Workers who built US temple file allege labour lured from India forced to work for Rs 88 per hour for years

FBI brokers had been at a big Hindu temple in New Jersey on Tuesday as a brand new lawsuit claimed it was built by employees from marginalized communities in India who had been lured to the US and forced to work lengthy hours for only a few {dollars} per day.

The lawsuit accuses the leaders of the Hindu group generally known as Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, or BAPS, of human trafficking and wage regulation violations.

An FBI spokesperson confirmed that brokers had been on the temple on “court-authorised law enforcement activity,” however wouldn’t elaborate. One of the attorneys who filed the swimsuit stated some employees had been eliminated from the location Tuesday.

The lawsuit says greater than 200 employees — many or all of whom don’t communicate English — had been coerced into signing employment agreements in India. They traveled to New Jersey beneath R-1 visas, that are meant for “those who minister, or work in religious vocations or occupations,” in accordance to the lawsuit.

When they arrived, the lawsuit says, their passports had been taken away they usually had been forced to work on the temple from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. with few days off, for about $450 per month a charge that the swimsuit stated got here out to round $1.20 per hour. Of that, the employees allegedly solely acquired $50 in money per month, with the remainder deposited into their accounts in India.

According to the lawsuit, the exploited employees had been Dalits — members of the bottom step of South Asia’s caste hierarchy.

An legal professional representing a number of of the employees, Daniel Werner, known as it “shocking that this happens in our backyard.”

“It is even more disturbing that it has gone on for years in New Jersey behind the temple’s walls,” Werner, of Decatur, Georgia, stated Tuesday exterior the gates of the complicated. He stated some employees had been on the location for a yr, two years and even longer, and weren’t allowed to go away until accompanied by any individual from BAPS.”

BAPS CEO Kanu Patel, who is called as a defendant within the lawsuit, instructed The New York Times, “I respectfully disagree with the wage claim.”

A spokesperson for the group, Matthew Frankel, instructed The Associated Press that BAPS was first made conscious of the accusations early Tuesday morning.

“We are taking them very seriously and thoroughly reviewing the issues raised,” he stated.

The ornate temple, generally known as a mandir, is fabricated from Italian and Indian marble, and sits on 162 acres (65 hectares) in Robbinsville, exterior Trenton.

The lawsuit stated employees lived in a fenced-in compound the place their actions had been monitored by cameras and guards. They had been instructed that in the event that they left, police would arrest them as a result of they didn’t have their passports, the swimsuit stated.

The lawsuit names Patel and several other people described as having supervised the employees. It seeks unpaid wages and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

D.B. Sagar, president of the Washington-based International Commission for Dalit Rights, instructed The Associated Press that Dalits are a straightforward goal for exploitation as a result of they’re the poorest individuals in India.

“They need something to survive, to protect their family,” Sagar — a Dalit himself — stated, including that if the allegations within the lawsuit are true, they quantity to “modern-day slavery.”

BAPS is a world sect of Hinduism based within the early twentieth century and goals to “preserve Indian culture and the Hindu ideals of faith, unity, and selfless service,” in accordance to its web site. The group says it has built greater than 1,100 mandirs — typically massive complexes that basically operate as neighborhood facilities.

BAPS is understood for neighborhood service and philanthropy, taking an lively function within the diaspora’s initiative to assist India amid the present COVID-19 surge. But it is also linked to contentious points in India, publicly supporting and funding the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, built on the location of a mosque demolished by Hindu nationalists.

India’s right-wing prime minister, Narendra Modi, has shut ties to the group and considered one of its transformative leaders, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who died in 2016.

The ongoing development on the mandir in Robbinsville started in 2010, and the location has caught the eye of state and federal authorities in latest years.

Last month, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development issued a stop-work order in opposition to a Newark-based development firm whose tasks included the BAPS temple in Robbinsville.

An investigation discovered the corporate, Cunha Construction, was paying employees in money off the books and didn’t have employees’ compensation insurance coverage, in accordance to a launch. A telephone listed for the corporate rang unanswered Tuesday. It’s not named within the lawsuit.

In 2017, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated after a Pennsylvania teenager was killed in a fall whereas volunteering on the web site.

According to the web site for the Robbinsville mandir, its development “is the epitome of volunteerism.”

“Volunteers of all ages have devoted their time and resources from the beginning: assisting in the construction work, cleaning up around the site, preparing food for all the artisans on a daily basis and helping with other tasks,” the web site says. “A total of 4.7 million man hours were required by craftsman and volunteers to complete the Mandir.”

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