EDITOR’S NOTE: The article you are reading is an updated and clarified version of an article first published on The Nation’s website on November 9, 2015. It has been changed to reflect information from documents provided by a representative for Anil Kumar, who did not respond to efforts to reach him before the original article was published.
In the process of adding this new information, we decided to cut a section outlining the various legal remedies that might have been open to Manju Das. This was done for a purely practical reason: The version you see here mirrors the print version of the article, and we simply could not fit a 6,000-word piece into the space allotted in the magazine.
Manju Das stood over a pot in her nephew’s food stall, which spilled onto the pavement of a busy, dust-choked thoroughfare in interior West Bengal. She poured in some oil followed by a handful of dried chilies and mustard seeds. Two small onions went in next. “You know the cost of onion?” she asked, averting her face from the pungent fumes. “Eighty rupees a kilogram. When onion costs what meat should cost, how can we survive?”
It was the winter of 2013, and the rate of inflation for food prices in India had reached a record 14.72 percent, pushing poor families another rung down the ladder of insecurity. Only a year earlier, Das and her son had owned their own food stall, which they’d built using the money she saved during the 10 years she’d spent working as a housekeeper for a wealthy family in the United States. But “we had to shut down our shop,” Das said. “We couldn’t make ends meet.” Their stall sat shuttered farther down the road.
Das’s life had been like this for the last few years: an accelerating plunge into greater and greater destitution. When I first met her in 2011, she was still fresh from her decade in the United States. She was eking out a living with her son and daughter-in-law serving lunch and dinner to visitors who passed by their food stall on the way to a nearby hospital. But things had gone horribly wrong. The birth of a grandchild had unexpectedly depleted the family’s resources. Das’s daughter-in-law couldn’t produce her own milk, and the newborn had to be bottle-fed. The cost of Nestle’s formula had eaten into the money set aside to run the food shack, and the single helper they had was let go. Then the baby got dysentery, likely from the water used to mix the formula, and almost died. She was kept on an IV drip in the hospital for a week, Das said, the family’s savings draining away with each drop of medicine.
In their broadest contours, none of these struggles make Das’s story remarkable: She is one of the 250 million people in India surviving on less than $1.90 a day, the international benchmark that defines extreme poverty. But Das might have enjoyed a different fate: Not so long ago, she was a millionaire—and not the “slumdog” kind that’s the stuff of fiction. Starting in 2004, and for several years after, she held subscriptions in the Galleon Group’s Captain’s Fund and Buccaneer’s offshore fund in the Bermudas. As much as $1.75 million found its way into these accounts, perhaps more. Quite possibly, Manju Das was once the richest housemaid in the world.
* * *
In March 2011, courtroom 17b of the Federal District Court in Manhattan was crammed with Wall Street heavies, FBI agents, curious onlookers, and the press. They had come to see the largest insider-trading trial in American history. The case had been brought by Preet Bharara, New York’s ambitious young US Attorney, and it had all the ingredients of a riveting drama: power, greed, soaring success, stunning reversals, even revelations from wiretaps—a first in an insider-trading investigation. If the proceedings lacked any clearly identifiable victims—homeowners facing foreclosure, small-time investors robbed of their savings—they made up for it with an abundance of brash villains.
The case centered around the misdeeds of Raj Rajaratnam, founder and head of the Galleon Group, which in 2009 was one of the largest hedge funds in the world. At the height of his success, Rajaratnam ranked No. 236 on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. Now he stood accused of making $63.8 million in illegal profits from insider trading based on information gleaned from a variety of well-placed, high-level sources within investment banks, consulting companies, and technology firms.
One of those sources was Anil Kumar, a friend of Rajaratnam’s from their university days and a senior partner at the prestigious consulting firm McKinsey & Company. For roughly half a dozen years, Kumar had provided Rajaratnam with inside information on McKinsey’s clients, for which he had received significant sums of money. Kumar had pleaded guilty and was now on the other side, testifying against Rajaratnam as the government’s key cooperating witness. His testimony, according to the prosecution, would prove “absolutely essential” to the US Attorney’s case.
