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Claim of 100-hour week, no sick days

New Delhi, Jan. 10 (Reuters): Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade coached her nanny to mislead US officials, confiscated her passport and made her work 100-hour, seven-day weeks, according to a US grand jury indictment.

The court indictment papers, published on the website of the US attorney’s office of the Southern District of New York, painted a picture of a maid refused sick days and holidays while working for a salary of little over $1 an hour in New York, or about one-seventh the minimum wage.

Khobragade denies all charges and has been backed by the Indian government.

The indictment underscored the wildly divergent stories from both sides. The diplomat’s relatives and government officials say the allegations are exaggerated and are being used by the maid, Sangeeta Richard, to get compensation or US residency.

Uttam Khobragade, the diplomat’s father, said Richard lived a luxurious life, that she went to the beauty parlour every alternate week, and purchased an iPhone. “Does even Nancy Powell’s maid servant have such luxuries?” he said to Reuters, referring to the US ambassador to India. “She was having a gala time there.”

The indictment said that Khobragade first made the maid sign a contract that stipulated she would be paid around $9.75 an hour. Khobragade told US officials in the visa application that the maid would be paid $4,500 a month.

But on the evening of flying from India to the US, Richard was called to Khobragade’s house in Delhi, according to the court papers. She was told she needed to sign a second work contract, with a changed maximum salary, including overtime, of Rs 30,000 ($480) a month, an illegally low amount under US minimum-wage laws.

Provisions about holidays and sick days were deleted from the contract. The indictment says that the actual hourly wage for the maid, given she was often working more than 100 hours a week, was a little over a $1 an hour.

On one occasion, Khobragade told the maid not to get sick because it was too expensive, the papers say.

On arrival in the US, the diplomat took the maid’s passport and never returned it, saying it would only be returned at the end of her three-year contract, according to the court papers.

However, Khobragade in October filed a court case in India against Richard claiming she fled with a government passport.

In a statement issued through Safe Horizon, a non-government group that campaigns for victims of abuse, Richard said today: “I would like to tell other domestic workers who are suffering as I did — you have rights and do not let anyone exploit you.”

Safe Horizon said Richard was likely to apply for a visa that would be valid for up to four years and allow her to work in the US. It can also lead to lawful permanent residence.