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
January 24,2023

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Half Moon Bay, Jan 24: An Asian farm worker was in custody Monday after seven of his colleagues were killed in front of children at sites in California, days after a mass shooter killed 11 people at a Lunar New Year celebration near Los Angeles.

The latest bloodshed to hit Asian Americans in California occurred at two farms around Half Moon Bay, a coastal community near San Francisco.

San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said seven people were killed and one injured in the twin shootings, and that a 67-year-old Half Moon Bay resident named Chunli Zhao had been taken into custody.

As the new tragedy unfolded, detectives at the southern end of the state were still probing what drove an elderly Asian immigrant to shoot dead 11 people gathered in celebration at a suburban dance hall -- before taking his own life as police closed in.

Both suspects used semiautomatic handguns in their assaults, and both appeared to have connections to at least some of their victims.

San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said deputies had been dispatched to two nurseries around Half Moon Bay, a rural spot south of San Francisco, mid-afternoon Monday.

Four people were dead at one of them and one critically wounded.

"Shortly thereafter three additional victims were also located deceased with gunshot wounds at a separate shooting scene," she told reporters.

"There's people that live at the location as well... it was in the afternoon when kids were out of school and for children to witnesses it is unspeakable," she said.

Corpus said Zhou then drove to a sheriff's substation in Half Moon Bay where ABC7 crews captured dramatic footage of his arrest as he was pulled to the ground by armed officers.

"Zhao was taken into custody without incident and a semi-automatic handgun was located in his vehicle," Corpus said.

Reports said the dead are Chinese farmworkers, and that Zhao had worked at one of the farms.

News of the fresh carnage came as detectives just a few hundred miles (kilometers) away in Monterey Park were trying to piece together why Huu Can Tran gunned down revellers gathered at a dance studio for Lunar New Year on Saturday night.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said Monday that Tran, who had been arrested in 1994 for unlawful possession of a firearm, fired 42 rounds in the attack.

But, he said, much was still unknown.

"What drove a madman to do this? We don't know. But we intend to find out," he told reporters.

Luna confirmed officers had been told Tran may have been known to some of his victims, but said there was currently no evidence he was related to any.

News of a second mass shooting in California in less then 48 hours spread ripples of shock through the state, which already has some of the strictest firearm laws in the United States.

An exasperated Governor Gavin Newsom, who had earlier Monday been in Monterey Park where he lashed out at federal inaction over guns, called it another "tragedy."

"At the hospital meeting with victims of a mass shooting when I get pulled away to be briefed about another shooting. This time in Half Moon Bay. Tragedy upon tragedy," he tweeted.

Saturday night's mass shooting was the worst in the United States since a teenage gunman in Uvalde, Texas killed 21 people at an elementary school last May. All but two were children.

On Monday a picture began to emerge of the culprit in Monterey Park, a man who, according to his marriage license, had immigrated from China, and who had been a regular at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in the past.

Tran's ex-wife told CNN the couple had met there two decades ago when he offered to give her informal lessons.

The woman, who did not want to be named, said they married a short time later, but the relationship did not last, with the divorce finalized in 2006.

She said Tran, who sometimes worked as a truck driver, was not violent, but could be impatient.

A man who said he had previously known Tran said he would complain about dance teachers, who, he claimed, would say "evil things about him", CNN reported.

He was "hostile to a lot of people there," the man told the broadcaster.

Detectives who searched a mobile home where Tran had been living in Hemet, 85 miles (140 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, recovered a rifle, electronics and ammunition, Luna said.

Police in the city said earlier this month Tran had made "fraud, theft, and poisoning allegations involving his family in the Los Angeles area 10 to 20 years ago."

The family of 65-year-old My Nhan said the tragedy was "still sinking in."

"She spent so many years going to the dance studio in Monterey Park on weekends," a statement said.

"It's what she loved to do. But unfairly, Saturday was her last dance.

Amid the grief, one tale of heroism has given hope 26-year-old Brandon Tsay revealed how he grappled with Tran as the elderly man arrived at another dance studio, in what police believe was a planned second attack.

"He was hitting me across the face, bashing me in the back of my head, I was trying to use my elbows to get the gun away from him," Tsay told ABC.

"Finally, at one point I was able to pull the gun away from him, shove him aside, create some distance, point the gun at him, intimidate him, shouting, 'Get the hell out here. I'll shoot. Get away. Go.'"

