Strange illness for carved stone artisans in India after slave labour was caught in America’s BAPS temple

Ahmedabad, 20 May 2021
On Tuesday, May 11, 2021, at the grand Swaminarayan temple under construction in Robbinsville, New Jersey, three divisions of the United States – FBI; Homeland Security and Labor Department officials conducted mass raids. When Indian laborers were found to live like slaves, they were released. Bochaswanshi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan (BAPS) organization is a religious institution of Gujarat. Who specializes in building temples of charity.

The stone on which the BAPS-BAPS temple has been carved and molded in Shihori, Rajasthan. The stones of the temple of Swaminarayan have also been prepared here. Where silicosis occurs from stone particles.

The BAPS – Swaminarayan temple should take responsibility for silicosis in Sirohi, Rajasthan, where stones are mined for the BAPS temple.

Jagdish Patel, who works for labor health in Gujarat, said in a statement that such carved stones are being exported where the temple is being constructed.

The level of silica dust in the workings was not monitored by the BAPS temple or maintained according to American standards.

The BAPS workshop is in Sirohi district of Rajasthan where sandstone is extracted and arches, designs and sculptures are made as per the drawings given by local artisans. They are exposed to dangerous levels of silica dust, which are not monitored.

In Rajasthan, carved stones are exported to the places where this temple is being built. Hundreds of stone workers died of silicosis and died prematurely. Most of these workers in India do not get health or social security and are not compensated by the employer.

Most activists do not know English.

The workers of Rajasthan manufacture for temples in the United States and as an importing country. He should be concerned about the safety and working conditions of the workers.

During the raid, the police found 90 laborers working in the temple, which is still under construction. Whose workplace conditions were inhumane. He was released from the workplace.

Role of Vakil Swati Sawant
Due to the police raid, a Dalit woman named Swati Sawant, who is an immigration lawyer, has filed a complaint in the New Jersey District Court. The brief description of the complaint is as follows.

200 laborers
About 200 laborers were taken to America by the Bochaswani Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan BAPS organization, which has constructed the temple at a cost of crores. Most of the laborers are Dalits.

He had documents signed in English.

Laborers sent as sculptors
In order to obtain R1 visas for religious activities, these workers were taught to tell US Embassy officials that they were skilled sculptors and painters. This type of visa is issued on a temporary basis for religious activity. They were shown as volunteers.

He was told that he would get a chance to go to America and earn good money there.

Passport Capture
After reaching America, the passports of these artisans were snatched away. They were placed in large trailers so that they could not be seen. There were barbed hair around his residence. He was not allowed to talk to other visitors. Their food was lentils and potatoes. He was constantly being monitored. They even threatened to send him to jail after talking to someone.

Economic exploitation
In the United States, the state minimum wage law required workers to miss 12 dollars at Rs. 881 per hour. But 1 dollar of one hour was given Rs. 73. Shoshan was happening.

Artisans were employed for many hours like slaves. He did not even have a helmet for protection. In addition, under the US (New Jersey) Minimum Wage Act, workers are entitled to one and a half wages if they work more than 40 hours a week. These laborers were made to work 87 hours a week.

The workers were paid US 450 per month. Some money is said to have been deposited in his bank account in India. What the facts are is a matter of further investigation.

Not a sculptor
In fact, these laborers are not sculptors, but they were given the difficult task of arranging the heavy stones carved into the wall. He was identified as a sculptor only to get a visa.

Last year, a laborer died while working in the temple and the workers were dissatisfied if the organization did not treat them properly. The Dalit women lawyer was approached. The details were collected privately. The lawsuit was filed in court. The case could not proceed as the organization had reached a settlement with the family of the deceased. The details of how much the agreement was made have not been made public.

Mazur Mukesh Kumar showed courage
Mukesh Kumar, a 37-year-old laborer, managed to return to India and his tireless efforts to return to India made the complaint possible.

According to lawyer Daniel Werner, who worked on wage violations, this is probably the largest case of forced labor in American history since 1995. The first ‘Trafficking Victims Protection Act’ was enacted in 1995 after the inhumane behavior of Thai workers in Almont, California.

Built at a cost of crores of rupees, this temple is the largest temple in America. In the United States, Atlanta, Auckland,The organization built magnificent temples on behalf of the organization in places such as Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles.

Temple chief executive Kanu Patel said he did not agree with the allegations of pay violations after police raids and later the New York Times. Further, they clarify that they are not directly involved in the day-to-day construction activity.

Defendant Lenin Joshi, on behalf of the BAPS temple, stated that there was in fact no violation of visa rules on his behalf as these laborers were working to arrange the carved stones in India with the utmost precision. Hence they are skilled artisans. If they are skilled artisans, why are they given only 10 percent of the money they need to live in a lorry, eat lentils and potatoes. It does not matter. Remember that this minimum wage is for laborers, not skilled artisans.

The supporters of the BAPS temple are a large number of Indian residents. New Jersey alone has a population of 4 million Indians.

This institution has built magnificent temples all over the world. It is a matter of investigation that whose exploitation and perspiration led to the construction of all these temples. According to press reports, the organization has donated 2.5 crore rupees for the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya. The Prime Minister of India has laid the foundation stone for such a grand temple to be built abroad.

The phenomenon of discrimination and exploitation against Dalits is not new. Perhaps this type of slavery is a new phenomenon on American soil. The construction of monasteries in India also causes sweat of the exploited. We are not unaware of the fact that once a temple is built, they are not allowed to enter it.

This news has appeared only in English newspapers in India. You will learn more when published in the local language. (transletes from Gujarati)