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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid, Feminism

Published on Jun 27, 2008 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Immigrant Millionaire Woman Sentenced to 11 Years in Jail for Enslaving and Torturing Her Female Maids


Sometimes justice is served.

Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt, sentenced 46 year-old Varsha Sabhnani, a millionaire who enslaved and tortured two Indonesian female maids in her Muttontown, Long Island mansion, to 11 years in jail. Her husband, Mahender, will receive a lesser jail term today. One maid, Samirah, arrived in 2002, the second maid, Enung, arrived in 2005. Their passports were immediately confiscated and they became "virtual slaves."

The couple own a world wide perfume business and have both been convicted of "forced labor, conspiracy, involuntary servitude, and harboring aliens." According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko, "This did not happen in the 1800s. This happened in the 21st century." You may see the Sabhnanis, their children, (who claim that no abuse occurred), their lawyer–and the demonstration organized by domestic workers on video. HERE

Varsha, a striking, even beautiful woman, has been dubbed "Cruella de Ville." Both she and her husband are from India and are Hindu Sindhis from wealthy families. According to testimony, Varsha once interrupted one of the maids while the maid was praying and told her: "I am your God. I can make you dead." Varsha, who grew up in Indonesia and married Mehender in an arranged marriage when she was 18, did not take the stand in her own defense. However, she was quoted as saying: "I love my children very much. I was brought to this Earth to help people who are in need."

Clearly, she is not playing with a full deck but whether or not she is mentally ill is irrelevant. According to her lawyer, Jeffrey Hoffman, Varsha once weighed 325 pounds but her decision to starve herself down to 135 pounds made her "angry."

What–is this an anti-Twinkie defense? Dan White, the man who shot Harvey Milk, the gay member of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors and the mayor, George Moscone, tried to argue that "the (sugar in the) twinkie" made him do it.

Whether or not starving herself led to a "chemical imbalance" or not, she engaged in criminal, evil actions over a long period of time. Only in America and in the West would such an "employer" be indicted and convicted.

For millennia, female domestic servants have been brutally abused. They have been underfed, overworked, underpaid, never paid, sexually harassed, raped, and impregnated by their employers, tortured, and even murdered–all without recourse. This is still a common scenario in the Middle East, Far East, India, Africa, and in South America. Diplomats, including United Nations officials who hail from these countries, continue such foul practices when they live and work in the West.

I first saw this in action when I lived in Kabul, Afghanistan in the early 1960s. The mistreatment of female servants, often by female employers, was shocking and not something I have ever forgotten.

The two Indonesian housekeepers, Samirah and Enung, were semi-starved and therefore forced to eat from garbage cans–but they were then punished for doing so. Their punishments included being beaten with brooms and umbrellas, slashed with knives, burned with boiling water, forced to climb stairs, take freezing showers, digest dozens of hot chilli peppers and then eat their own vomit as punishment when they could not keep the peppers down. They slept on mats on the kitchen floor. Each housekeeper was paid nothing but their families back in Indonesia received $100.00 a month. After years of what federal prosecutors called "modern day slavery," one of the housekeepers escaped. The police found the second housekeeper cowering in a closet.

Federal prosecutors want the Sabhnanis to pay back wages of 1.1 million dollars. Their lawyer has said that $200,000.00 will be sufficient.

I hope this decision makes other Third World immigrant or diplomatic families think long and hard before they enslave domestic workers here on our soil. This fine decision is yet one more example of why America remains the last, best country standing.


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