(ELK CITY, Okla.) — Diptiben Mistry was a 20-year-old college student in India when she married Himansu Udwadia, then 24, who was working as an accountant in the United States.
Mistry says it was an arranged marriage, common even in Indian-American families, and that she was promised a good life and the opportunity to finish her education in hotel management in India.
But after a brief honeymoon, all those dreams vanished, according to a lawsuit Mistry filed on Jan. 10 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma against her in-laws, Chandrakant and Nilam Udwadia.
Mistry’s father-in-law allegedly told her she needed to return immediately to the United States with the family, and the couple eventually settled in the same house as her husband’s parents in Elk City, Okla., in 2007.
There, she alleged that the Udwadias controlled her life — rationing food, depriving her of medical care and forcing her into unpaid labor as a household servant.
In the federal lawsuit Mistry claimed that her in-laws kept her a “virtual prisoner” in their home and that the Udwadias took away all her personal belongings, including her passport, so that she could not leave.
Mistry, now 24, told ABC News in an email that she knew “early on” that her treatment by the Udwadias was “not right.”
She alleged that her in-laws took away her cellphone and monitored all calls to her family back home in India.
Mistry said she became malnourished, losing 26 pounds during the alleged ordeal. The Udwadias even dictated how often she could use the toilet, monitored her every move with a webcam and on several occasions abused her physically, according to the complaint.
“By engaging in modern-day slavery, the defendants committed abhorrent acts condemned in all civilized countries,” reads the lawsuit.
Mistry has asked the court for more than $75,000 to compensate her for “forced labor” and for “intense physical and psychological pain and suffering,” and most of all, depriving her of her “basic human dignity” during the year she lived in Oklahoma and later in Georgia.
U.S. Justice Department statistics reveal human trafficking is growing nearly as fast as drug trafficking, with 2,525 cases under investigation, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press. More than half the victims are women and children.
“This case is significant because it raises serious allegations of forced labor and human trafficking in a context, within a family, where those claims are rarely brought forward,” said Allison Lefrak, litigation director for Human Rights USA, which advocates for women who have been victims of violence or gender-based persecution. The group is handling Mistry’s legal case.
Mistry first sought help from Catholic Charities and local human trafficking groups in 2008, and they contacted the Oklahoma City FBI, which investigated her criminal claims but did not prosecute.
Today Mistry resides in another part of the United States and said she still struggles with depression and anxiety, and at times feels suicidal.
Chandrakant and Nilam Udwadia were served legal papers Jan. 17. They have 30 days to retain a lawyer and answer the complaint.
ABC News repeatedly called the Udwadia family, who now live in Suanee, Ga., to ask about the allegations.
On the first try, Chandrakant Udwadia said, after some hesitation, “You’d be better off calling my lawyer,” and hung up the telephone. He did provide the name of a lawyer and did not respond to four more calls. Only an answering machine picked up.
Himansu Udwadia appears to live with his parents, according to public records.
The family still owns the house in Elk City, which is currently up for sale, according to neighbors.
The lawsuit alleges that barely a month into the marriage Mistry’s husband left the family’s Oklahoma home and moved to Georgia to work, leaving her alone with her in-laws.
The lawsuit alleges that the Udwadias were able to control Mistry by threatening her with divorce, which in her culture would carry “deep shame” and rejection.
Mistry’s lawyers have alleged violations of a federal human trafficking law that was enacted in 2000 and has a victim’s remedy provision, as well as an Oklahoma law that passed in 2005.
They say the lawsuit meets many of the legal criteria of human trafficking: involuntary servitude, misleading statements to induce a victim to enter a situation, threats of deportation, long work hours and restricted access to food and medical care.
Mistry alleged that she realized during her visa interview in Mumbai that her in-laws had begun the immigration paperwork long before their son had even met her, evidence that the Udwadias “were looking for any ‘bride’ that could fulfill a domestic servant role in their household,” according to court documents.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Marisa Russell, CNN
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