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2 Indonesian Maids Awarded Almost $1M for Forced Labor & Abuse - Wealthy Long Island 'Masters' Get Prison

Society & Culture  (tags: human rights, slavery, domestic workers, women, Indonesian, maids, abuse, starvation, beatings, slashing )

- 4026 days ago -
Victims were beaten, slashed with knives & forced to take freezing showers for misdeeds such as stealing food from trash bins because they were poorly fed. Varsha Sabhnani sentenced to 11 yrs in prison, husband to 3 yrs&4 months. Will lose $million home


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LucyKaleido ScopeEyes (82)
Saturday July 12, 2008, 2:23 am
The posted article is very short, because all the more in-depth accounts of the case and what the 2 Indonesian maids went through were published at the time of the trial and sentencing of the couple.

Here's one:

Up until May of 2007, there were still slaves in America.

That is, until husband and wife team Mahender Sabhnani and Varsha Sabhnani were found to be keeping said slaves in their million-dollar estate at 205 Coachman Place, which is located in one of New York’s most expensive enclaves.

You know a house is expensive when there are stone lion statues out front, a pool the size of a small lake in the back yard, and it has a really big door.

Mahender and Varsha also own a 2-bedroom condo on Broadway that’s worth about $1.4 million, and have enjoyed long vacation trips to Singapore, Australia and Bahrain.

Yeah, the Sabhnanis are very wealthy, having made their fortune by selling Royal Mirage perfume in stores around the world, distributing the stuff through at least five different companies they controlled.

Also helping them amass that fortune was the fact that they were able to save a lot of money by keeping slaves, which is, incidentally, much cheaper than actually paying hirelings a living wage.

In 2002, two Indonesian women, arrived in America after negotiating employment with Mahender and Varsha. They were to be paid about $200 a month for one, and $100 for the other.

Why one was judged worth half of what the other was worth, we don’t know.

Those two women, known as Samirah and Nona, were literally five minutes on American soil when the Sabhnanis snatched their passports and kept them “for safekeeping.”

Then the two women were put to work.

Now, most of us have had crappy jobs. Hell, I remember being 15 years old and washing dishes at a pizza place for $3.15 an hour. It sucked, but after 4 or 5 hours, I’d go home.

These women were forced to work 21 hour days.

When they were allowed to sleep, they had to sleep on 3-by-6 foot mats that were kept on the floor of one of the Sabhnanis two kitchens.

The women were starved, given barely enough food to survive on. Eventually things got so bad for Samirah and Nona that they started hoarding food, keeping snacks that she was able to sneak out of the kitchen in a spot above a drop-ceiling panel.

If they slept late, they got a beating. Caught stealing food from the trashcan? That’s a beating. Looking master in the eye? Oh you can bet that’s a beating.

The women were physically abused on a regular basis, with beatings administered by Varsha in one of the house bathrooms with Mahender looking on. Varsha Sabhnani liked to mix it up a little, dealing out beating with a wide variety of instruments. Rolling pins and broomsticks were her favorite, but she wasn’t above using bamboo canes in a pinch.

When one of those items wasn’t handy, Varsha would get a little creative with her abuse.

Cigarette burns were common.

Varsha threw scalding water on Samirah at one point, cut the woman behind the ears with a paring knife another time, and forced the women to eat chili peppers until they vomited - then made them eat the vomit.

One woman was forced to take ice-cold showers, over and over, the other was forced to climb stairs until her legs were so cramped that she couldn’t walk.

To top it all off, the Sabhnanis didn’t even pay the piddling wages that they’d negotiated with the two women, shorting them by only sending $100 a month home to one of the women’s family members.

I’m sure that this all seemed like a perfect setup for the Sabhnanis, and it was - for five years.

On one Sunday morning in May of 2007, however, one of the women wandered off, leaving the estate dressed in pants and a towel.

Hungry, in pain and disoriented, Samirah wandered until she came across a Dunkin™ Donuts shop.

She liked donuts. Recently, a landscaper working on the Sabhnanis’ estate had been approached by Samirah, who pointed at her stomach and said, “donut!” He gave the woman a few donuts, which she stuffed into her mouth as she ran back into the house.

