Hindu sect known as BAPS accused of using forced labor to build temple in New Jersey

At least three federal agencies – the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor – were involved in the action Tuesday morning, which is believed to be linked to allegations of labor and immigration law violations, according to three people close to the issue. An FBI spokeswoman confirmed agents were on the temple grounds but would not comment. Spokesmen for the other two departments declined to comment.

About 90 workers were evicted from the site, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The lawsuit said the men’s passports were confiscated and were confined to the fenced and guarded site, where they were prohibited from speaking to visitors and religious volunteers. They survived on a bland diet of lentils and potatoes, and their pay was suspended for minor infractions, such as being seen without a helmet, according to the complaint.

“They thought they would have a good job and see America. They didn’t think they would be treated like animals or machines that wouldn’t get sick, ”said Swati Sawant, a New Jersey immigration lawyer who is also Dalit, and said she had first learned of the fate of men last year. .

She said she secretly organized temple workers and set up legal teams to process salary and immigration claims.

BAPS describes itself as “a spiritual, volunteer-run organization dedicated to the betterment of society through individual growth by fostering the Hindu ideals of faith, unity and selfless service”.

Over the years, the organization has grown into a global business made up of both for-profit and not-for-profit entities. He builds temples around the world that entice visitors with impressive white stone spiers, intricate carvings, gurgling fountains, and wandering peacocks.

The New Jersey temple, or mandir, is in itself a multi-million dollar transaction, according to public records. It opened in 2014 but is still under construction as BAPS attempted to fulfill its goal of building the largest Hindu temple in the country. Located near Princeton, the temple attracts followers from across the region. With nearly 400,000 residents born in India, New Jersey has one of the largest Indian immigrant populations in the country.

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