BREAKING NEWS: BAPS Temple Caste Discrimination Case Takes New Turn as the Caste Industrial Complex Crumbles Once Again!

Hot off the Press: While we are still celebrating the VETO of the Caste Bill SB403 in California, the story of 12 of the 21 plaintiffs in the BAPS case develops further to dismantle the Caste Industrial Complex in the United States... Read on..

Oct 12, 2023 - 00:43
BREAKING NEWS: BAPS Temple Caste Discrimination Case Takes New Turn  as the Caste Industrial Complex Crumbles Once Again!

The grand opening of the BAPS or Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in Robbinsville, N.J., reputedly the largest Hindu temple in the Western Hemisphere, took place recently coinciding with the onset of the Hindu Heritage Month in the USA.

Inaugural Celebration

This monumental and breathtaking temple, which required 12 years and the efforts of 12,500 volunteers to build, was inaugurated by His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, BAPS's spiritual leader. The event was graced by volunteers, well-wishers, and several dignitaries, including Governor John Carney of Delaware, Congressman Andy Kim of New Jersey, Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and Randhir Jaiswal, the Consul General of India in New York. 

During a week-long festivity, leaders from various nations such as Cambodia, Eritrea, Grenada, Guyana, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Malawi, Morocco, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Timor Leste, Mongolia, South Africa, and Maldives convened. In addition to these leaders, delegations from Poland, Costa Rica, Brazil, Lebanon, Bhutan, and the United Nations Office of Counterterrorism also participated in the visit. The celebration concluded with a spectacular fireworks display above the temple, broadcast to a global audience.

“The grand opening of Akshardham marks an exciting day for Robbinsville and our surrounding community,” Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried said. "Nearly 15 years of community partnership, selfless service, volunteerism, and the hard work of thousands of people worldwide have finally brought us here. The journey to this most grand of grand openings has been long and sometimes detailed. But to have the unique opportunity to meet with His Holiness, Mahant Swami Maharaj, not once, but twice, over the past six years has been an experience I'll carry with me for the rest of my life.

Pall and Gloom

Exactly two and a half years ago, in the early morning of May 11, 2021, the scene at the same location was drastically different. The BAPS Swaminarayan Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey, was the target of a raid conducted by FBI agents.

The operation also saw the participation of two other Federal agencies, namely the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor. Simultaneously with the FBI’s raid on the temple, a sensational lawsuit was lodged in a New Jersey federal court.

The suit accused the BAPS Robbinsville leadership of enticing workers from India and making them work close to 90 hours weekly, compensating them at approximately $1.20 per hour. 

At that time, the Robbinsville Township released the following statement: "Based upon media reports, the township was made aware of federal law enforcement activity this morning on the BAPS property in Robbinsville. The township's jurisdiction over the property is limited to land use and Uniform Construction Code (UCC) matters.

At no time in approving BAPS's land use applications or conducting UCC inspections on the property did Robbinsville Township officials witness or become aware of any labor issues that may have been present. The township was aware of temporary housing on the site and conducted inspections in April and June of 2020 until in-person inspections were suspended due to COVID-19. As to not interfere with this ongoing federal investigation, the township will have no further comment."

The press, academia, and social justice activists essentially pre-judged BAPS as guilty. Federal law enforcement agencies stormed in, seemingly prepared to discover abused, malnourished workers shackled to their beds, with ambulances on standby during the raid. The narrative formed by the initial reports predominantly portrayed Hindus as upper-caste oppressors. Activists, including some who identify as progressive Hindu groups, were quick to denounce the situation, taking the initial account presented by the plaintiffs and ambulance chaser lawyers at face value.

To this day, the BAPS lawsuit is falsely portrayed by malicious activists and unscrupulous lawmakers as proof of "rampant" caste discrimination in the United States to justify the addition of caste as a protected category of discrimination in American Universities, Corporations, and State and Local governments.

The Ambedkar King Study Circle (AKSC), USA, claimed that many of the workers at the BAPS temple were from the Dalit community, which AKSC defined as  "one of the most oppressed groups in the Hindu caste hierarchy." AKSC further stated, "Dalit workers are often the most vulnerable to exploitation given that they are also often some of the poorest workers in India. Equally importantly, their caste identity means that they have the least amount of social and political capital and often have no recourse against exploitation at the workplace."

In July 2023, cracks started to appear in the BAPS lawsuit, as reported earlier by Caste Files. In a dramatic development, more than a dozen workers who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit against BAPS retracted their participation.

