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Delhi Doctor Couple Denies Charges of Maid Abuse

INDIA INK – NEW YORK TIMES

The Vermas, the doctor couple who allegedly left their under-age maid locked in their Delhi home while vacationing in Thailand are innocent, their lawyer, Shailendra Bhardwaj, said on Thursday. The maid is not under age, has not been abused and was not locked in their home, he said, nor was she watched with security cameras, as a statement given to the courts asserted, he said. The case, which was front-page news in India in recent days, “is a reminder that the exploitation of children is also a symptom of India’s rising wealth,” Jim Yardley wrote in The New York Times. The “country’s growing middle class has created a surging demand for domestic workers,” he wrote, but the jobs are often filled by children.

The Vermas’ lawyer said that the maid, whose name has not been released, was treated like part of the family. “She was treated like a child, and we will shortly be releasing videos of the girl playing Holi with the family and Dr. Verma’s daughter,” Mr. Bhardwaj said in a telephone interview. “We don’t know who prompted her to make the report.”

The couple, Sanjay and Sumita Verma, were arrested on Wednesday, and their request for “anticipatory bail” was denied. Anticipatory bail, under Indian criminal law, allows a person to seek bail before an arrest for some crimes. Their lawyer expects to ask for bail again when the couple appears before a magistrate at the Dwarka district court on Monday. The Vermas’ lawyer said the maid had told them that she was 18, and not 13, as has been claimed.

She was left in their Dwarka home at her own request, the Vermas say. When the couple wanted to go on vacation in Bangkok, they asked the girl to stay at the wife’s mother’s house, Mr. Bhardwaj said, but she did not want to. “They decided to leave her in their house at Dwarka because she said she was more comfortable there,” he said.

“She was given a key and 500 rupees to purchase daily groceries,” Mr. Bhardwaj said. “She was also asked to keep the door locked and not open it for anybody except the couple.”

The couple’s denials are just an attempt to protect their reputation, said Ravi Kant, the lawyer for Shakti Vahini, the non-government organization that said it rescued the girl from her employers’ home, on Thursday. The girl’s statement, made personally in front of a magistrate, carries a lot of weight in court, he said.

“Even if the child goes back on her word, under coercion or for money, her statement will still hold,” Mr. Kant said. A medical report corroborates the girl’s claims of being pinched and hit, he added. Mr. Kant says that they will strongly oppose bail as “such people need exemplary punishment.”

Mr. Kant said that the onus of determining the age of an employee is on the employers. Regardless of what the girl may have claimed, if she is under age, the Vermas will be in violation of the law, he said, and only a birth or school certificate can be used as proof of age. “We are confident that she is 13 years old,” he said. “We are awaiting the results of the ossification test, expected in a day or two, which will prove her age.”

“If I’m locked up in jail and given 200,000 rupees, how will that help me?” asked Mr. Kant, in response to the Vermas’ defense that they had left the girl with money for food. Mr. Kant said the couple has established contact with their former maid’s mother, and said he believes they will try to use the mother to influence the child to retract her statement.

The Vermas returned from Thailand on March 30, but the police did not issue a so-called “Look Out Circular,” a letter given to immigration authorities at international borders to detain people wanted by the police, until April 1. “The police were lax,” the Vermas’ lawyer said.

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