NEWARK (NEXSTAR) – A lawsuit says workers from marginalized communities in India were lured to New Jersey and forced to work more than 12 hours per day at ultra-low wages to help build a Hindu temple.
An FBI spokesperson confirmed Tuesday that agents were at the temple in rural Robbinsville on “court-authorized law enforcement activity.”
The lawsuit filed in federal court accuses the leaders of Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, a Hindu sect known as BAPS, of human trafficking and wage law violations.
The New York Times reports that BAPS settled a lawsuit in 2017 with the family of a 17-year-old volunteer who died in a 45-foot fall while working on the construction project.
The latest lawsuit claims as many as 200 workers had their passports taken away when they arrived and were forced to live in a fenced-in compound where their movements were monitored by cameras.
The complaint alleges “shocking violations of the most basic laws applicable to workers in this country, including laws prohibiting forced labor.”
Court documents say the plaintiffs – some of whom began work at the compound as long ago as 2012 – are part of India’s Scheduled Caste, the lowest social tier, according to Reuters. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and compensation, as well as the “full value of their work.”
A spokesman for BAPS gave Reuters the following statement Tuesday:
“We were first made aware of the accusations this morning, we are taking them very seriously and are thoroughly reviewing the issues raised.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.