For two sensational months, I tracked the twists and turns of the trial, initially drawn to it by an unlikely connection with its key players. In the early 1980s, I’d been a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, at the same time that Rajaratnam and Kumar were students at the university’s prestigious business school, Wharton. Both Rajaratnam and I had resided at the International House of Philadelphia during his first year, and we’d forged a friendship near the lobby vending machines. We remained friends for nearly two decades, though we’d fallen out of touch by the time of his spiraling success and sudden downfall.
I was in India when Rajaratnam’s arrest made headlines, his perp walk in handcuffs played on an endless TV loop. Stunned and fascinated, I scoured the Internet for every bit of information about my old friend. Later, after I’d returned to New York and the trial had begun, I became a courtroom regular, listening as the chamber filled with recordings of a familiar voice in a new context: brazenly soliciting and discussing corporate secrets.
“[I]s everything going OK with the, uh… processor company?” Rajaratnam asked Kumar in one of the many wiretapped recordings. This was in 2008, and they were discussing the Intel Corporation’s chief rival, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).
“Uh… no,” Kumar replied, explaining that AMD would likely see an “11 to 15 percent reduction in revenues.” While the investment was going to move forward, he warned that “they’re gonna declare a completely shitty…quarter.”
“Right,” Rajaratnam said after a brief back-and-forth. “So, I think if the market goes up, what we have in that, uh… fund, I will sell it.”
“If the market goes up,” Kumar concurred, “you sell it, because we can fine-tune the transactions a lot…better than anyone else can, right?”
When the two men were arrested in October 2009, they faced similarly unpleasant fates: a trial followed by a possible prison sentence. But their lots diverged after Kumar agreed to cooperate and then pleaded guilty, leading to his star turn on the witness stand. For four days, Kumar provided a guided tour of his role in Rajaratnam’s insider-trading operation. He explained how he had given Rajaratnam insider information on a series of companies, including AMD, ATI, Spansion, eBay, and Business Objects. He described how he’d been lured into the scheme in the first place: how he had first tried to recruit Galleon as a McKinsey client, but Rajaratnam had not been interested, and how Rajaratnam had proposed instead that Kumar “talk” to him “four to six times” a year, for which he’d be paid a half-million dollars.
At first he’d resisted, he claimed, but “Mr. Rajaratnam kept asking for that information, and I felt that I owed him something given how much money he was paying me.” So in betraying the trust of his McKinsey clients, Kumar suggested, he was behaving honorably.
During Kumar’s testimony, however, a detail emerged that raised questions about that sense of honor, a detail so unexpected that it ended up shifting the entire meaning of the trial for me. Kumar was describing the biggest score of the Rajaratnam scam—one in which he’d played a decisive role. The year was 2006, and AMD was looking to buy ATI Technologies, a graphics processor. Kumar had tipped off Rajaratnam as the negotiations proceeded, and the Galleon Group built up a strong position in ATI, then sold off its holdings when the sale was publicly announced. Galleon reaped nearly $23 million from the deal.
In recognition of Kumar’s role, Rajaratnam called his friend a “hero” and promised him $1 million, court documents show. Rajaratnam said that he would put the money in Kumar’s account and asked for the account name. Not long after, Kumar sent him an e-mail that contained just two words: Manju Das.
* * *
The word “housekeeper,” someone who “keeps” homes is a euphemism. In India we call a spade a spade, or rather a maid, a maid. That too with titular ownership attached, as in “my maid,” “my cook,” “my aya.” India, along with many of its neighbors in Asia and the Middle East, offers little dignity of labor for its many domestic workers. Despite recent efforts by activists, the overwhelming majority are not unionized and do not enjoy basic wage and hour protections. Healthcare, holidays, and benefits depend entirely on the whims of employers.
