Hindu Sect Known as BAPS is Accused of Using Forced Labor to Build New Jersey Temple

At least three federal agencies — the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor — were involved in the action early Tuesday, which was said to be connected to the claims of labor and immigration law violations, according to three people familiar with the matter. A spokeswoman for the F.B.I. confirmed agents had been on the temple grounds but would not comment further. Spokesmen for the other two departments declined to comment.

About 90 workers were removed from the site, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The lawsuit said the men’s passports had been confiscated, and they were confined to the fenced-in and guarded site, where they were forbidden from talking to visitors and religious volunteers. They subsisted on a bland diet of lentils and potatoes, and their pay was docked for minor violations, such as being seen without a helmet, according to the claim.

“They thought they would have a good job and see America. They didn’t think they would be treated like animals, or like machines that aren’t going to get sick,” said Swati Sawant, an immigration lawyer in New Jersey who is also Dalit and said she first learned of the men’s plight last year.

She said she secretly organized the temple workers and arranged legal teams to pursue both wage and immigration claims.

BAPS describes itself as “a spiritual, volunteer-driven organization dedicated to improving society through individual growth by fostering the Hindu ideals of faith, unity and selfless service.”

Over the years, the organization has grown into a global enterprise made up of both for-profit and nonprofit entities. It builds temples around the world that draw visitors with awe-inspiring white stone spires, intricate carvings, gurgling fountains and wandering peacocks.

The New Jersey temple, or mandir, is itself a multimillion-dollar operation, public records show. It opened in 2014 but is still under construction as BAPS has tried to fulfill its aim of building the largest Hindu temple in the country. Located near Princeton, the temple draws followers from across the region. With nearly 400,000 Indian-born residents, New Jersey has one of the largest Indian immigrant populations in the country.

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