Cracks Appear in BAPS Lawsuit as Workers Allege They Were Misled, Coerced Into Making False Claims
FBI raid on BAPS temple in New Jersey leads to a lawsuit alleging labor violations, later withdrawn by some workers, sparking debate on implicating the entire Hindu American community based on false caste discrimination claims.
By Abhijit Bagal
May 11, 2021 – Lawsuit against BAPS
FBI agents raided the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville, New Jersey. In addition, two other Federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor were also involved in the raids.
Although the raids were related to claims of labor and immigration law violations in the United States, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were dragged into the incident; as if Mr. Modi and the BJP personally oversaw the construction of the BAPS temple in New Jersey while running the Indian Government from New Delhi. Furthermore, gory details of the Babri Mosque destruction and how Mr. Modi and his party is shifting India from its “secular” foundations toward a Hindu identity were also explained to the readers.
Immediately thereafter, on the same day, a lawsuit was filed claiming that BAPS had coerced workers into signing employment agreements and forced them to work more than twelve hours per day.
October 23, 2021 – Amended Lawsuit
An amended lawsuit was filed with additional workers from temples in additional U.S. States - Chino Hills, California, outside Los Angeles; Bartlett, Illinois, outside Chicago; Stafford, Texas, outside Houston; and Lilburn, Georgia, outside Atlanta. In the aftermath of the lawsuits, the Ambedkar King Study Circle (AKSC) had published a FAQ in which they claimed that many of the workers belonged to the Dalit community. AKSC also referenced the Pathar Gadhai Mazdoor Suraksha Sangh (PGMSS) and described it as a “labor union that fights for the rights of Dalit & Adivasi (indigenous) stone carvers in the global temple-building industry.”
July 13, 2023 – Cracks in the Case
In a sensational turn of events, over a dozen workers who were part of the lawsuit against BAPS, withdrew their names from the lawsuit. High Court Advocate Aaditya SB Soni of the Rajasthan State in India issued a press release on behalf of these workers under the banner of Bharatiya Majdoor Sangh and Patthar Gadhai Sangh. The press release states that the workers were threatened to be part of a deep-rooted conspiracy to stall the construction of the grand Hindu Temple.
The press release goes on to say that the workers were coerced into joining a lawsuit filed in an American court against the Hindu temple. Some of the workers have also informed advocate Soni that an American lawyer named Swati Sawant misled them into making the complaint and that they now want to withdraw from it. In a classis “Carrot and Stick” approach, these workers were allegedly lured by promises of U.S. citizenship and warned about police action and incarceration if they did not cooperate with Swati Sawant. To substantiate their claims, the press release mentioned the existence of notarized affidavits, videotaped interviews, and statements made in the presence of advocates.
While this withdrawal by certain workers from the lawsuit does not constitute a complete dismissal of the entire lawsuit against BAPS, several factors may be at play here. It is possible that the plaintiffs do not have enough evidence to substantiate their claims in court. As the situaton develops, it remains to be seen how the court proceedings will unfold and whether further investigations will be conducted to determine the veracity of the withdrawal claims made by the workers. Paul Fishman, the former U.S. Attorney of New Jersey who is representing BAPS, had said in an earlier statement that BAPS will “fully cooperate with the federal investigation and draw attention to the many factual and cultural inaccuracies in the civil complaint.”
Fishman had also written in a court filing that immigration officials have been authorizing work visas for workers to help build BAPS temples for twenty years and “that federal, state, and local government agencies have regularly visited and inspected all of those construction projects.”
Caste trope is being used to demonize a micro minority Hindu American community
Individuals and Organizations involved in any forms of discrimination (including caste discrimination), human trafficking, exploitation, or violating labor laws must be held accountable and punished to the maximum possible extent if found guilty. But that should not implicate the entire Hindu American community (which is a minority in the U.S.) just like crimes committed by other American minorities are not attributed/corelated to crimes committed outside the U.S. and entire American minority communities are not branded as criminals or inherent caste discriminators by birth. Nor is it fair to say that wherever Hindus go, they take their caste discrimination along with them.
Hindus migrate to other countries to build better futures for themselves and their children, not to engage in “rampant caste discrimination” as falsely claimed by the unscientific, flawed, and biased caste survey from the infamous Equality Labs. As the two latest scientific, neutral, and objective caste surveys from Pew and Carnegie have pointed out, most Indians (in India) and nearly all Indian Americans (in the United States) have not personally faced caste discrimination. In addition, the Carnegie survey also points out that caste discrimination is not a major factor in the United States and that skin color is the main cause of discrimination.
Any forms of discrimination in the U.S., including caste discrimination can be adjudicated using existing categories of ancestry and national origin. There is absolutely no need to demonize Hindu Americans who have contributed greatly to the success of American democracy on account of their grit, determination, hard work, family values and mutual respect for all as taught by the Hindu principles of spiritual equality for all.
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