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News Network
January 20,2023

Moscow, Jan 20: Russia has warned that if the West provides Ukraine with longer-range missiles, the war will escalate, almost a year into the Russian military operation in the ex-Soviet republic.

At a press call on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, "Potentially, this is extremely dangerous, it will mean bringing the conflict to a whole new level, which, of course, will not bode well from the point of view of global and pan-European security."

Peskov's warning came on the eve of a donor meeting of Ukraine's allies chaired by the United States at the US airbase in Ramstein, Germany, for a new round of talks on supplying Ukraine with more powerful weapons.

Russia started its "special military operation" in Ukraine with the declared aim of "de-Nazifying" the country on February 24, 2022. Since then, the US and Europe have imposed waves of unprecedented economic sanctions on Moscow and have given Ukraine tens of billions of dollars' worth of weaponry, including rocket systems, drones, armored vehicles and communications systems. The Kremlin has time and again warned the sanctions and the Western military assistance will only prolong the war.

On Wednesday, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said the US is encouraging Ukraine to commit terrorist acts against Russia, as Washington signaled it was okay with Kiev hitting Russian-controlled Crimea with Western weapons. The Russian envoy was reacting to comments by US State Department spokesman Ned Price, who said a few hours earlier that it was up to Kiev to decide whether to use Western weapons against Russian forces in Crimea, which was Ukrainian territory before joining Russia.

"It should become obvious to everyone: no matter what weapons the Americans or NATO supply to the Zelensky regime, we will destroy it," Antonov said at the time, referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. "It is simply impossible to defeat Russia," he added.

Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on March 17, 2014 and formally applied to become part of Russia following a referendum a day earlier. Moscow defends Crimea’s reunification with Russia as legitimate, saying more than 90 percent of the people in the Black Sea peninsula voted in favor of rejoining the country in the plebiscite. The West, however, brands the reunification as the annexation of the Ukrainian land by Russia, which strongly rejects the allegation and henceforth considers the peninsula as an inalienable part of the Russian Federation.

In siding with Ukraine, the European Union followed Washington's lead in imposing several rounds of sanctions against Moscow.

In a statement on Thursday, the US Forces Korea (USFK) said the US Department of Defense had asked it to offer some of its equipment to support Ukraine. Two days earlier, the New York Times reported that the US military was tapping into a massive but little-known stockpile of American arms stored in Israel to help Ukraine's army, which desperately needs artillery shells in the current war with Russia.

Ukraine urges allies 

Separately in the day, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov jointly called on Western allies to "considerably" boost arms deliveries to Kiev and send modern German-made Leopard tanks. "We appeal to all partner states that have already provided military assistance or are planning to provide it with a call to considerably reinforce their practical contribution to strengthening Ukraine's ability to defend itself," the pair said in a statement.

The Ukrainian ministers said Russia "retains a substantial quantitative advantage in troops, weapons and military equipment" and that the Kremlin is "determined to further escalate hostilities."

According to Kuleba and Reznikov, the supply of modern armored vehicles is "one of the most pressing and urgent needs."

‘Moscow will do all it can to ‘sober up’ EU, NATO’

During a visit to Moscow's close ally Belarus on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would do all it could to "sober up" the European Union and NATO, which he alleged that have determined to weaken and defeat Russia. In his televised comments, Russia's top diplomat said that the Kremlin would set out to disabuse Western politicians of what he called their "presumptuous" and "colonial" attitudes to Russia. "I hope that the sobering up will come. We will do everything so that our colleagues from NATO and the European Union sober up as soon as possible," Lavrov said. 

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News Network
January 19,2023

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday sought to woo voters in north Karnataka by showcasing the development and social welfare programmes thereby giving the ruling BJP a launchpad in the run-up to the Assembly elections due in about three months. This is Modi's second visit to Karnataka in less than 10 days after his trip to Hubballi on January 12 where he inaugurated a national youth festival and staged a massive road show.

The visit gains significance, as the ruling BJP prepares for Assembly polls and has set a target of winning a minimum of 150 out of total 224 seats. Though today's events were government programmes, Modi's push for BJP's developmental agenda in his speeches, while targeting the opposition parties, without naming any, and accusing them of vote bank politics, had political connotations attached to this visit.

Modi's visit and BJP government's string of developmental projects and schemes in the two districts of the Kalyana Karnataka region, earlier Hyderabad Karnataka region which is considered to be the backyard of Congress's national president Mallikarjun Kharge (with Kalaburagi his home town and former constituency), are seen with political significance. The BJP aims to improve its tally in the region, where the Congress is a force to reckon with.

