BAPS – Swaminarayan Temple, New Jersey was accused of labour and immigration abuse. Few people like Prof Audrey Truschke, Equality Labs went to the extent of accusing BAPS of caste discrimination against Dalits. BAPS stands for Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, a Hindu denomination within the Swaminarayan Sampradaya.
According to the complaint, after being trafficked to the U.S. under false pretenses, the workers’ passports were confiscated, and they were forced to live and work in a fenced, guarded compound. They were not allowed to leave the grounds unaccompanied, and they were under constant monitoring, threats of being fined for infractions, and arrest.
Plaintiffs allege that the trafficked workers were forced to work 12-13 hours a day with only rare days off, performing arduous and sometimes dangerous work for approximately 31,000 – 35,000 rupees (approximately $425 – $450 USD) per month, or less than $1.20 per hour.
However, the New Jersey Department of Labour has issued a press statement and also tweeted that action was initiated against the labour contractor Cunha’s Construction Inc and its own Nuna Cunha for violation of various labour laws.
The authorities have "issued a company-wide stop-work order to Cunha’s Construction Inc. and owner Nuno Cunha based on repeated and ongoing violations of state wage and hour laws".
In fact, after further investigation, it was found that this American-owned business- Cunha Construction Inc- had more violations from other projects dating back to 2007.
Thus it is clear from the labour department notice that the culprit is the labour contractor firm and not the Swaminarayan Temple management.
A BAPS representative Matthew Frankel of MDF Strategies told MidJersey.news “We were first made aware of the accusations early Tuesday morning, we are taking them very seriously and are thoroughly reviewing the issues raised.” In a statement from BAPS, "the Sanstha (BAPS) has followed the immigration and labor laws appropriately.
The news received wide coverage in international media like New York Times, Forbes etc. Though investigations were under way and it was a developing story, media was quick to run headlines reading “ Hindu Sect accused of using forced labour to construct Hindu temple”. Forbes mentioned in its coverage that the temple management had been practising “pervasive discrimination against members of India’s marginalized social castes — even in the United States.
Hinduphobic professor Audrey Truschke was quick to jump into the fray BJP-RSS and PM Modi into the picture. In a tweet thread she said that the issue is one of caste discrimination on US soil.
“ Front and center is caste discrimination on US soil. This serious issue isn't new. We have known about this for decades. But it is time we did far more to protect Dalits and others who suffer caste-based discrimination. #CasteInTheUS
There's the BJP - Modi angle. The group accused of criminal activity has strong ties to India's Hindu nationalist leadership. The group has also pledged to help build the Ayodhya temple being constructed on the ruins of a mosque. So, compounding issues here.
Equality Labs, another US based organisations trying to establish non-existent caste discrimination by Hindus on US soil said:
“ A grave case of #caste discrimination in a Hindu temple in NJ. The #BAPS sect used religious visas to hire #dalits for $1 an hour for backbreaking labor. Power to the workers and Swati Sawant for creating a path to justice. #casteintheus “
Patricia Kakalec New Jersey Attorney brought against BAPS on behalf of the Dalits labours for Temple building. In her complaint statement she alleged that "Swami Prasanand calls Scheduled caste as Worms". Swati Sawant is also mentioned as one of the attorneys for the labourers. However, some sources say that only 6/200 working in temple premises were Dalit folks. Even the construction company is American-owned, NOT Hindu-owned. But an article in The Wire mentions “ Dalit Workers Allege 'Shocking Violations' in Building Temple in New Jersey “.
Thus it appears that a case of violation of labour and immigration laws by a US based labour contractor firm is sought to be projected by certain vested interest as a case of labour and caste discrimination by a Hindu temple. The action initiated and public notices issued by New Jersey Department of Labour do not mention any role played by the temple authorities in this issue. While everyone hopes that workers get justice for any wrongdoings of the construction company,to blame BAPS & spew hatred against Hinduism for something that Hindus did NOT do is discriminatory and reeks of Hinduphobia