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NY maid claims Indian consul exploited her: lawsuit

By Basil Katz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - India's consul general in New York and his family treated a former maid like a slave, paying her $300 a month, confiscating her passport and sexually harassing her, a lawsuit against the family said.

The Manhattan federal court lawsuit filed on Monday is the latest in a string of allegations of abuse by diplomats in the United States.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Santosh Bhardwaj, the former maid, by the Legal Aid Society, a group that provides legal help to the poor.

The lawsuit said she was virtually enslaved by Consul Prabhu Dayal and his wife and daughter. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

"Defendants confiscated Ms. Bhardwaj's passport and subjected her to approximately a year of forced labor and psychological coercion in their household, culminating in an incident of sexual harassment," the lawsuit said.

In a statement, Dayal's attorney called the maid a "fraudster."

"This fraudster of a woman, seeing dollar signs, has hit on a 'get rich quick' scheme after a year and a half of illegally staying and working in New York," attorney Ravi Batra said.

The maid escaped from the consular residence, located on New York's posh Upper East Side, in January 2010 after just under a year in the United States, the lawsuit said.

Dayal, a former ambassador to Mexico and Kuwait, took up the New York post in 2008. Bhardwaj had worked for the family on other postings abroad. A consul general is a high-ranking official who facilitates trade and travel among other things.

The case is Santosh Bhardwaj v Prabhu Dayal, Chandini Dayal and Akansha Dayal, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 11-004170.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)