After Raiding New Jersey Temple Run by BJP-Linked Group, US Agencies Begin Probe


BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Robbinsville, New Jersey |

Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha is accused of exploiting workers hired from India

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI — Following a raid on a massive temple in the United State’s New Jersey, law enforcement agencies have opened investigations into the allegations against a prominent Hindu group that at least 90 Indian workers, a majority of them Dalit, were forcefully confined to the temple grounds and paid significantly low wages— $1 per hour.

According to a report in The New York Times, lawyers representing the underpaid workers filed a suit earlier this week charging Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) of exploiting the workers for a year.

BAPS is said to have close links to the Bharatiya Janata Party and its parent organisation RSS. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly tweeted in appreciation of the group .

He has also addressed their rallies. His last tweet about BAPs came in September 2020 saying how proud he was of his association with BAPS. “I am very proud of my association with the @BAPS family, known for its impeccable service world-wide. I thank HH Mahant Swami Maharaj Ji. I also pay tributes to HH Pramukh Swami Maharaj Ji,” PM Modi, who considers Maharaj his “mentor”, said in the tweet.

The workers were removed from the temple site after the raid by law enforcement agents from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor on Tuesday, the report said citing sources.

The suit filed in US District Court of Newark by six workers says that the workers were brought from India with the promise that they would be given a job of helping the construction of the temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey with good wages and ample time off. However, they were paid only 10% of the minimum wages required to be paid under the local laws there. They were forced to live in substandard condition — in  trailers away from public gaze.

According to the suit, the men were brought on a religious visa that is granted for missionary and clergy and passed on as volunteers to the authorities. They were instructed to tell the US officials that they are stone carvers or decorative painters, said the complaint.

But once at the site they found themselves working for 13 hours doing hard labour including lifting large stones, operating cranes, making  roads, digging ditches, shoveling snow.

They were paid a paltry sum of $450 a month— $50 in cash and rest in their bank accounts back in India, the complaint said.

The report  by NYT is a result of the investigation by a Dalit lawyer Swati Swant who was contacted by Mukesh Kumar, 37, one of the 200 workers flown to the US by BAPS in 2018. Kumar quit his job at the temple and returned to India after the death of one of the co-workers.

The investigation by Swant found that the workers were given lentils and potatoes for meals and their wages would be cut even for small digressions such as missing to wear a helmet at the work.

NYT report said that BAPS had once in 2017 ran into trouble after a family filed a compensation suit when a 1- year-old boy died following a fall at a construction site.
BAPS had denied the accusations made in the NYT report. “We were first made aware of the accusations this morning, we are taking them very seriously and are thoroughly reviewing the issues raised,” the report quotes them as saying.

Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.


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