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Sunday, January 29, 2012
Prosecutor: Ramapo bride from India suffered sex abuse, beatings, servitude
NEW CITY — An unwilling bride in an arranged marriage was brought to Rockland from India, and then overworked, beaten and sexually abused by her in-laws until she unsuccessfully tried to take her life.
That’s the picture prosecutors painted of the woman, whose name has been withheld by The Journal News because is the alleged victim of a sex crime, when they made opening statements in the non-jury trial of a Ramapo family accused of forcing the 22-year-old woman into a life of servitude and sexual abuse.
“You will learn that (she) had no control of her own life,” Amanda Doty told Judge William Nelson as the four defendants sat with their attorneys. She “will tell you that these four defendants put her through hell on a daily basis.”
But defense attorneys representing the Jagota family of 28 Butternut Drive in Ramapo — Aman, 62, Parveen, 57, Vishal, 34, and Rajani, 31 — said the charges were unsubstantiated allegations made by one person and would not stand the scrutiny of a trial.
David Narain, who represents Vishal Jagota, the husband, said the case was not one of servitude and abuse, but rather the effort of an unhappy woman forced into a marriage by her family, who was trying to get out of the relationship.
“The sole basis of the arrest of my client is the testimony of one witness,” said Narain. “There is no way the prosecution can meet the burden” of proof.
Each of the four Jagotas is charged with three felony counts of second-degree labor trafficking and one misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child. The top charge of labor trafficking carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years upon conviction.
In addition, Aman Jagota is also charged with 51 misdemeanor counts of forcible touching. Vishal Jagota is charged with misdemeanor third-degree assault, and Parveen and Rajani Jagota are charged with felony second-degree assault.
In her opening statements, Doty told the story of the woman, whose uncle, a Rockland resident, met with Aman and Parveen Jagota and arranged a marriage between their son and his niece who lived in India. Though the young couple barely knew each other, Doty said, the Jagotas promised a good life in the United States where she could continue her studies and work outside the home.
Arranged marriages are common in India where open mingling of the sexes is frowned upon, especially in rural areas. They can range from scenarios where parents suggest spouses for their children but leave them to make a decision, to cases where marriages are formally arranged and the bride and groom meet just a couple of times before they get married. In the latter cases, couples have little say in choosing their partner.
According to Doty, this woman fell into the second category. When she arrived in Rockland, her passport was taken from her, her phone calls and movements were monitored, and she had no access to money. She was forced to do all household chores, including cooking, cleaning, laundry and ironing for all members of the extended family that lived together. When Rajani, her sister-in-law, had a baby in early 2008, the accuser, who was pregnant, had to take care of the newborn in addition to her own chores.
The case, the first of its kind in Rockland prosecuted under a new statute of the law, offers a glimpse into a patriarchal culture that dominates parts of India. It is not unusual for a non-working wife in India to do all the household chores with no expectation of help from her husband or in-laws.
But some parts of the allegations cannot be explained by cultural differences. Once, when the woman was unable to finish her chores in time, the prosecution alleged her mother and sister-in-law burned her hand with a hot iron and then refused to take her to a doctor.
Her father-in-law allegedly began to touch her sexually when the family was asleep, kissing her and touching her breasts and legs. When she complained to her husband, he sided with his family and often beat her in front of their daughter. In one instance he allegedly bit her on the cheek.
Pictures purporting to show the burn and bite mark were introduced as evidence Friday. The situation so distressed the woman, the prosecution said, that she tried to kill herself by swallowing pills.
Harassment and abuse of young married women by their in-laws, especially for bringing an inadequate dowry, are social ills that plague India. Since the 1960s, stringent laws have been enacted to protect women, but the problem remains, especially in rural areas.
There was no suggestion Friday that dowry was the reason behind the alleged abuse.
The Jagotas have denied all the allegations. They sat silently through the opening statements Friday as interpreters translated the proceedings to them in their native Punjabi, a language spoken in northwestern India.
Attorneys for the defendants said their clients came legally to the United States, worked hard to buy their own home, and were law-abiding residents who had had no brush with the law in their 13 years in the country. The woman, they said, had come to the United States expecting to see streets paved in gold. When that was not the case, she wanted out.
“She is lying. She has motives to lie,” said Daniel Bertolini who is representing Pareveen Jagota. “This case stands or falls on whether or not you believe what she is saying.”
The woman is expected to testify Monday. Source