Such was the world in which Das found herself around 1990, when she left behind a disastrous marriage and moved from her village to the city of Calcutta in search of work. Pregnant and alone, she joined the thousands of part-time female domestics moving from house to house sweeping, mopping, and washing dishes, earning less than $1.50 a month. When her son was 4 years old, she left him at an orphanage and increased her wages by working full time. Eventually, she moved with a family to Mumbai and then to New Delhi, earning $43 a month in the nation’s capital.
Then, in 1998, a family contact introduced Das to Anil Kumar and his wife. The family was looking for a “good woman,” Das said, to accompany them abroad, cook and clean for them, and take care of their son, who had a vision disability. “They tried me for six months in Delhi and were very happy with my work. Then they got me a visa and took me with them to California.”
The move was a potentially life-changing event for Das, since domestic workers in her position are sometimes sponsored for a green card by their employers. Moreover, the B1 domestic-employee visa guaranteed her labor protections that she didn’t have in India, such as the right to “the prevailing or minimum wage, whichever is greater,” along with free room and board.
When Das arrived in California, she found herself looking after a capacious home in Saratoga, one of the state’s most expensive suburbs. “I worked all the time,” she recalled: from as early as 7 am, when she started preparing breakfast, until she finally went to bed, anywhere from 9 to 11 pm. With a few hours to herself in the middle of this routine, her workdays could stretch from 10 to 13 hours.
“I cleaned the house, I cooked Indian food, I washed their clothes,” she said. The family had two cars, and she washed those, too. When Sunday finally rolled around, she was not required to work but spent the day around the house all the same. “I had no one to spend time with,” she said. “My son was in India.”
Six years into Das’s stay, the Kumars’ son went away to college. When asked if her workload decreased after he left, she said: “Yes, there was less laundry to do. And I didn’t have to prepare snacks when he came [home] from school.” A few years later, in June 1998, Kumar was transferred to New York City, and the house was empty for long stretches each month, although Das said she was still responsible for cleaning and taking care it.
In exchange for all this labor, the Kumars provided her with free room and board, and, when she first arrived, they bumped her salary from 2,000 to 8,000 rupees a month—bringing her salary to roughly $2,200 a year—Das told me. The salary, as described by Das, was far below minimum wage, but this didn’t bother Das at first, since she did not realize that she was being underpaid. She learned about minimum wages only later, she said, from an acquaintance—but when she asked Kumar for a raise, “he told me the minimum wage didn’t apply to me, since I lived with them and ate their food and they took me to India once a year.” Instead, the family increased her salary by 25,000 rupees (roughly $500) every year, Das claimed.
By the end of her 10-year stint in the United States, Das told me, she was earning four lakhs (400,000 rupees) a year, an amount that comes out to roughly $8,500. She longed to be reunited with her son, but she also wanted to earn enough money before returning to secure his financial future by building him a home and a business. Then, in early November 2009, something peculiar happened: Her employer was arrested. A few weeks later, Das was abruptly sent back to India, never to return again.
* * *
For a few days in March 2011, the name of Manju Das, a lowly housemaid from India, mingled with those of such high-powered executives as Lloyd Blankfein and Robert Moffatt. It echoed through Courtroom 17B thanks to an intriguing revelation: The money that Kumar was receiving from Rajaratnam had been funneled through, in the prosecution’s words, a series of “complicated round-trip wire transfers” before ending up in a Galleon account. The name on that account was “Manju Das.”
This elaborate scheme most likely started taking shape in 2003 or 2004, court documents show, around the time that Rajaratnam began issuing quarterly payments of approximately $125,000 to Kumar—a sum that expanded or contracted, Kumar testified, based on the value of the information he supplied. Both the prosecution and Kumar argued that the idea for the complex money relay had come from Rajaratnam, and that Kumar had set it in motion only at his friend’s insistence; the defense argued that the scheme had originated with Kumar. The result, in either case, was that the illegal money Rajaratnam paid to Kumar was well hidden, both from McKinsey and from the US government, and Kumar did not pay any state or federal taxes on it while the scheme was up and running. (He has since filed corrected tax returns, according to the prosecution.)
