India's BJP-Linked Hindu Group Brings Dalit Slavery to America

A Hindu sect (BAPS) with close ties to India’s ruling BJP has exploited hundreds of low-caste men in a years-long construction project, reports the New York Times. A US federal lawsuit filed against the Hindu group alleges that the men brought to the United States under religious R-1 visa had their Indian passports confiscated by the Hindu group. It further alleges that the workers, mainly Dalit men who worked 13-hour days doing heavy lifting for about $1 an hour, were kept as prisoners at the construction site of a massive Hindu temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey.  Cases of caste discrimination and exploitation among India diaspora have also surfaced in Silicon Valley. 

Hindu Temple in Robbinville, New Jersey

Caste Discrimination in America:

Shocking as it is, the New Jersey case of exploitation of Indian Dalit workers brought to America is not unique.  Over two-thirds of low caste Indian-Americans are discriminated against by upper caste Indian-Americans in Silicon Valley, according to a report by Equality Labs, an organization of Dalits in America. Dalits also report hearing derogatory comments about Muslim job applicants at tech companies. These revelations have recently surfaced in a California state lawsuit against Silicon Valley tech giant Cisco Systems.


Religious Discrimination:

Both caste and religious discrimination are rampant among Indian-Americans in Silicon Valley. Back in 2009,  there was a religious discrimination lawsuit filed  against Vigai, a South Indian restaurant in Silicon Valley. In the lawsuit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, Abdul Rahuman, 44, and Nowsath Malik Shaw, 39, both of San Jose, alleged they were harassed for being Muslim by Vaigai's two owners, a manager and a top chef — a violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News.

According to the complaint, restaurant personnel regularly used ethnic slurs such as "Thulakkan," a pejorative term for Muslims in Sri Lankan Tamil dialect, to harass the two Muslim cooks. Also according to the complaint, restaurant staff were encouraged to call the plaintiffs by names such as "Rajan" or "Nagraj" under the pretext of not wanting to upset customers who might stop patronizing the restaurant if they heard the men referred to by their Muslim names.

Modi in Silicon Valley


The complaint also stated that the plaintiffs were forced to participate in a religious ceremony despite telling the owners it was against their Islamic beliefs. The complaint alleged that the restaurant owners insisted on their participation and proceeded to smear a powder on their foreheads, making the religious marking known as a "tilak."

Upper Caste Silicon Valley

"Dominant castes who pride themselves as being only of merit have just converted their caste capital into positions of power throughout the Silicon Valley," says Thenmozhi Soundarajan of Equality Labs. Vast majority of Indian-Americans in Silicon Valley support India's Islamophobic Prime MInister Narendra Modi. Modi held a huge rally at a large venue in Silicon Valley where he received a rousing welcome in 2015.

Caste vs Race in America:

Contrary to The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) that includes discrimination based on caste, most Indian-Americans argue that race is not caste . Dating back to 1969, the ICERD convention has been ratified by 173 countries, including India. California’s lawsuit reinforces that caste is race. It will now make it harder for companies to ignore caste discrimination. While the US has no specific law against the Indian caste system, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has filed the lawsuit against Cisco using a section of America’s historic Civil Rights Act which bars race-based discrimination. Here is an excerpt of an article published in TheWire.in on the lawsuit recently:

"In October 2016, two colleagues informed John Doe, a principal engineer at Cisco, that his supervisor, Sundar Iyer, had told them that he (Doe) was from the “Scheduled Castes” and had made it to the Indian Institute of Technology via affirmative action. “Iyer was aware of Doe’s caste because they attended IIT at the same time,” said the case. The suit says that, when confronted by Doe, Iyer denied having disclosed his caste. In November 2016, Doe contacted Cisco’s HR over the matter. Within a week of doing so, Iyer reportedly informed Doe he was taking away Doe’s role as lead on two technologies. Iyer also removed team members from a third technology that Doe was working on and reduced his role to that of an independent contributor and he was isolated from his colleagues, the lawsuit says. In December 2016, Doe filed a written complaint with HR on the matter."

Summary:

Caste discrimination is rampant among Indian-Americans and NRIs (Non-resident Indians) in the United States with 67% of low caste Indians reporting being victims of such discrimination in workplace. Muslims also face employment discrimination in some of the workplaces dominated by Indian managers. California state has filed a lawsuit against Silicon Valley tech giant Cisco Systems alleging caste discrimination.

