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Indian workers allege 'shocking violations' in building Hindu temple in New Jersey

Stock MarketsMay 11, 2021 11:25PM ET
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© Reuters.

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Hundreds of marginalized workers from India were recruited to build a massive Hindu temple in New Jersey where they were forced to work long hours for low pay in violation of U.S. labor and immigration laws, according to lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Newark on behalf of more than 200 Indian construction workers at the temple, alleges "shocking violations of the most basic laws applicable to workers in this country, including laws prohibiting forced labor."

The suit, filed by five of the workers, accuses their employer, Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, or BAPS, and related entities of recruiting them in India, bringing them to the United States and forcing them to work on the temple for more than 87 hours a week for $450 a month, or about $1.20 an hour.

New Jersey's minimum wage is $12 an hour and U.S. law requires the pay rate for most hourly workers rise to time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours a week.

The suit says the workers were kept under constant watch and were threatened with pay cuts, arrest and return to India if they spoke to outsiders. On Tuesday, FBI agents visited the sprawling ornate temple in rural Robbinsville, just east of Trenton.

"We were there on court-authorized law enforcement activity," Doreen Holder, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation field office in Newark, confirmed by telephone.

Holder declined to say how many agents were on the premises or elaborate on their mission.

A spokesman for BAPS, which describes itself as a socio-spiritual Hindu organization, issued a statement saying, "We were first made aware of the accusations this morning, we are taking them very seriously and are thoroughly reviewing the issues raised."

The suit said the BAPS entities own the land where the temple was built and arranged for its construction. The temple has been open for several years, but work on extending it is ongoing.

The plaintiffs, who claim to have worked on the temple as stone cutters and other construction workers as far back as 2012, said that in India, they belonged to the Scheduled Caste, formerly considered "untouchables" and socially ostracized.

Once on their construction jobs, the complaint said "they were forced to live and work in a fenced, guarded compound which they were not allowed to leave unaccompanied by overseers affiliated with (BAPS)."

The suit, which also claims the workers were falsely classified as religious workers and volunteers when they entered the country, seeks "the full value of their services" as well as unspecified damages and other compensation.

Indian workers allege 'shocking violations' in building Hindu temple in New Jersey
 

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Comments (8)
Gene Kret
Gene Kret May 12, 2021 1:00AM ET
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They should get reparations because they were slaves.... unlike those that are trying to seek payments, but were never ever in that situation.
Someting Wong
Someting Wong May 12, 2021 12:56AM ET
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Random picture - unless trader is scrathing head contemplating whether to make a donation
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun May 11, 2021 10:38PM ET
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Those r considered ‘slaves’ in India. Many companies, private citizen from the world import ‘slaves’ illegally here. It is hard to catch them because those ‘slaves’ are kept in secret.
Jay Jay
Jay Jay May 11, 2021 10:25PM ET
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completely blown out of proportion. these are artisans who are here temporarily doing God's work and getting room and board. Take your shock and stuff it.
Vinay Pal
Vinay Pal May 11, 2021 10:25PM ET
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so in the name of God.... you can make a man your slave...... shame on you
Limin Tandiono
Limin Tandiono May 11, 2021 7:43PM ET
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How dare one talks about human right violation in China, while the very same thing happens on its own soil. Repent.
Limin Tandiono
Limin Tandiono May 11, 2021 7:36PM ET
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Then shut up about Xin Jiang.
Limin Tandiono
Limin Tandiono May 11, 2021 7:36PM ET
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Xin Jing doest much better than this.
Investing Man
Investing Man May 11, 2021 6:12PM ET
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Religious zealots and slavery have a long history in all parts of the world. In america, the midwest and south still push for it.
Al Gore
Al Gore May 11, 2021 6:08PM ET
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sned them back
Joel Schwartz
Joel Schwartz May 11, 2021 6:08PM ET
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Get outta here ManBearPig
 
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