As she entered the Dunkin’ Donuts shop, the manager noticed that she was odder than the usual donut shop customer, and asked her what was wrong. In what was probably the weirdest scene the manager had experienced that day, Samirah pointed up the road, said the word, “Master,” and slapped herself on the face and arms.

The manager, being a sensible man, called the cops.

When the police arrived, Samirah led them back to the Sabhnani mansion, where Nona was found, cowering in a 3-by-3-foot closet under the stairwell leading to the basement.

Once translators were found, the whole story came out and Varsha Sabhnani and Mahender Sabhnani were arrested.

The two women related their disturbing experience to the authorities. They explained that they had been kept away from visitors to the estate, ordered to run to the basement or the garage when strangers approached. The only time they were allowed to leave was at night - when they had to take out the garbage.

Varsha Sabhnani was accused of threatening to use her connections in Indonesia to have the Indonesian police arrest the women and their husbands if they ever tried to escape.

The abuse they endured wasn’t hard to figure out. The evidence was there for everyone to see. Samirah was photographed with highly visible, permanent scars that cover a large portion of her body, with deep, open knife wounds behind her ears.

The Sabhnanis had the best lawyers that money could buy, and they tried - really hard - to get their clients off.

The lawyers claimed that the housekeepers were practitioners of witchcraft and had undoubtedly cut and burned themselves during their religious rituals.

The lawyers explained that the Sabhnanis regularly left the country and that the two women could have left whenever they wanted.

The lawyers announced from the mountaintops that their clients were “model citizens” who just wanted to clear their names, get back to their business, and pay their taxes.

On the 17th of December, 2007 a jury decided that Varsha and Mahender Sabhnani were not model citizens. The Sabhnanis were found guilty and convicted on 12 counts, including involuntary servitude, conspiracy, harboring aliens and forced labor.

LucyKaleido ScopeEyes (82)
Saturday July 12, 2008, 2:32 am
The following site contains a selection of videos and press articles on this horrendous case :

Varsha Mahender Sabhnani Top 7 Videos/News and Commentary

Past Member (0)
Saturday July 12, 2008, 3:52 am

Thank you, Jill. It is really a shame that the couple got off with such light sentences. But perhaps they'll learn about what it is to have your human rights violated while they're in prison. I'm glad that monetary restitution will be made to the victims, although even with the best of help they may never completely recover from such abuse.

It was interesting to note the abusers' excuses, particularly the lawyer explaining that the woman had lost a lot of weight which changed her personality. Half this country is on some sort of diet at any given time, and if weight loss caused abuse we'd have a thousand times the crime rate we already have.


Stephen H (203)
Saturday July 12, 2008, 6:33 am
Noted, thanks Jill. But I believe the judge didn't give her enough time. 11 yrs., will not ever heal the damage she caused these young women...

Jim Phillips (3247)
Saturday July 12, 2008, 7:10 am
The husband got off lightly with 3 years. He should have been given 11 years as well. Once these two people are out of jail, deport them.

TY, Jill.


Past Member (0)
Saturday July 12, 2008, 9:37 am
I agree with you Jim. Thank you Jill. Noted

serge vrabec (278)
Saturday July 12, 2008, 10:27 pm
I'm with you Jim, deport them back to hell!Thx Jill!

Renee Martin (0)
Sunday July 13, 2008, 12:25 pm
I cannot believe that she used a self imposed starvation diet as an excuse to inflict such cruelty on another human being. It simply does not wash. 11 years is not long enough. There needs to be a stronger message sent that slavery is not acceptable. Domestic workers are a particularly vulnerable segment of the proletariat. They need the protection of law. Thanks for posting this story, I had not heard about this case.

LucyKaleido ScopeEyes (82)
Monday July 14, 2008, 12:49 am

Not only did she and/or her lawyers try the starvation diet as an excuse, they also accused the maids of witchcraft, saying that their burn and knife scars came, in fact, from self-inflicted wounds made during religious rituals. Believe it !

I hope the court and judge were insulted by these gross lies - well, they must have been: 11 years is a lengthy sentence !

. (0)
Tuesday July 15, 2008, 4:34 pm
Slavery is a stain on the soul of humanity.
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