iNDICA NEWS BUREAU
An Indian-American couple in California were sentenced to 15 years and eight months in prison for human trafficking and forced labor violations, according to a press communique from the US States attorney at the Eastern District of California October 5.
In addition, US District Judge Morrison C. England Jr ordered the woman, Sharmistha Barai, 40, to pay $15,000 in restitution to the victims.
In March 2019, Stockton, Californa residents Barai, 40, and her husband Satish Kartan, 45, pleaded guilty to human trafficking charges and forced labor of foreign nationals.
According to court documents, between February 2014 and October 2016, the couple hired workers from India and Nepal to perform domestic labor in their home in Stockton, California.
The couple advertised seeking workers on the Internet and India-based newspapers, making false claims regarding the wages and the duties of employment. The court documents show the advertisements promising salary of $2,000 per month.
But once the workers arrived at the couple’s residence, Kartan and Barai never paid them and forced them to work 18 hours a day with limited rest and nourishment.
Few of them were paid any wage. The defendants kept their domestic workers from leaving and induced them to keep working for them by threatening them, by creating an atmosphere of fear, control, and disempowerment, and at times by physically hitting or burning them.
When a victim pushed back or said she wanted to leave, it got worse.
According to the court document, Rathanam Thamma — referred to in the indictment as “Person Two” — traveled from Hyderabad and was promised $1,400 monthly.
She worked in the couple’s home 18 hours a day for approximately six weeks in July 2016 and August 2016, was physically and emotionally abused and was never paid.
According to evidence presented at the trial, the couple struck one worker on multiple occasions.
Barai threatened to kill her and throw her bones in the garbage, backhanded her across the face for talking back, and slammed her hands down on a gas stove, causing her
to suffer first and second-degree burns on her hands from the flames.
The couple also threatened several other victims to coerce them to keep working, including by telling the victims they would report them to the police or immigration authorities if they tried to leave.
Throughout their time in the couple’s home, the victims were deprived of sleep and food. The couple subjected the victims to verbal abuse and harassment in an effort to intimidate them into continuing to provide labor and services.
Thamma finally escaped to a neighbor’s house after the defendants took out the trash and left the gate padlock, for which Thamma did not know the code, unlocked.
Likewise, another victim, Puspanjali Thapa, was verbally berated and insulted by the
couple for the approximately four days she worked in September 2016. They told her they would call the police if she tried to leave.
When Thapa asked Kartan for her wages, Barai told Kartan to call the police. When Thapa attempted to arrange to be picked up from the couple’s house, Kartan refused to
provide her with the gate code allowing access to the gated community within which the couple’s residence was located.
Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division through a press statement said: “The sentence imposed today sends a strong message that human trafficking and forced labor will not be tolerated in the United States.”
“The United States abolished slavery and involuntary servitude more than 150 years ago. Yet, inhuman forced labor and deprivations of liberty and dignity persist because human traffickers are modern-day slave masters who endeavor to exploit their fellow human beings for profit and other gruesome purposes. The defendant’s role in this scheme to compel the victims into servitude for up to 18 hours a day, with minimal pay, through intimidation, threats, and violence, is an unconscionable violation of the victims’ individual rights, freedom, and dignity,” Dreiband stated.
US Attorney Scott was quoted as saying: “The defendants’ horrendous conduct, done in the privacy of their home, was publicly exposed during the trial. One by one the victims told their stories of the brutality they experienced: long hours of labor, inadequate food, and physical assault. Today’s sentence sends a clear message to others that systematic brutality against vulnerable victims will not be tolerated.”