Wife Sues In-Laws, Says Arranged Marriage Turned to Slavery


Lawsuit Alleges Bride Worked Dawn to Dusk for In-Laws

According to the lawsuit, Mistry was forced to rise at 5 a.m. to prepare tea and breakfast for her in-laws, then spent the day cleaning the pictures of the Hindi gods, picking flowers for prayer, doing laundry and feeding the dog, working until 11 p.m. every day, even when she was sick.

Mistry alleged both verbal and physical abuse by her father-in-law, claiming he told his son to throw a plate at her head and "let it bleed" if her "cooking was bad." Once, the lawsuit alleges, he threw a glass jar at her head.

Another time, he allegedly injured her hand by pushing Mistry against the dishwasher.

Mistry also said she believed the family had installed video surveillance in both her bedroom and bathroom. She was not allowed to drive, make friends or do anything on her own, she alleged.

She also claimed that her father-in-law refused her treatment for a painful toothache and an infected spider bite. He allegedly attempted to "heal" a rash by rubbing his hands on her stomach twice a day and inappropriately took photos of "private parts" of her body to make a medical diagnosis, according to court documents.

In one instance she alleges her father-in-law entered her bedroom and began touching her. When she screamed, Mistry alleges he told her to go outside where she stood in the cold for 15 to 20 minutes, and he threatened to send her back to India.

Her parents never knew the extent of the alleged abuse, according to Mistry.

"I was able to talk to my parents periodically, but I had to put them on the speaker phone while my in-laws listened," said Mistry. "They told me how I needed to respond to questions from my family."

After seven months, Mistry was sent to Georgia to join her husband, but the control continued, according to the complaint.

Mistry alleged she continued to be monitored at a distance by webcam, and that her husband reported back to his parents. She also alleged she was forced to work at Dairy Queen and had to turn over all her wages to the Udwadias.

In March 2008, she was sent back to India under the false pretense that she could return to school, according to the lawsuit. The divorce was published in Douglasville, Ga., on Aug. 1.

Mistry's parents were "supportive" of their daughter when they learned the truth, according to her lawyers, but she decided to return to the U.S. to confront her husband when he did not return her calls.

She had an uncle living in Clearwater, Fla., and there, Mistry sought help with her visa from Catholic Charities. Social workers there encouraged her to contact human trafficking advocates.

"It was really difficult for her," said Giselle Rodriguez of the Florida Coalition on Human Trafficking, whose group provided Mistry with a place to stay, food and clothing, counseling and schooling.

"When I first met her, she was very lost," said Rodriguez, who served as Mistry's case worker. "They had made her cut her hair off, and she was down to 90 pounds and looked extremely sad."

The Udwadias had filed for divorce from Mistry as a "missing person," according to Rodriguez. "They said they didn't know where she was, and it was hard convincing her the divorce was real."

The lawsuit alleges her father-in-law initiated the divorce.

Before Mistry went back to India, Chandrakant told his son to divorce her or he would sever his relationship with Himansu, alleges the lawsuit. "Himansu resisted his father repeatedly and stated he did not want to divorce his wife," according to court documents.

"She never really saw herself as a victim," said Rodriguez. "She was very confused and wondered what it was she did wrong."

Rodriguez said she contacted the FBI in Oklahoma and involved Det. James McBride of the Clearwater police, who also serves on the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Task Force for Human Trafficking.

"She did initially contact us in November 2008," said Clearwater police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts. "I don't have any idea what happened with the investigation because it was out of our jurisdiction."

According to Rodriguez, the FBI attempted to file criminal charges, but the U.S. and state attorneys "passed up on the case" because "they didn't know if it would stand in court because of the Hindi customs [in marriage]."

But the FBI granted Mistry a "continued presence" as a refugee in the U.S., she said.

ABCNews.com called Oklahoma City FBI spokesman Clay Simmonds, who said he would try to find more detail in Mistry's case.

"It was disheartening to see," said Rodriguez. "She was feeling hurt and it was tough to work through. She had married a handsome man with an education and a career, but his parents treated her like a piece of crap. ... But she didn't want to give up on her marriage."

To this day, Mistry said she still finds it difficult to trust others. "I am now trying to rebuild my life, but I'm still very much upset by what happened to me," she wrote.

"I thought when I returned to the U.S. that I would be able to talk with Himansu," she wrote to ABCNews.com. "I hoped that he would be able to cut off ties with his parents. I hoped that we could start over and live a life separate from his parents."

Other family members assured her that would be possible, she said. "Ultimately, I now realize that Himansu was not willing to sever ties with his parents."

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