AUTHORITIES in the US last week rescued a 20-year-old Indian student, who was held captive for months without access to a bathroom, was allegedly beaten up and forced to work at three homes by his cousin and two other Indian-origin men.
The student, whose name was not disclosed, spent months trapped in three homes in the US state of Missouri.
Police last Wednesday (29) arrested Venkatesh R Sattaru, Sravan Varma Penumetcha and Nikhil Verma Penmatsa in St Charles County. The three men were charged last Thursday (30) with offences including human trafficking, kidnapping and assault.
Police were dispatched to investigate a house on a rural highway after a local raised the alarm and called 911.
The student is being treated at a hospital for multiple bone fractures, as well as lacerations and injuries covering his entire body, said prosecutor Joe McCulloch.
Over a period of seven months, the men locked the student in a basement and forced him to sleep on an unfinished floor without access to a bathroom, according to the charges.
He scavenged for scraps in nearby restaurant dumpsters and was beaten with electrical wire, PVC pipe, metal rods, wooden boards, sticks and a water supply hose for a washing machine, the St Louis Post-Dispatch, a major regional newspaper, said.
“It’s absolutely inhumane and unconscionable that one human being could treat another human being like this,” said McCulloch at a news conference last Thursday.
The men are accused of confining and abusing the student at three different homes owned by Sattaru, 35, in Defiance, Dardenne Prairie and O’Fallon, starting in April 2023, according to the St Charles County’s official website.
Sattaru, who was identified by investigators as the ringleader, lives in the O’Fallon home with his wife and children. He is additionally charged with human trafficking for the purpose of slavery and contributing to human trafficking through misuse of documentation. Penumetcha and Penmatsa live in the home from where the student was rescued.
Authorities said the student arrived in the US from India last year with hopes of studying at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.
Instead, he was taken to Sattaru’s homes in April and was forced to do chores from around 4:30am, work a full day for Sattaru’s IT company and then complete a list of evening tasks.
The student told police he got only three hours of sleep on a concrete floor in a locked basement where Sattaru monitored him with a surveillance camera, according to court documents.
If the 20-year-old didn’t complete the tasks properly, he was severely beaten. Charges said he was forced to strip naked and was hit all over his body.
He was kicked, stomped upon and lashed, the charges added, and his injuries included previous fractures and breaks that did not heal properly.
No one answered the door at Sattaru’s home last Thursday afternoon. None of the men had attorneys listed in court documents.
“They beat him with their fists, they stomped on him, they beat him with electrical wiring, with PVC pipes,” McCulloch said.
“They forced him to sleep in an unfinished basement, they starved him, and limited his access to the public and to restrooms.”
Because the three suspects are wealthy and have political connections in India, McCulloch said they are being held at the St Charles County Jail without bond.
Neighbours in O’Fallon were shaken by the arrests last week.
Many said they had had pleasant interactions with the family, waving as they passed on the street or playing with children in the culde-sac.
“It’s shocking, for sure,” said Chirag Shah, who lives down the street from Sattaru’s home.
In Defiance, an unincorporated community of fewer than 100 people known for its wineries, gift shops and position along the Katy Trail, neighbours watched as police flocked to the home last Wednesday, the paper reported.
Police were told at first by a man in the home that they could not come inside, but the student eventually came out from the basement. He was trembling uncontrollably, heavily scarred and suffering from bruising and swelling all over his body, the charges said.
The victim told police that Sattaru would often beat him himself, but Penumetcha and Penmatsa sometimes punished him too. Sattaru would call the pair and tell them to beat him, then order them to hit him harder if he was not satisfied with his cousin’s cries of pain, authorities said.
The student said he was afraid to report the trio because they were wealthy and had powerful connections in India. He said he feared for his safety, as well as that of his family in India.
Investigators said the student was almost always in the presence of at least one of the three suspects and had limited contact with his family, only through a mobile phone with one of the suspects nearby.
McCulloch said it was unclear if there might be more victims related to the investigation. He said, “If you see something, say something. We would much rather check it out and find nothing than have an incident like this that’s been going on for nearly a year.