With the Das account in place, the money flowed for several years in a predictable circuit that began with it being wired from Galleon to a Swiss bank account attached to Pecos Trading, a shell company in Geneva, after which it was routed back through another series of transfers to a Galleon account in Das’s name. Then, in 2008, Kumar transferred the holdings in the Das account to an entity called Ambit in the Marshall Islands. At the time, the US Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating Galleon for possible insider trading, and the move may have been intended to add another layer of protection to the scheme: In his testimony, Kumar said that it was Rajaratnam who asked him to “shift from Manju Das to another entity.”
This switch presented a challenge for Kumar, and the way he maneuvered around it reveals much about the way he used Das’s identity. In order to transfer the funds, the Morgan Stanley Fund Services (MSFS) in Dublin, Galleon’s financial agent, required a notarized passport and two proofs of address, such as utility bills or bank statements, for a period of 10 years. The problem was that these proofs of address needed to show Das living in India, but she was in California with the Kumars.
So, as his testimony indicated, Kumar set about manufacturing the necessary paperwork. In August 2008, he wrote to his assistant in New Delhi, requesting him to locate a notary who would “easily and conveniently sign letters/copies/affidavit[s], et cetera.” An affidavit was then typed up in which Das “solemnly affirm[ed]” that she resided at the address of Kumar’s in-laws, in the upscale Delhi neighborhood Vasant Vihar, and had been residing there for 10 years. (Under cross-examination, Kumar acknowledged that the affidavit was false, but suggested that the blame really belonged with Das, saying: “Yes. She falsely stated that was her address…. She knew she was returning [to India] next [year], so she thought it was fine.”)
For a second proof of address, Kumar obtained a letter from his in-laws’ family doctor attesting to Das’s supposed residence at that address and stating that she had been under his medical care for the last 10 years. (When pressed by the defense to confirm that he had manufactured the letter, Kumar once again parsed the explanation: While the address was false, Das had been under the doctor’s care, he said.) Kumar also provided MSFS with a W-8 form—an Internal Revenue Service form for nonresident aliens—that showed her living in India, not California, court documents show.
Despite these efforts, the documents failed to meet the requirements of Ireland’s anti-money-laundering regulations. So Kumar turned for proof of Das’s Indian “residence” to an HSBC bank account in Bangalore that he had opened in Das’s name and assigned a New Delhi address. He then requested a letter from HSBC confirming the existence of the account. But an inconvenient detail emerged in the letter: Though he needed an account that had existed for at least 10 years, the letter stated that Das’s account had been opened on October 20, 2008. Kumar fired off an e-mail to the bank: “Please…resend a new letter with the words ‘from 20 October’ deleted. Need this asap, please.”
This time, the documentation worked. The transfer to Ambit took place, and all might have continued on smoothly but for one nettlesome event: One year later, in October 2009, Rajaratnam and Kumar were both arrested—Rajaratnam for leading a sprawling insider-trading ring and Kumar for supplying information. Within weeks, he had bundled the woman whose name had been worth so much to him—and who might have served as a valuable witness in any legal case against him—off to India.
* * *
In the summer of 2011, I went looking for Manju Das. Poring over a photocopy of a visa application that had been entered into the trial as an exhibit, I made a list of possible villages in the vicinity of the post office and district that were listed on the form.
My interest in Das’s story had long roots. Roughly 20 years earlier, I had directed the film When Mother Comes Home for Christmas, which followed the life of a migrant worker from Sri Lanka who works in Southern Europe taking care of the children of others while her own son and daughter grow up in orphanages. In the years since, I had maintained a powerful interest in the link between globalization and domestic work. Now I was curious to find out how a poor woman from India, who had traveled across the globe to take care of another family, had ended up with investor subscriptions in a leading hedge fund. Had she known? Had she been part of the scam all along?