Aaditya SB Soni, a High Court Advocate from Rajasthan State in India, issued a press statement representing these workers under the auspices of Bharatiya Majdoor Sangh and Patthar Gadhai Sangh. The press release alleged that the workers were coerced into becoming part of an intricate conspiracy to obstruct the construction of the magnificent Hindu Temple.

The press release further stated that the workers were pressured into participating in a lawsuit lodged in an American court against the Hindu temple. Advocate Soni was informed by some of these workers that they were misled into filing the complaint by an American lawyer, Swati Sawant, and they now wish to retract their involvement.

Allegedly, these workers were enticed by the prospect of U.S. citizenship and intimidated with threats of police intervention and imprisonment if they did not comply with Swati Sawant. The press release cites the existence of notarized affidavits, video-recorded interviews, and statements made in front of advocates as evidence to support their assertions.

Paul Fishman, who previously served as the U.S. Attorney of New Jersey and is currently representing BAPS, had previously stated that BAPS intends to "fully cooperate with the federal investigation and highlight the numerous factual and cultural inaccuracies present in the civil complaint."

In a legal document submitted to the Court, Fishman also noted that for the past twenty years, immigration officials have granted work visas to workers involved in constructing BAPS temples. He added that "federal, state, and local government agencies have consistently conducted visits and inspections of all those construction projects."

Even after the 12 Plaintiffs had clearly expressed their intent to withdraw from the lawsuit, the lawyers who had filed the lawsuit against BAPS dragged their feet, claiming that there was a "contradiction" and that the plaintiffs' signatures needed to be verified. For this, the lawyers turned activists wanted to conduct a “fact-finding discovery” mission to ensure that the 12 plaintiffs were "not under duress or facing retaliation" and so that they could prove to the world that they were "faithful advocates for our clients."

On July 24, 2023, Paul Fishman wrote a letter to Judge Castner (who is overseeing the BAPS lawsuit) expressing his displeasure with the activist-attorneys who had filed the lawsuit against BAPS: “It has now been more than a month since Mr. Soni’s initial communication that his clients have terminated their attorney-client relationship with Counsel of Record and that they want to withdraw from this case. Accordingly, the Court should direct Counsel of Record to execute promptly the 12 Plaintiffs’ clear instructions to dismiss them as Plaintiffs pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a).”

Subsequently, after being gently nudged by the letter, on September 21, 2023, the law firms that had filed the initial lawsuit against BAPS withdrew as counsel for the 12 plaintiffs. The Court ordered that "This matter having been brought before the Court by Andrew Glenn of Jaffe Glenn Law Group, attorneys for the Plaintiffs in the above-referenced case, on a motion by Jaffe Glenn Law Group, P.A., Kakalec Law PLLC, and Radford & Keebaugh, LLC ("Moving Counsel") to withdraw as counsel for Plaintiffs Brajendra, Prem Singh, Chhail Wiharee, Shyam Sunder, Lauxmi Narain, Umesh Chand, Keshav Kumar, Harendra, Ramkishan, Bablu, Vijendra Singh, and Pappu (the "Twelve Plaintiffs")."

As per the latest legal document filed on October 10, 2023, at the U.S. District Court in New Jersey, the 12 plaintiffs have now officially voluntarily dismissed their claims, stating they no longer desire to pursue this action. The legal document also confirms that none of these 12 plaintiffs had a settlement or received any monetary benefit or other compensation in exchange for their voluntary dismissal.

With the majority of Plaintiffs withdrawing from the lawsuit, what will happen next to this already shaky lawsuit remains to be seen. However, one thing becomes amply clear – the inauguration of the BAPS Temple on October 8, 2023, followed by the court document filed on October 10, 2023, confirming the voluntary dismissal by the 12 plaintiffs, affirms that this BAPS temple is “a symbol of unity, spirituality, and cultural appreciation, reflecting the shared values that bind people from diverse backgrounds,” with carvings of historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln along the temple walls bearing witness.






Abhijit Bagal and Richa Gautam Abhijit Bagal is a legal analyst at Caste Files. He is a Healthcare Analytics technologist at a managed care organization specializing in publicly funded behavioral healthcare. He holds a master's degree in software engineering and an MBA with a specialization in comparative international health. Additionally, Abhijit is a part-time law student with a focus on civil rights, due process, and equal protection of the law. Richa Gautam is Founder of Caste Files and Co-Founder and Executive Director at Cares Global. She has been active in the field of advocacy and human rights for over a decade. She is currently engaged in the field of diversity, inclusiveness, and minority rights as well as decolonial practices with Cares Global and she is a Senior Research Associate at Indus University and a Fellow of the Center of Indic Studies at Ahmedabad.