By DAN MCCUEIN COURT HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
(CN) – A young woman sued her in-laws-by-arranged-marriage, claiming they brought her to the United States from India in a blatant act of human trafficking, then consigned her to “modern-day slavery.” Diptiben Mistry was a college student studying hotel and tourism management when she and her family met defendants Chandrakant and Nilam Udwadia in Navsai, Gujarat, India in January 2007. After meeting for just 30 minutes, she says, her father agreed that she would marry the Udwadias’ son, Himansu. The only provision was that she be allowed to complete her remaining year in college and earn her bachelor’s degree. The Udwadias agreed and the wedding took place a week later.
But things quickly went downhill, Mistry says.
“Defendants fraudulently induced Mistry to marry their son, Himansu Udwadia, misrepresenting the terms of marriage,” the complaint states. “Defendants then transported Mistry from India to their home in the United States. Using psychological coercion, physical violence, and threats of divorce and return to India as a stigmatized woman, Defendants forced Mistry to provide daily domestic labor for them, in violation of international, federal, and state laws.
“During the period that Mistry was forced to work for defendants, defendants never paid Mistry. Defendants held Mistry as a virtual prisoner in their residence, restricting her access to food, depriving her of medical care, subjecting her to verbal, psychological, and physical abuse, and keeping her under constant surveillance. Defendants controlled every aspect of Mistry’s life, including when she ate, slept, and showered, stripping her of any means of independence, subjecting her to almost constant surveillance, and dictating the minutiae of her daily life.
“Indian culture dictates that young women respect and obey their elder relatives. Upon marriage, a woman is expected to obey her husband and his family members. Divorce is considered extremely shameful in Indian society, particularly for women, and a divorced woman, as well as her entire family, may be considered permanently stigmatized in the eyes of their community. Defendants effectively leveraged these cultural practices to coerce Mistry into providing domestic labor.
“Defendants knowingly and willfully rendered Mistry isolated, helpless, and utterly dependent upon them in order to constructively imprison her. Defendants forced her to work long hours on little sleep and with little to no human contact outside of themselves. They prohibited Mistry from speaking privately with her own family in India. They deprived her of any money or knowledge of how to arrange for transportation. Defendants controlled every aspect of her life, down to the smallest detail, creating an atmosphere of complete control and effectively ensuring that Mistry could not escape. Defendants, through their acts and omissions, actively contributed to and promoted Mistry’s helplessness in order to maintain complete control over her and in doing so, created a coercive environment far more effective than mere locked doors or physical threats.
By fraudulently luring Mistry to the United States under the guise of marriage to their son and subjecting Mistry to forced labor, defendants committed human trafficking. Mistry seeks damages and restitution for unpaid wages, damages for trafficking her into the United States under false pretenses, and damages for breach of contract.” The ordeal began right after the wedding, which was on Feb. 3, 2007, Mistry says, when her new in-laws canceled her cell phone subscription: “one of their first acts of limiting Mistry’s ability to communicate with her family.”
Newlywed Indian couples often travel to visit relatives after their honeymoon, and usually travel unaccompanied. “However, following the week-long honeymoon, defendants insisted that they travel with Himansu and Dipti to visit relatives in India,” she says.
“After the wedding, the honeymoon, and the travel around India to visit relatives, Mistry’s exams at school were starting, but Chandrakant would not permit her to return to school. Instead, Chandrakant told Mistry that she needed to return to the United States with them immediately and would not be permitted to finished her education in India, as contracted for in her marriage agreement,” according to the complaint.
Then, Mistry says, she came to find out that her in-laws had begun the visa process through the U.S. Embassy in India long before she had ever met the Udwadia family, and that her visa had been obtained fraudulently.”Defendants were looking for any ‘bride’ that could fulfill a domestic servant role in their household,” she says.
The day after they arrived in the United States, she says, Chandrakant took all of her belongings away, confiscated her passport and jewelry and put them in a safe deposit box at his bank. She says they insisted that she and her husband never sleep alone, but share their bed with a younger son, Prasad. “During Mistry’s time living with defendants in Oklahoma, defendants subjected Mistry to forced labor by requiring her to perform all domestic work while closely monitored by Chandrakant,” Mistry says. “Chandrakant did not allow Mistry to take breaks from her daily household chores except to study for her bookkeeping course and a bank teller certificate, which he forced her to obtain so that she could help him with his accounting business.
“If at any point Mistry chose not to follow Chandrakant’s orders, she would be subjected to verbal and physical abuse, such as slapping, yelling insults, or throwing items at Mistry.
“Mistry was responsible for all domestic work in the defendants’ home. She was expected to work from approximately 5 am to 11 pm each day. “Mistry worked for defendants in their Oklahoma home seven days a week, eighteen hours a day, for eight months, accruing approximately 4,320 total hours from April 3, 2007 to October 19, 2007.”
Throughout this time, she says, “Chandrakant supervised Mistry closely and told her exactly what chores to do, what to cook, and which pots, pans and utensils to use. Chandrakant constantly critiqued Mistry’s work, telling her she was stupid and did not know how to do things correctly. Chandrakant once hit Mistry on the head during prayers because she made a mistake. … “Nilam [her mother-in-law] would report to Chandrakant what Mistry did throughout the day. She would report even the smallest detail, including when Mistry had a snack.”
When her husband moved to Georgia in May 2007, she says, he wanted to take her with him, but “Chandrakant would not permit it. From May 17, 2007 to October 19, 2007, defendants kept Mistry and Himansu apart” In addition to forced labor, she says, her in-laws subjected her to “deprivation of food, deprivation of medical care and sexual assault.” The complaint states: “One night, Chandrakant came into Mistry’s room around 1 am, locking the door behind him. Chandrakant began touching her. Mistry got up from the bed, and Chandrakant chased her around the room. Mistry became frightened and screamed, so Chandrakant told Mistry to go outside, leaving her standing in the cold for fifteen to twenty minutes. When Chandrakant allowed Mistry back inside, he told her not to tell anyone what had transpired in the bedroom. Otherwise, Chandrakant told her, he would send Mistry back to India.”
Finally, she says, her in-laws demanded that their son divorce her and send her back to India. When he refused, she says, they tricked the couple by saying Mistry should go back to India to finish her studies. While she was there, the Udwadias went ahead with their plans to have their son divorce her. Although she returned to the United States to speak with Himansu directly, he refused to speak with her. Since the divorce became final, she says, she has been unable to retrieve her marital property or the items Chandrakant confiscated from her when she first arrived in the United States.
She seeks compensatory, punitive and statutory damages for forced labor, human trafficking for the purpose of forced labor, violations of the Oklahoma Human Trafficking Act, involuntary servitude and forced labor in violation of the Laws of Nations Alien Tort Statute. She is represented in Oklahoma City Federal Court by Amy Sherry Fischer, of Foliart, Huff, Ottaway & Bottom in Oklahoma City.