BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
Zugibe’s office says they had no precedent to examine in prosecuting domestic servitude case involving an arranged marriage
Arranged marriage is still a custom for many cultures in the world. However, what recourse does a wife have if the family she is married into literally treats her like a slave in a land totally foreign to her?
That was the circumstance the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office was faced with when presented with the case of the Jagota family.
A woman, whose identity is protected, had been brought to the United States before she was 21-years-old several years ago to marry Vishal Jagota, now age 34. According to a criminal case recently decided in the victim’s favor, Vishal Jagota’s mother Parveen Jagota, 57, and his sister, Rajani Jagota, 31, both unlawfully treated the victim as a domestic servant and were convicted on charges pertaining to a labor trafficking law passed in 2007.
Vishal and his father were acquitted of the labor trafficking charges but Vishal was convicted of third-degree assault in the case.
Assistant District Attorney Arthur J. Ferraro told the Rockland County Times that upon being brought to the United States in an arranged marriage, the victim immediately was cut off from all outside contact including her only blood relative in the NY area, had her green card and other papers confiscated, and was forced to work for the family under threat of violence and intimidation.
Ferraro said the reason the DA’s Office was able to prove labor trafficking in the bench trial was the fact that the family confiscated the victim’s papers, used violence and threats to subdue the woman when she acted against their liking, and because they used rules that existed within their native culture to their advantage over her, psychologically and physically cutting her off from any access to the law.
It was a tricky case, however. How do prosecutors show that such a marriage can be an unlawful form of servitude instead of simply abuse? In prosecuting the case, Ferraro said the DA’s Office had no precedent to look to.
“We want women…to know they have access to the law,” Ferraro said. “This DA’s Office is willing to take on such cases,” he told the Rockland County Times.
Ferraro said he believes the DA’s Office has made progress in the past year reaching into immigrant communities that might feel cut off from access to the law.
Sources within the Rockland legal community have questioned whether the Jagota case can stand up on appeal. The fact remains that the woman was voluntarily married into this arrangement, and under U.S. law, had a right to a divorce, even if it was not part of her cultural and religious understandings.
Ferraro said that as of this moment the victim has not yet procured a divorce but he expects her to do so.
The victim was able to get free from the situation when she traveled to India for a family festival and met with blood relatives. She told them how she was abused, including being hit and burned with an iron, and treated as a slave. In fact, the DA’s Office said the Jagota family taught the victim’s own toddler daughter to call her a “slave.”