The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, on behalf of more than 200 Indian construction workers, alleges “shocking violations of the most basic laws applicable to workers in that country, including the laws which prohibit forced labor “.
Hundreds of marginalized workers from India were recruited to build a huge Hindu temple in New Jersey, where they were forced to work long hours for low wages in violation of U.S. labor and immigration laws, according to a demand.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. district court in Newark on behalf of more than 200 Indian temple construction workers alleges “shocking violations of the most basic laws applicable to workers in that country, including laws prohibiting the forced labor “.
The lawsuit, filed by five of the workers, accuses their employer, Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, or BAPS, and related entities of recruiting them to India, bringing them to the United States and forcing them to work in the temple. for over 87 years. hours a week for $ 450 a month, or about $ 1.20 an hour.
New Jersey’s minimum wage is $ 12 per hour, and U.S. law stipulates that the rate of pay for most workers per hour increases to the time and a half when they work more than 40 hours a week.
The lawsuit says workers were constantly monitored and threatened with pay cuts, arrested and returned to India if they talked to outsiders. On Tuesday, FBI agents visited the extensive ornate temple in rural Robbinsville, east of Trenton.
“We were there in court-authorized police activities,” confirmed over the phone Doreen Holder, a spokeswoman for the Newark Federal Bureau of Investigation office.
Holder declined to say how many agents were on the premises or worked out their mission.
A spokesman for BAPS, which describes itself as a Hindu socio-spiritual organization, and its entities at its offices in Piscataway, New Jersey, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The lawsuit indicated that the BAPS entities own the land where the temple was built and arranged for its construction. The temple has been open for several years, but work to expand it continues.
The plaintiffs, who claim to have worked at the temple as stone cutters and other construction workers since 2012, said in India they belonged to the scheduled caste, previously considered “untouchable” and socially ostracized.
Once they worked on the construction, the complaint said that “they were forced to live and work in a closed and protected enclosure that they could not leave unaccompanied by the affiliated supervisors (BAPS).”
The lawsuit, which also claims that workers were falsely classified as religious and volunteer workers when they entered the country, seeks “the full value of their services,” as well as unspecified damages and other compensation.