NEW DELHI, (Press Release) — The National Platform for Domestic Workers is alarmed that the Indian government has vociferously defended the diplomatic rights of India’s Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade but ignored the labour rights of her domestic worker Sangeeta Richards.
In the brouhaha about the arrest of Khobragade it has been forgotten that she stands accused of serious violations of the labour rights of her domestic worker and the human rights of her family. The Indian Government has revoked Sangeeta Richards’ official passport and a court in Delhi has issued a non-bailable warrant against her, making it difficult for her to return to India.
The diplomat vs. domestic worker case has been turned into an issue of national pride and dignity whereas it is equally a labour issue. Khobragade made Richards sign a contract as per US laws and visa requirements but on the day of departure made her sign a second contract offering a far lower wage and signing away the rights agreed to under the previous contract. This second contract was concealed from the US authorities.
Some seven months later, when Richards left her employment and approached a lawyer, Khobragade’s husband went to a New York police station and accused Richards of theft. But for reasons unknown he did not press charges. Negotiations were later held between the two parties but were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, in India Khobragade and her influential father IAS officer Uttam Khobragade reportedly pressured Richards’ family through the Delhi police. Richards’ husband and son were reportedly called to the police station six times to pressure her into withdrawing her complaint. The family contacted the Human Rights Law Network in Delhi which filed a petition in the Delhi High Court in July 2012 on behalf of Phillip Richards which asked for repatriation of Sangeeta Richards, an independent inquiry into the case and disciplinary action against Khobragade and her father. The petition also asked the Ministry of External Affairs to set up a grievance redressal mechanism for employees of establishments of the Government outside India.
It is evident from the petition that Sangeeta Richards wished to return to India and was not using the case to immigrate to the US. However, in July the Indian Government cancelled her passport. Further, in September, 2013 Khobragade secured an injunction from Delhi High Court against Richards, restraining her from initiating legal proceedings in USA. In November she also secured a non-bailable warrant against Richards from a metropolitan magistrate’s court.
It is in these circumstances that Richards’ family asked the US Government for visas to go to the USA so that they could testify in court and be protected under the witness protection programme.
It is important to remember that Devyani Khobragade has a dubious record of flouting rules and laws in India and misusing her own and her family’s political clout to secure undue favours such as a flat in the scam-tainted Adarsh society in Mumbai. Further, the Supreme Court has ruled that Khobragade had the rules bent to get unfair advantage over other Foreign Service officers, leading to the wrongful dismissal of her colleague Mahaveer Singhvi.
The National Platform for Domestic Workers demands that the Indian government immediately enact a law for the protection of all domestic workers, including migrant workers within India and abroad. It is in the absence of a national law that aggrieved workers like Sangeeta Richards are forced to seek justice in a foreign country.
By National Convenors
Varghese Theckanath s.g. firstname.lastname@example.org
Nalini Nayak email@example.com
Geetha Ramakrishnan firstname.lastname@example.org
Delhi Gharelu Kamgar Sangathan email@example.com,
Lissy Joseph, firstname.lastname@example.org,
Sujata Madhok, email@example.com,
Subhash Bhatnagar firstname.lastname@example.org