US Hindu org accused of violating human trafficking law, exploiting Indian labourers

News Network
November 11, 2021

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New York, Nov 11: A prominent Hindu organisation is facing new allegations in an updated lawsuit that it lured labourers from India and forced hundreds of workers to work for low wages at its temple sites across the United States.

In May this year, a group of Indian workers had filed a lawsuit in US District Court alleging violations of human trafficking and wage law against Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), saying they were confined and forced to work for about USD 1 on constructing the massive Swaminarayan temple in New Jersey.

The New York Times said in a report on Wednesday that in the lawsuit filed in New Jersey federal court and amended last month, BAPS has been accused "of luring labourers from India to work on temples near Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, as well as in Robbinsville, New Jersey, paying them just USD 450 a month.”

“The amended lawsuit expanded those claims to include temples around the country where some of the men said they were also sent to work. Hundreds of workers were potentially exploited, the lawsuit claimed,” the NYT report said.

The report had in May said that the complaint had named six men who were among over 200 Indian nationals brought to the US starting from around 2018 on religious visas ‘R-1 visas'. The men were made to work "gruelling hours under often dangerous conditions on the New Jersey site", the NYT report had said.

India Civil Watch International (ICWI) had said in a statement in May to PTI that starting in the early hours on May 11, an FBI-led raid rescued around 200 workers, “most of them Dalits, Bahujans, and Adivasis”, from the premises of the Swaminarayan Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey, reportedly the largest Hindu temple in the US.

The amended complaint accused BAPS officials of “violating state labour laws and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act, better known as RICO, which was created to go after organised crime,” the report said.

The complaint lists allegations including “forced labour, trafficking with respect to forced labour, document servitude, conspiracy, and confiscation of immigration documents with the intent to engage in fraud in foreign labour contracting ”as well as failure to pay minimum wage."
    
ICWI had said the workers were being paid USD 1.2 per hour, well below the current US federal minimum wage of USD 7.25 per hour, and below even the minimum wage going as far back as 1963.

The NYT report had said the workers "lived in trailers hidden from view and had been promised jobs helping to build the temple" in Robbinsville with "standard work hours and ample time off.”

However, the workers did manual labour on the site, "working nearly 13 hours a day lifting large stones, operating cranes and other heavy machinery, building roads and storm sewers, digging ditches and shovelling snow, all for the equivalent of about USD 450 per month. They were paid USD 50 in cash, with the rest deposited in accounts in India.”

BAPS officials have denied any wrongdoing.

In May, Lenin Joshi, a spokesman for BAPS, also disputed the accusations, saying the workers did complicated work connecting stones that had been hand-carved in India, the report had said.

 “They have to be fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. In that process, we need specialised artisans. We are naturally shaken by this turn of events and are sure that once the full facts come out, we will be able to provide answers and show that these accusations and allegations are without merit,” Joshi had said in the report. 

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News Network
November 22,2021

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Mangaluru, Nov 22: The Social Democratic Party of India has warned the Congress leaders of dire consequences if they continue to target the SDPI workers. A video, which has gone viral on social media, depicts SDPI Dakshina Kannada District President Abubakkar Kulai is heard warning the Congress, has sparked row. 

While addressing a public gathering, he said he has been observing that the Congress leaders are overcome by desperation at the growth of SDPI leaders during the last ten years in the Mangaluru Assembly constituency.

"The Congress party was disappointed to note the growth of our organization. As many as 58 representatives have emerged from this constituency. Seeing this, they (Congress leaders) are unable to bear our growth, and hence they are engineering attacks on our workers by hiring small-time goondas. You (Congress leaders) must be ashamed of it. Till now we had kept our heads low, but we have two 'Ms" with us. One is Manpower and two is Muscle power," Abubakker is heard saying.

"If you touch our workers anywhere. We will use our one M. Be careful. Our leaders have told us that if you want to join the SDPI, you should be ready for everything. You should be ready to sleep in hospitals. You must be ready to go to jail. You should be even ready to go to the graveyard.

"That doesn't mean that we will bow to you (Congress leaders). We know how to send you to that same hospital. And we also know how to send you to the same graveyard. We are going to respect the law of the land. We are giving respect to the law of the land. Hence, dare not touch our workers," he threatened.

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News Network
November 20,2021

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Nov 20: Battered by the heavy rains for over a week, Karnataka is likely to witness another three rainy days according to meteorologists from the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

In its fresh forecast, the IMD has sounded yellow alert in 18 districts on Saturday. Further, officials explained that south interior and coastal Karnataka districts will witness fairly widespread rains for the next three days until Sunday.

"Revealing that the widespread rainfall along with thundershowers to continue in various parts of southern Karnataka. IMD Karnataka officials sounded ‘yellow alert’ in Bengaluru Urban, Rural districts, Tumakuru, Shivamogga, Ramanagar, Kodagu, Hassan, Davangere, Chitradurga, Chikkamagaluru, Ballari, Koppal, Haveri, Gadag, Dharwad, Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts," it said.

Commenting on the prevailing weather pattern over the Bay of Bengal, a senior meteorologist said that the depression over the Bay of Bengal is moving towards the west and a trough has been identified over the coast of Odisha.

Under the influence, southern districts are likely to witness widespread rainfall until Sunday.

According to IMD data, Gubbi and Tumakuru have received the highest rainfall of 15 cm, followed by Chintamani - 12 cm, Mulbagal and Srinivasapura - 11 cm.

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News Network
November 30,2021

Mangaluru, Nov 30: Kaun Banega Crorepati 13, hosted by Amitabh Bachchan, has dropped a portion of a recent episode which showcased the unscientific practice of “mid-brain activation”.

It was taken down from YouTube and other platforms after being called out by Mangaluru-based rationalist Narendra Nayak. The portion of the video, which was taken down by Sony Entertainment Television India, reportedly showed a young girl claiming to read a book while being blindfolded, by 'smelling it'.

President of Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Narendra Nayak, said that in the past a number of organisations have fooled parents by claiming to “increase children's brain power” by “activating their mid-brain.” Nayak filed a complaint to Sony, stating that showcasing such practices will ruin India's reputation.

"By giving publicity to such claims, you are bringing down the reputation of our nation and the world will laugh at us who are saying that children can see without light from the object falling on their retinas", Nayak had stated in the letter.

Nayak said he received a response to his open letter from the private channel on Monday.  The mail said, “Thank you for your viewership. We would like to inform you that that the said episode has been pulled off from all platforms, we have suitably edited the scenes. Further, we have sensitised the team to be more vigilant and avoid such interactions for all future episodes.”

Further, the mail added, “At Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI), our endeavour at all times has been to ensure that the content is within the framework of the laws of India. SPNI is sensitive to the sentiments of our viewers. We place great emphasis on providing wholesome quality entertainment and we take care to ensure the sensibilities of our viewers are not affected.” 

It has asked Nayak to approach the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council within 15 days if he is not satisfied with the response. 

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