I began my search at the post office. But after an unsuccessful inquiry, my translator and I decided to stop at village marketplaces along the highway and ask at shops whether a Manju Das who had spent many years abroad lived in the vicinity. We cast about without much luck until, some two hours into our search, there was a breakthrough: A woman said there was a Manju Das in the adjoining village, who had returned from America a couple of years ago. We could find her easily, she said, as her son operated his own hotel.
We drove through the village marketplace and arrived at a bilious green structure, four floors high, towering above everything else. I assumed that this was the hotel I’d been directed to. Not bad, I thought to myself. Das was doing OK compared to everyone else around her.
The building, however, turned out to be a marriage hall, not a hotel. The caretaker said that Das’s son’s hotel was the one next door. There was no other building that I recalled seeing, but when he pointed it out, I realized with shock that the “hotel” was actually a roadside dhaba, or stall, with an open fireplace and a handful of tables. The stall occupied the ground floor of an unfinished structure. Above it, concrete beams stood naked, without walls or plaster, supporting an unfinished roof.
When I asked for Manju Das, the plump young man who stood cooking at the fireplace said his mother was not home, but that we were welcome to sit and wait for her. One long, slow hour later, Das arrived, accompanied by her pregnant daughter-in-law. She looked to be in her mid-50s and had a proud, straight-backed manner that made her appear taller than she was. As I rose to introduce myself, Das asked if I was a relative of Kumar’s wife. “You look like her,” she added when I shook my head.
She wanted to know why I was there, so I explained that I was a filmmaker with a keen interest in the stories of domestic workers who had been abroad. Das was nonplussed. “But how did you hear of me?” she asked. “Has Anil Kumar sent you?” I assured her that he hadn’t. I mentioned the Rajaratnam trial, but it was immediately apparent that she had no idea what I was talking about.
Disconcerted by the crowd that had gathered around the unusual spectacle of a car stopping by her son’s dhaba, Das got up and led me through a doorway at the back of the stall, into an adjoining bedroom. We sat down on her bed. “Now tell me—what trial?” she asked. She refused to believe that her name had appeared in a New York courtroom or in the national press. “Show me my name,” she said, “and I’ll believe you.”
I opened up my laptop and randomly pulled up a PDF of an article with the headline Raj Made Me Use My Sick Child’s Housekeeper to Hide the Money He Made Me Take. Das squinted at the screen, instantly riveted by the photograph of her ex-employer. A moment later she said, “I can’t read. I’m not pari-likhi [literate] like you. What have they written about him?”
I weighed how much to tell Das and began carefully, explaining that her employer had made money in ways he shouldn’t have. “He gave information about companies he worked for to his friend Rajaratnam, and his friend made money from that information in ways that are illegal.”
Das looked lost. “What does it have to do with me?” she wanted to know. I explained that Kumar hadn’t wanted the government or his company to know about the payments. “He didn’t want to pay taxes on it,” I said, “so he put it in your name.”
Das slowly stiffened then flatly denied it. It isn’t true, she said. “Every single rupee I have, I worked for. You can check my account. And what I have is gone, finished. I put my last rupee into building this. You see this?” She pointed toward the unfinished upstairs. “When he sent me back, he said, ‘Go home and build your house, Manju. I will send you two years’ salary as severance.’ So I came back and started building…. But he never sent me the money.”
* * *
Over the next few years, I visited Das several times, during which the details of her life slid into focus. She told of the pleasant parts of her time in America—of the house on the hill where the family lived, in a place she describes as the most beautiful in the world. And she told of the bruising experiences as well, such as the time she tripped while running to warm up a muffin for Kumar’s son and ended up severely injuring her hip. The fall left her in terrible discomfort, she said, surviving on nothing but painkillers until the Kumars sent her all the way to Calcutta for surgery. The reason, she said, was that she had no health insurance. Besides, who would have nursed her in California?
