June 27th, 2008


The Rich are Just Like You and Me

Every time I hear someone say, "The rich are just like you and me," I get confused. How exactly are rich people like me? I don't belong to a country club. I don't have a summer house on a shore somewhere, or a winter house, or a ski house. I don't get annual bonuses that could buy small island nations. I don't hire illegal immigrants for poverty-level wages so I can save enough money to throw Tiffany a $5 million sweet sixteen party on a cruise ship. I don't vote for warmongers or Soviet-style domestic spying totalitarians because they promise to keep taxes low.

And I do not physically and mentally abuse people simply because I can.

A millionaire who inflicted years of abuse on two Indonesian housekeepers held as virtual slaves in her Long Island mansion was sentenced Thursday to 11 years in prison.

Varsha Sabhnani, 46, was convicted with her husband in December on a 12-count federal indictment that included forced labor, conspiracy, involuntary servitude and harboring aliens.

The trial provided a glimpse into a growing U.S. problem of domestic workers exploited in slave-like conditions.


The women, whose relatives in Indonesia were paid about $100 a month -- the women themselves received no cash -- said they were tortured and beaten for misdeeds that included sleeping late or stealing food from trash bins because they were poorly fed. Both women also said they were forced to sleep on mats in the kitchen.

This is insanity. It's also nothing new, it's just that in the past the victims were known as slaves or indentured servants, not housekeepers. And the fact that the article calls it a "growing problem" is alarming. Are rich people all over the country treating their housekeepers as something less than human?

To be fair, this has less to do with simply being rich than it does with the skewed, demented power dynamic that comes from the dangerous mixture of money, entitlement and ennui. In their minds, Mr. and Mrs. Sabhnani were simply punishing the help for whatever infractions, real or perceived, that occurred. And since the victims were illegal aliens, they figured they could do what they wanted to them, since illegals wouldn't risk going to the authorities for help. They were wrong, and now the twisted motherfuckers are going to jail.

The victims testified that they were beaten with brooms and umbrellas, slashed with knives, and forced to climb stairs and take freezing showers as punishment. One victim was forced to eat dozens of chili peppers and then was forced to eat her own vomit when she couldn't keep the peppers down, prosecutors said.

Jesus, this shit is a Jack Ketchum novel waiting to happen. Slashed with knives? Force-fed chili peppers and then forced to eat your own vomit? What the fuck? How crazy do you have to be to inflict this on someone?

By the way, this is my favorite part. Well, my second favorite part after the 11-year sentencing.

"I just want to say that I love my children very much," the defendant told the court as two of her grown children looked on. "I was brought to this Earth to help people who are in need."

...By making them eat their own vomit!

Ah, but the defense has a fool-proof appeal plan:

The defense, which intends to appeal, contended the two women concocted the story as a way of escaping the house for more lucrative opportunities. They also argued that the housekeepers practiced witchcraft and may have abused themselves as part of a self-mutilation ritual.

That's right, witchcraft! What is this, the 1700s? First slavery, then accusations of witchcraft? Maybe the appeals judge should put on his big powdered wig for this one!

I know it's wrong of me to read stories like this and immediately think, Man, the rich sure are fucked up! I know similar abuse happens in other economic strata (usually to family members instead of housekeepers). But in most of the world, the U.S. included, wealth equals power, and this kind of abuse of power is sickening. There's no excuse, no explanation other than the entitlement of wealth taken to extremes. Or maybe straight-up insanity.