Indian American ’slavery’ couple sued by maids

July 23rd, 2008 - 1:01 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, July 23 (IANS) The wealthy Indian American couple sentenced to jail less than a month ago in the high-profile “modern slavery” case has now been sued by the victim Indonesian housekeepers. The civil suit filed on behalf of Samirah and Enung Tuesday in the federal court in Central Islip, New York, seeks millions of dollars in damages under the federal racketeering statute from their former employers Varsha and Mahender Sabhnani, who ran a successful perfume business from their house in Muttontown, Long Island.

Attorneys for the women say the Sabhnanis meet the criterion of a racketeering organisation under federal law because they conspired to illegally exploit the maids.

The Asian American Legal Defence and Education Fund (AALDEF) said in a press release that it has filed the complaint under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, following the federal criminal hearing on restitution for Sabhnanis July 11, when a federal judge awarded almost $1 million in back wages to the two women.

“Like many domestic workers, Samirah and Enung were vulnerable as immigrants and unaware of the laws that protected them,” said AALDEF staff attorney Ivy Suriyopas. “This civil suit gives them the chance finally to assert their rights after years of severe torment, physical abuse, degradation and exploitation.”

In addition to restitution from the criminal case, the two women can seek damages for pain and suffering, other compensatory relief and punitive damages through a civil action. Such damages are clearly warranted in this case, the AALDEF attorney argued.

Samirah and Enung worked for the Sabhnanis for five and two-and-a-half years respectively.

In late June, Varsha was sentenced to 11 years in prison and her husband to over three years after their conviction last December of several charges including forced labour.

Samirah and Enung have received, with the help of a Catholic charity, T-visas meant for sex and labour trafficking survivors who have been subjected to force, fraud, or coercion.

The two women continue to receive assistance and support from local domestic worker organisations, including Andolan, that organises South Asian workers, the AALDEF said.

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