Still, Das never complained to me about her treatment. The family was good to her, she said: They let her eat as much as she wanted. Her only lament was the severance money that Kumar had promised her and never sent, she said—a sum that would have amounted to 800,000 rupees, or roughly $17,000 in 2009 dollars. “I called him again and again,” Das said. “They never picked up the phone. Each time it went to their machine, and it cost me 50 rupees.”
Then, one day, she did reach him. “I asked him about the money he promised me,” Das said. “He said, ‘I have given you all your money; there is no more money to give you.’ I told him I would complain to the embassy. After that, a man came to see me. He saw the unfinished upstairs, took some photos and offered me two lakhs [approximately $4,400 in 2010]. I told him I am not a beggar. He should pay me what he promised, or I want nothing at all.”
Das has insisted on this claim in multiple conversations, most recently in a phone call just days before this article went to press. She has also been consistent in her claim that her salary was four lakhs a year at its height, with additional money from the cash gifts she received from the Kumars’ relatives and friends when they came to visit.
Kumar did not respond to requests for comment, but a representative for him did provide a series of documents purporting to show that Das had received fair compensation during her years in California, as well as gifts after, and was not owed any more money, despite her claims.
The first of these documents was a pair of bank statements from an HSBC account in Bangalore in Das’s name. The statements, offered as proof of her salary for 2009, showed that a total of 14,000,00 rupees, or $29,000, had been deposited that year. (Nothing was provided for the previous years.) The problem is that the HSBC account is disputed: It appears to be the same account, discussed during the trial, that Kumar used to provide a false proof of address for Das so that he could finesse the Ambit transfer. As Kumar testified when questioned about this HSBC account, he opened it “in part” because MSFS would not accept the other documents he offered—affidavit, doctor’s letter, W-8 form—as proof of Das’s address. He further acknowledged under oath that he’d asked HSBC to alter the letter confirming the account’s opening. The matter of whether the account had also played a legitimate role—as a place to deposit Das’s wages—was never discussed. Das has consistently said that she never knew of the existence of this account, located nearly 2,000 kilometers from her home, and never operated. “Why would I have an account in Bangalore? I have never been to Bangalore,” she said.
There’s another wrinkle to the claim that Das received fair or ample compensation, and that is the contents of her own Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) passbook, which she shared with me. Between 2003 and 2009, a total of 33,93,218 rupees, or $75,241, entered the IOB account, reflecting a combination of salary, tips, and money for her hip surgery (for which the Kumars paid), Das said. The deposits are confusing, coming in fits and starts, with the account showing remittances of only $2,111 in 2007, for instance, and then a large deposit of $36,633 arriving in 2009. (Das explained the lump deposit as back pay that accumulated during years when she gave her money to Kumar’s wife to safeguard.) But what does seem clear, after reviewing the numbers, is that it would have been difficult for Das to have reached the minimum wage under the best of circumstances—if she worked 40 hours a week—and impossible if she worked more, as she claimed.
As to the matter of additional payments, the documents provided by Kumar’s representative do indicate that half a dozen deposits were made into Das’s IOB account in the months after her departure, totalling around $4,000. These deposits may be back pay, gifts, or some combination—it’s not entirely clear from the available information.
But there is another document, sent by Kumar’s representative, that’s arguably more revealing—a scanned copy of a letter dated November 30, 2009. This document, labeled “final settlement acknowledgment,” is a piece of lined notepaper with a message written in what appears to be ballpoint pen, with no indication that a lawyer, notary, or other witness had been present. Written in English, in cursive, the letter states: “I Manju Das confirm that I have received all my salaries/dues/baggage wages in the full and final settlement for the duration of my employment with Mr/Ms Anil Kumar. Signed Manju Das.” The signature, unlike the text of the note, is printed in the blocky capital letters of someone unaccustomed to writing.
