Dalit Workers Allege ‘Shocking Violations’ in Building Temple in New Jersey

The workers brought from India were reportedly paid $450 a month, or about $1.20 an hour. New Jersey's minimum wage is $12 an hour.

The under-construction temple. Photo: Reuters

By Peter Szekely

Hundreds of marginalised workers from India were recruited to build a massive Hindu temple in New Jersey where they were forced to work long hours for low pay in violation of US labour and immigration laws, according to lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

The complaint, filed in the US District Court in Newark on behalf of more than 200 Indian construction workers at the temple, alleges “shocking violations of the most basic laws applicable to workers in this country, including laws prohibiting forced labour.”

The suit, filed by five of the workers, accuses their employer, Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, or BAPS, and related entities of recruiting them in India, bringing them to the United States and forcing them to work on the temple for more than 87 hours a week for $450 a month, or about $1.20 an hour.

New Jersey’s minimum wage is $12 an hour and US law requires the pay rate for most hourly workers rise to time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours a week.

The suit says the workers were kept under constant watch and were threatened with pay cuts, arrest and return to India if they spoke to outsiders. On Tuesday, FBI agents visited the sprawling ornate temple in rural Robbinsville, just east of Trenton.

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