The Federal Bureau of Investigation is sharing news that is sending shockwaves within many Indian communities in the US. The FBI was at a Hindu temple in New Jersey claiming in a lawsuit that the temple was built by workers from disenfranchised communities in India who were enticed to the US and forced to work long hours for just a few dollars per day.
The lawsuit takes aim at the leaders of the Hindu organization known as Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, or BAPS, for human trafficking and exploitation of workers through low wages.
According to the lawsuit, over 200 workers who don't speak English, signed work agreements forcefully in India. According to the lawsuit, they traveled to New Jersey under R-1 visas, which are meant for “those who minister, or work in religious vocations or the occupations,”.
The lawsuit further details that upon arrival the passports of the workers were taken away and they were forced to work at the temple from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. with few days off, for about $450 per month a rate that the suit said came out to around $1.20 per hour. Of that, the workers allegedly only received $50 in cash per month, with the rest deposited into their accounts in India.
According to the lawsuit, the exploited workers were Dalits — members of the lowest caste within India's caste system.
BAPS CEO Kanu Patel, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, told The New York Times, “I respectfully disagree with the wage claim.”
The temple is made of beautifully designed Italian and Indian marble, and is situated on 65 hectares in Robbinsville.
More horrific details have been laid out by the lawsuit that the workers lived in a fenced in area where they were under surveillance by cameras and guards. They were threatened that if they tried to leave, the police would arrest them because they didn’t have their passports.
The lawsuit names Patel and many others described as having supervised the workers. It seeks unpaid wages and compensation and punitive damages.
BAPS is a global sect of Hinduism founded in the early 20th century that wants to “preserve Indian culture and the Hindu ideals of faith, unity, and selfless service,”. The organization has centres around the world that function as a community hub and is also known for its charitable acts.
India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has close ties to the organization.
Photo courtesy of BAPS Swami Narayan Mandir (New Jersey)