New Delhi: New allegations have been levelled against the Hindu sect organisation Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) in an updated lawsuit for allegedly forcing workers to work for “little pay” across its temple sites in the US.
In May this year, a group of Indian workers had filed a legal suit in the US District Court alleging BAPS of violating human trafficking and wage law.
The workers had claimed that they were confined and forced to work for as little as USD 1 on the construction site of Swaminarayan Temple in New Jersey.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that a suit was filed in New Jersey federal court and was amended last month. The suit accused BAPS “of luring labourers from India to work on temples near Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, as well as in Robbinsville, NJ, paying them just USD 450 a month.”
“The amended lawsuit expanded those claims to include temples around the country where some of the men said they were also sent to work. Hundreds of workers were potentially exploited, the lawsuit claimed,” the NYT report said.
In May, the NYT had reported that the complaint mentioned six men among 200 Indian nationals who were brought to the US in 2018 on religious visas, ‘R-1 visas’. The men were made to work for “gruelling hours under often dangerous conditions on the New Jersey site,” the report added.
India Civil Watch International (ICWI) had stated in May that an FBI led raid rescued around 200 workers, “most of them Dalits, Bahujans, and Adivasis,” from the Swaminarayan Temple site in Robbinsville, New Jersey. Swaminarayan is reportedly the largest Hindu temple in the US.
According to NYT, the amended suit accused BAPS of “violating state labour laws and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act, better known as RICO, which was created to go after organised crime.”
The allegations also include “forced labour, trafficking with respect to forced labour, document servitude, conspiracy, and confiscation of immigration documents with the intent to engage in fraud in foreign labour contracting,” and non-payment of minimum wage.
ICWI stated that the workers were being paid USD 1.2 per hour, against the current US federal minimum wage of USD 7.25 per hour. As per NYT, they were promised “standard work hours and ample time off.”
On the contrary, they were “working nearly 13 hours a day lifting large stones, operating cranes and other heavy machinery, building roads and storm sewers, digging ditches and shovelling snow, all for the equivalent of about USD 450 per month. They were paid USD 50 in cash, with the rest deposited in accounts in India.”
BAPS in May denied all the allegations stating that the workers did complicated work like connecting hand-carved stones from India.
“They have to be fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. In that process, we need specialised artisans. We are naturally shaken by this turn of events and are sure that once the full facts come out, we will be able to provide answers and show that these accusations and allegations are without merit,” said Lenin Joshi, BAPS Spokesperson.