Muslim Housekeepers Treated as Slaves in U.S.

Posted on December 17, 2007


The Sabhnanis

Kudos to our Justice system in the U.S. Unlike in many “Muslim” countries, it does not matter in the United States if a person is a multi-millionaire or not when the law catches with the culprit. This is what a millionaire couple found out in New York today, and God Willing, they will spend a couple of decades in jail for their misdeeds, and they may lose a good chunk of their property.

According to CNN, a jury on Monday convicted a millionaire couple of enslaving two Indonesian women they brought to their mansion to work as housekeepers. […] Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, 51, and his wife, Varsha Mahender Sabhnani, 45, were each convicted of all charges in a 12-count federal indictment that included forced labor, conspiracy, involuntary servitude, and harboring aliens. According to the New York Times, the Sabhnanis were prosecuted under a 2000 federal law that bans human trafficking and is most often applied in prostitution cases.  Under this law, it is illegal to force someone to work under threat of violence.

Samirah's face with scars

According to the New York Post, in the Sabhnani’s antiques-stuffed, cedar-shakers mansion, Samirah was beaten with brooms and rolling pins, repeatedly sliced on the ears (see picture below) with a paring knife, starved and forced to sleep on the kitchen floor.  […] [After they were brought from Indonesia,] the two Indonesian housekeepers began working 21-hour days as house servants, and when they were allowed to sleep for the remaining three hours in the day, it was on thin, 3-by-6-foot white mats on the floor of one of the home’s two kitchens, the women said. Beatings were routinely administered either in the laundry room or bathroom, they said, with “a rolling pin, bamboo stick and a broomstick.” Samirah said Varsha also tossed scalding, boiling hot water on her, burning her thighs. The feds noted in court papers that Samirah “bears highly visible scars that appear to be permanent over much of her body.  “She also has deep, open knife wounds behind her ears, which were inflicted by [Varsha].” Samirah also showed cops at the house “a door stained with [her] blood that was the result of an injury sustained during a beating” by Varsha, according to court papers.  According to the prosecutors, Varsha also cut the face and chest of Samirah with a knife, and pinched her arm so brutally that she caused open lacerations on Samirah’s arm.  The abused women were starved to the point that they began hiding food, authorities said.  Their passports were taken away from them, and they were threatened with arrests or retribution against their family back in Indonesia.

AUDIO: Please click here to listen to an audio account of Samirah’s testimony in court.

Varsha – a 45-year-old mother of four – was the main torturer who doled out the horrific punishment while her husband, 51, watched, officials said. The wife is Indonesian; Mahender is from India.

Varsha’s cruelty included forcing Samirah to take as many as 30 ice-cold showers in a row, run up and down a flight of stairs 150 times as fast as she could – and gulp down at least 25 “extremely hot chili peppers at one time,” according to the arrest warrant.

The Sabhnanis, who have four children and operate a worldwide perfume business out of their Muttontown home on Long Island’s Gold Coast, could face up to 40 years in prison, although attorneys predicted the punishment would be considerably less. He is from India, and she is from Indonesia, but both are naturalized U.S. citizens.

A representative of the Indonesian consulate in New York declined to comment.

Prosecutors called it a case of “modern-day slavery.” […] Lesko said the women, known only as Samirah and Enung, were subjected to “punishment that escalated into a cruel form of torture” that ended when one of the women fled on Mother’s Day.

Don’t Miss

Ears of housekeepers cut as torture

Samirah, the woman who fled the house in May, said she was forced to walk naked from the servants’ room to the kitchen and to eat 100 chili peppers, followed by six spoons of chili powder mixed with salt water for various misdeeds. She said she vomited after eating the peppers and was told to eat the vomit.

“This did not happen in the 1800s,” Lesko said. “This happened in the 21st century.”

Enung testified that Samirah’s nude body once was covered in plastic wrapping tape on orders from Varsha Sabhnani, who then instructed Enung to rip it off. “When I pulled it off, she was screaming,” the housekeeper said through an interpreter before breaking down in tears on the witness stand. [more]

Please click here to read the remainder of the article.

Please click here to watch a video clip of this case from CNN.

Note from Rafik Beekun:

Defense attorneys for a Muttontown couple accused of enslaving two Indonesian women they hired as housekeepers had previously filed a court brief arguing that one of the women, who officials said had been tortured, had most likely inflicted the wounds on herself.

Sadly, contrary to the fair and compassionate behavior Islam advocates in terms of employer-employee relationships (see my book on Islamic Business Ethics),  this kind of “enslavement” pales in comparison to what takes place in several Muslim countries where these modern-day slavers  often go unpunished.  Here are a couple of examples:

1. Saudi Arabia Migrant Domestics Killed By Employers.

2. Migrant Workers In Saudi Arabia: Similarities between Sponsorship and Slavery.

3. Domestic Workers’ Abuse in Muslim Countries.

4. Denial of Guest Worker Rights in Dubai.

5. Sri Lankan Maids Abused in Middle East.