A lawsuit filed against a New Jersey company claimed that over 200 Indian workers were forced to work at $1.20 per hour for 12 hours a day to build a Hindu temple.
Case details: The workers, who came from marginalized communities in India, were allegedly lured by Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) to work in New Jersey, reported Independent.
- Six of the workers filed the case on Tuesday on behalf of all the victims in the U.S. District Court in Newark, accusing BAPS and related entities, of “shocking violations” of basic U.S. laws protecting workers. The civil lawsuit also alleged violations of anti-human trafficking laws, according to Forbes.
- According to the lawsuit, their employer forced them to work for over 87 hours per week for $450 a month.
- The current minimum wage in New Jersey is $12 an hour, and U.S. law requires overtime pay for those working over 40 hours a week.
- The workers, many of whom don’t speak or understand English, were allegedly brought to the U.S. and falsely classified as religious workers and volunteers. Their passports and visas were taken away from them when they arrived.
- They are now seeking “full value of their services,” in accordance with New Jersey’s minimum wage, along with unspecified damages and other compensation.
Working conditions: The plaintiff further alleged that “they were forced to live and work in a fenced, guarded compound in which they were not allowed to leave unaccompanied by overseers affiliated with (BAPS).”
- Patricia Kakaleck, the lawyer representing the workers, told CBS Philly that her clients worked long hours without days off between 2018 and 2020, performing hard manual labor. The workers claimed they have been on the site since 2012.
- The workers, part of the lowest caste in India’s hierarchy, alleged that their employers kept them under constant watch and threatened them with pay cuts, arrests and deportation if they spoke to outsiders.
- BAPS entities reportedly own the land in Robbinsville where the temple was built and arranged for its construction, which has been open for several years.
- FBI agents visited the temple the same day the case was filed in a “court-authorized law enforcement activity,” according to FBI spokeswoman Doreen Holder.
In a statement, a BAPS spokesperson responded to the case, saying they “were first made aware of the accusations this morning, we are taking them very seriously and are thoroughly reviewing the issues raised.”
Featured Image via CBS Philly