New Jersey Hindu temple accused of exploiting Indian workers

The class action lawsuit alleges that their caste position was used as a means to keep them subjugated.

A huge Hindu temple in New Jersey brought some 200 Indian workers to the United States on R-1 visas as religious volunteers, but forced them to work for illegally low wages, according to a class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed in New Jersey federal court in May alleges that they were actually held against their will, forced to work 13-hour shifts for weeks without leave and paid just over $ 1 an hour, NPR reported.

“Their caste position has been used by the employer and employer-affiliated entities, as a way to keep them submissive or coerced and to feel like they have no options,” Patricia Kakalec, the one of the lawyers representing the six plaintiffs named in the civil case was cited.

Kakalec is suing for wage theft and violating human trafficking laws, while federal investigators determine whether criminal charges are warranted.

After the civil complaint was filed, the FBI raided the grounds of the fortified temple of Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha or BAPS in the town of Robbinsville.

Read: FBI raids BAPS temple in Robbinsville, NJ following lawsuit by construction workers (May 11, 2021)

Officials from the BAPS sect, which runs the temple, denied the allegations in a statement, NPR said. Spokesman Matthew Frankel wrote that “BAPS takes every accusation seriously and examines it thoroughly. He wrote that he would not make additional comments “out of respect for the legal process.”

NPR quoted Professor Raymond Williams, who has studied Swaminarayan Hinduism for decades, as saying that it emerged in the 19th century as a reform movement.

Today, BAPS is among the largest and wealthiest sects in Hinduism, due to the emphasis on education, among other things, he says.

“Their education systems are very well organized and administered around the world, including secular education,” Williams said.

“This focus has positioned many BAPS followers to be top candidates for high preference. [visa] categories for the United States.

In interviews near the Robbinsville Temple, several Indian immigrants said the allegations were troubling but reserved judgment, according to NPR.

Rohul Dingra, who occasionally venerates at the BAPS temple, told NPR that caste conflicts exist in rural India, not in urban areas of the country – let alone in the United States.

However, Dalit rights activist Yashica Dutt said: “A lot of people think [prejudice] is only linked to caste when a Dalit is killed or visibly ostracized, but other forms of discrimination are pervasive.

“If you hear the experiences of Dalit students on campuses in the United States, they say they were controlled, by their castes, before they were allowed to participate in study groups,” said Dutt, author. from the book “Coming Out as Dalit”. as told.

Read: Native American gay couple marry at BAPS Mandir in New Jersey (July 25, 2019)

NPR quoted some Native American Indians of Dalit descent as saying that discrimination is much more prevalent in the United States than many of their fellow Hindus think, existing for both manual workers and white collar workers in the economy of the United States. ‘information.

According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 0.7% of the American population is Hindu.

NPR cited authors Sanjoy Chakravorty, Devesh Kapur and Nirvikar Singh who stated in their book “The Other One Percent: Indians in America” that the vast majority of Indian migrants to the United States are from the middle and upper castes.

The Dalits are relatively few in number in the United States, but they are making their voices heard more and more. In a survey of 1,500 Dalits conducted by an advocacy group called Equality Labs, two-thirds of those polled said they had experienced discrimination at work and one-third said they had experienced discrimination in education, according to NPR .

Meanwhile, advocates are closely watching a lawsuit brought by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing against tech company Cisco, NPR said.

The lawsuit alleges that managers associated with upper castes harassed and discriminated against an engineer who is a Dalit.

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