Did Das know what she was signing? Did the person who penned the note translate its contents into Hindi so she could understand? It’s certainly possible, although Das has said several times that she signed many documents at her employers’ request without knowing exactly what she was putting her name to. “They made me sign so many forms,” Das told me shortly before this article went to press. “I cannot read or write. I never knew what I was signing. When they told me to sign, I signed.”
As I examined the note, my mind flipped back through all the documents I had seen with Das’s name printed across the signature line: the Galleon subscription agreement that opened the gates to Rajaratnam’s scheme; the document authorizing Kumar to operate the Galleon account on Das’s behalf; the W-8 tax form; and more. All of these official forms had allowed her employer to make so much illicit money off her name. And now here, on this piece of paper, in what looked so clearly like her true hand, was Das’s signature again, this time used to sign away her claim to future compensation, including the paltry severance with which she had hoped to finish the construction of her son’s “hotel” and give him a good life.
* * *
On July 19, 2012, Anil Kumar walked out of the federal district courthouse in Manhattan a free man. One photograph shows him dressed in a dark suit and tie, his face lifted, his eyes crinkled, laughing. In exchange for his cooperation with prosecutors, he got away without a prison term: just two years of probation and a fine of $25,000. He also forfeited $2.26 million, the amount calculated as his illicit gains.
Before Kumar’s sentencing, his lawyers submitted a memorandum to Judge Denny Chin, pleading for leniency and pointing to his “exemplary life” apart from his involvement with Rajaratnam. Kumar has been making amends, they said, by performing “life-transforming charitable work for countless people in need.” Chin ruled that Kumar’s crime was “aberrational” conduct in an otherwise spotless career.
Today, Kumar is free to travel and conduct business internationally. His LinkedIn profile describes him as a “Thinker. Teacher. Doer.” It also boasts of his past experience as a senior partner at McKinsey, where he founded the company’s consulting practices in Internet businesses, “intrapreneurship,” and outsourcing.
Raj Rajaratnam, Kumar’s old friend, didn’t fare as well. He was convicted on all 14 counts of securities fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to 11 years in prison—at the time, the longest prison term for insider trading. The sentencing judge, Richard Holwell, didn’t order him to pay restitution, however, because “there are no individual identifiable victims under the statute.”
And what about Manju Das? Today, she continues to struggle in her village in West Bengal. She has no money in her bank account, she told me, other than the $20 required to keep it open, and she can no longer work at her nephew’s food stall, because the hip injury she sustained while working for the Kumars prevents her from sitting or standing for long periods. Instead, she relies on the two meals a day that her nephew brings her, while her son provides for the family by driving a secondhand electric three-wheeler as a taxi.
I’ve offered several times to get Das a pro bono lawyer in New York, to help her figure out what’s rightfully hers. But she’s declined each time, insisting that she has no interest in lawyers or lawsuits. “My father taught me an important lesson,” she said. “If someone wants to give you something, take it—it will bring you joy. But if someone does not want to give you something, don’t run after it—it will only bring trouble.”
And so, six years after her return, Das has little to show for her decade in America, not even the smallest mementos. In the homes of the Sri Lankan migrant workers I have visited, I have often seen the souvenirs of “foreign” life: refrigerators, microwaves, pictures of carefully preserved memories from time spent abroad. But not here, I remarked to Das.
Das looked around the room, then walked across to the mantel and picked up a jar of Nivea cream. “This is from America,” she replied.
“But you get Nivea here,” I responded.
“I know,” she said. “But this jar is from America. There was no time to get anything, you see. They sent me away so quickly. I had thought, ‘One day they will buy me a camera, and I will take pictures.’ If I had known I would be sent away, I would have bought the camera myself. I could then show you the big, beautiful house where I worked for so many years.” After a pause, she added: “Will you bring me a picture, the next time you come?”
“A picture of what?” I asked her, confused, thinking she wanted a picture of the house in Saratoga. “A picture of… America,” she said, looking suddenly wistful.