Hindu sect accused of using forced labour to build US temple

Published May 13, 2021
People stand near the entrance to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville Township on May 11. — AP
People stand near the entrance to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville Township on May 11. — AP

NEW YORK: A prominent Hindu sect lured low-caste men from India to the United States and paid them just $1.20 an hour to build America’s largest Hindu temple, a lawsuit alleges.

Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is accused of exploiting around 200 Dalits in the years-long construction project in Robbinsville, New Jersey.

BAPS, which builds Hindu temples around the world and is close to India’s ruling party, committed human trafficking and wage law crimes, says the suit filed on Tuesday.

The men were brought to the United States on R-1 visas meant for religious volunteers, according to the class action lawsuit. But once in the country the men say they performed intensive construction and masonry work on the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir which opened in 2014.

The six plaintiffs, who are now back home in Rajasthan, say they were forced to work more than 87 hours a week with only a few days off a year.

They received $450 a month, roughly $1.20 an hour, the claim says.

“This case is brought seeking redress for shocking violations of the most basic laws applicable to workers in this country, including laws prohibiting forced labor,” the suit says.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2021

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