In the 2013 polls, Congress bagged 22 seats and BJP shared second place with JD(S) with just 5 seats. While B S Yediyurappa's KJP (Karnataka Janata Paksha), which he later merged with BJP, got 3 and others won 5. In the 2008 Assembly polls too, when "resourceful" mining barons- Reddy brothers- of Ballari held sway, Congress managed to bag 19 seats, leaving 15 for the BJP and 5 for the JD(S), and others 1.

At Kodekal village in Yadgiri district, the Prime Minister laid the foundation stone and inaugurated various developmental projects for irrigation, drinking water, and a national highway Later in the afternoon, he launched the 'Hakku Patra' (land title deed) distribution drive to over 52,000 nomadic Lambani (Banjara) tribes at Malkhed in Kalaburagi district. Without naming the Congress, he blamed the party's "vote bank" politics for the backwardness of certain regions of the State. "Earlier governments had declared several districts, including Yadgiri as backward, and had shirked their responsibilities. The reason for this region lagging behind in development is the previous governments here did not spare time on thinking about how to get rid of backwardness from here, leave aside putting in efforts towards it (development)," he said.

Yadagiri is part of the 'Kalyana Karnataka' or the Hyderabad Karnataka region as it was earlier known. These districts that were under the erstwhile rule of Nizams of Hyderabad are among the backward regions of the State. The region, comprising Bidar, Ballari, Vijayanagara, Kalaburagi, Koppal, Raichur, and Yadgir, enjoys special status under the Constitution (Article 371J) owing to its backwardness.

Referring to the positive aspect of having a BJP government at both the State and Centre, he said double engine government means double benefit, double welfare and double fast-paced development, and Karnataka is the best example for this. He complimented the Basavaraj Bommai government for the fast-paced development of the north Karnataka region At Malkhed, once the capital city of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, he said, "It's a big day for the people of Banjara (Lambani nomadic) community as over 50,000 people will get their own roof by way of Hakku Patra," as he distributed five 'Hakku Patra' to five nomadic couples on the occasion. This Hakku Patra would secure the future of thousands of people living in the "Thandas" (Lambani habitats) in Kalaburagi, Bidar, Yadgiri, Raichur and Vijayapura districts, he said, adding that it's big step taken by the State government towards social justice.

It is said Karnataka has the second highest population of Lambanis (Banjaras) in the country, who are considered among 101 sub-castes that have been recognised as Scheduled Castes (SCs) in the State. The community, earlier by and large with the Congress, now seems to have veered towards the BJP, which the party wants to keep intact and wants to build upon, party sources said. The community has a considerable presence in Kalyana Karnataka region.

Kharge lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, his first-ever electoral defeat in his long political career, to Umesh Jadhav, a Banjara community leader, fielded by the BJP. In 1993, it was recommended to give 'Thandas' revenue village status, but the political party that remained in power for the longest period used the Lambanis as a vote bank and never tried to improve the living condition of these backward families, Modi said in a dig at the Congress. "Those living in Thandas had to wage a long struggle for their rights and face many difficulties. They had to wait for long," the Prime Minister said. "But, now, the depressing atmosphere is changing. I want to assure the Banjara mothers that their son (Modi) is sitting in Delhi."

As Modi distributed title deeds to nomadic Lambani (Banjara) tribes in Kalaburagi district, former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah charged the ruling BJP in Karnataka with "feasting on the meals" prepared by the previous Congress government he headed. The senior Congress leader said the BJP was trying to project as if they were giving revenue village status to ‘Thandas’ (this community's habitations), which was "misleading".

According to the State government, the move to distribute these deeds would benefit 52,072 nomads in five districts of north Karnataka, providing them a "permanent roof", and said these 'Thandas' have already been declared as revenue villages by the State government. The fact, according to Siddaramaiah, was that the process to make Thandas revenue villages was initiated during his government from 2013 to 2018. “The then revenue minister Kagodu Thimmappa in my government brought amendments to the Forest Act and the Land Revenue Act with a slogan ‘Those who till the land should own it’. Those were historic amendments,” the opposition leader in the State Asembly, told reporters. The Congress could not give the ‘Hakku Patras’ to the beneficiaries as it lost power later, he said. “The BJP without doing anything in the last four years has suddenly started claiming that they did everything. The BJP is feasting on the meals prepared by us because of impending elections,” Siddaramaiah alleged. 

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