Woman Enslaved Through Arranged Marriage
Thirty-four year old Vishal Jagota, his mother Parveen and his sister Rajani face jail time after being convicted in February of labor trafficking and assault. The victim was Vishal’s wife, an Indian citizen who came to the United States in 2008 as part of an arranged marriage. She moved into her husband’s Clarkstown, NY, home, where he also lived with his parents and sister, and was reportedly enslaved by the family for almost three years.
Among the allegations, as reported by the Rockland County [New York] District Attorney’s Office:
The defendants engaged in a scheme, using intimidation, physical and sexual abuse, and manipulation to force the victim to work as a round-the-clock servant, performing a variety of household chores, cooking, child care and other tasks under threats of violence. When the victim threatened to contact authorities, each of the defendants vowed to concoct wild stories, accusing her of committing various types of crime. On one occasion, Parveen Jagota and Rajani Jagota burned the victim’s hand with a hot iron in order to “teach her a lesson,” following their displeasure with her laundry skills. Rajani Jagota, the victim’s sister-in-law, and Vishal Jagota are accused of forbidding the victim from receiving medical treatment for the serious burn, telling her to treat the open wound with toothpaste. On another occasion, Vishal Jagota is accused of biting the victim, causing permanent scarring on her cheek.
The name of the victim has not been publicly released.
“Victims in forced labor cases are vulnerable targets who are promised stable lives, but end up in abusive situations and deplorable conditions,” said Rockland County District Attorney Thomas P. Zugibe at the time of the family’s grand jury indictment.
Parveen and Rajani were each found guilty of two counts of labor trafficking and one count of assault in the second degree. Vishal was convicted of assault in the third degree for biting the victim. His father, Aman Jagota, was charged with sexually assaulting the victim, but was acquitted.
Forced Slavery or False Allegations?
During the trial, the defendants argued that the victim made up the allegations in an effort to escape from her arranged marriage. According to LoHud.com:
David Narain, attorney for the woman’s husband, Vishal Jagota, said, however, the truth was that the young woman was trapped in a marriage arranged by her family in India, and that she lied about her husband and his family to escape the relationship. He said the alleged victim was an educated woman from a big city who has aspirations for higher education and a career, but that those were dashed when her family arranged her marriage to his client and she came to live in the United States. Divorce was not an option because Indian culture forbids it, he said.
NY State Labor Trafficking Laws
“I think it’s great progress for prosecutors to look expansively at the human trafficking law and use the law to the extent fully envisioned by the law makers,” says Suzanne Tomatore, an attorney who is director of the Immigrant Women & Children Project at the City Bar Justice Center. “But there is still a lot of education to be done.” The Immigrant Women & Children’s Project is a non-profit group that works with immigrants in and around New York City who are victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, child abuse and other violent crimes.
In the United States, there are several federal laws that address human trafficking. A number of states have passed their own laws criminalizing human trafficking. After New York’s law was passed in 2007, the New York Times described why state laws were needed:
Although there are federal laws against human trafficking — essentially a modern form of slavery — some state lawmakers and advocacy groups say they are insufficient. Federal law enforcement has focused mostly on the largest criminal trafficking rings, rather than smaller operations like sweatshops and brothels, advocacy groups say. Moreover, although local law enforcement officials are most likely to stumble across victims of trafficking, the advocacy groups say, the absence of a state trafficking law has provided little incentive for local prosecutors to tackle such cases.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 22. Parveen and Rajani could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison, while Vishal faces a maximum of a year in jail.