic worker Sangeeta Richard who was forced to work as ‘Slave” and whose rights were violated by Indian diplomat Khobragade.

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