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 in federal court.
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.
Agents for BAPS confiscated the men’s passports as soon as they arrived at JFK Airport in New York, according to the lawsuit.
The agents then kept the passports during the entirety of the workers’ time in New Jersey to prevent them from leaving, the suit adds.
The workers were forced to live in a fenced-in compound that was monitored by security guards and cameras.
They were not allowed to leave the temple grounds unless accompanied by BAPS representatives and were instructed not to talk to temple visitors, they say.
The men worked at the temple between 2018 and late last year. They claim unspecified damages.
A spokesperson for BAPS was not immediately reachable.