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Comment by Riaz Haq on August 7, 2021 at 5:16pm

#Hindu youths taunt an #Indian #hockey player's family in Uttarakhand, saying #Dalits in the team were to blame for the bronze-medal play-off defeat. India’s 200 million Dalits are regular targets of discrimination and often deadly abuse.
https://aje.io/k4zgmy via @AJEnglish

India’s hockey captain Rani Rampal has criticised the “shameful” racist abuse of a team member’s family, saying it was damaging the country’s quest to boost its sporting image.

India saw a hockey renaissance at the Tokyo Games with the men taking third place – their first medal in 41 years in a sport where they have won a record eight Olympic gold medals – while the women were narrowly beaten by Great Britain in their bronze medal play-off.

The women’s best-ever Olympic performance was tainted by abuse of the family of Vandana Katariya, from the so-called “lower-caste” Dalit community that has faced generations of discrimination.

Youths taunted the family at their Uttarakhand state home saying the Dalits in the team were to blame for the defeat. The family has said that threats were made, too.

“It’s such a bad thing,” Rampal told reporters. “We put our life and soul into it, struggle and sacrifice so much to represent our country and when we see what is happening – what happened to Vandana’s family – I just want to say to people please stop this religious division and casteism.

“We have to rise above this. We come from different religions – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh – and come from all parts of India. But here we work for India.”

The 26-year-old Rampal, whose own father pulled a cart to feed his family, added that it was “such a shameful thing when we see that people behave like this”.

While the team had felt “so much love from people” despite not winning a first medal, she said that lessons had to be learned to end such abuse “if we want make our country a sporting nation”.

India’s 200 million Dalits, once known as the “untouchables”, are regular targets of discrimination and often deadly abuse.

Comment by Riaz Haq on November 10, 2021 at 7:07am

Hindu Sect Accused of Using Forced Labor at More Temples Across U.S.
BAPS, a prominent sect, faces accusations of exploiting low-caste laborers from India to run massive temples around the country.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/10/nyregion/baps-hindu-temples.html...

BAPS, which has strong ties with Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, has built temples around the world that draw visitors with impressive spires and arches, intricate stone carvings, gurgling fountains and wandering peacocks. Mr. Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have underscored their connection with the sect as they have sought to shift India from its secular foundations toward a Hindu identity. Over the years, the BAPS organization has grown into the largest Hindu sect in the United States and a global enterprise made up of both for-profit and nonprofit entities.

The organization also pledged the equivalent of about $290,000 to Mr. Modi’s most important election promise: building a temple in the city of Ayodhya, where a mosque had stood before Hindu devotees destroyed it in 1992.



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A prominent Hindu sect that operates a New Jersey temple raided by federal authorities earlier this year is facing new accusations that it forced hundreds of low-caste workers to labor at worship sites across the United States under dangerous conditions for little pay.

In a lawsuit filed in New Jersey federal court and amended last month, lawyers representing the workers accused the sect, known as BAPS, of luring laborers from India to work on temples near Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, as well as in Robbinsville, N.J., paying them just $450 a month.

The suit was originally filed in May, on the same day that federal agents descended on the New Jersey temple, removing about 100 workers in an early morning action that was said by several people with knowledge of the matter to be connected to possible violations of labor and immigration laws.

At the time, the lawsuit focused only on the temple in New Jersey, claiming men were brought into the country under false pretenses and then worked seven days a week to build and maintain the sumptuous structures and grounds for as little as $1.20 an hour. 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 lawsuit claimed the temple workers were presented to U.S. immigration officials as volunteers trained to do specialized work such as stone carving or painting, qualifying them for religious, or R-1, visas.

Leaders for the sect, Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, have strenuously denied any wrongdoing. A lawyer for BAPS, Paul J. Fishman, a former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said the federal government has routinely allowed stone artisans to qualify for R-1 visas and that agencies had regularly inspected “all of the construction projects on which those artisans volunteered.”

It is unclear if the federal agencies that removed the workers from the New Jersey temple — including the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor — are criminally investigating the sect. Representatives for the Homeland Security and Labor departments declined to comment; a spokeswoman for the F.B.I. said the agency could not “confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 2, 2022 at 9:37am

The Edison bulldozer scandal is a wake-up call for people to learn about Hindutva hate | Opinion by Audrey Truschke

https://www.nj.com/opinion/2022/09/the-edison-bulldozer-scandal-is-...

A bulldozer — celebrating far-right Hindu nationalist violence against Muslims — drove through the streets of Edison, last month at an Indian Independence Day parade. Many New Jersey politicians were present and claim to have been unaware of the bulldozer’s appalling symbolism of praising, even encouraging, the violent oppression of Indian religious minorities.

The backlash is continuing to grow, including calls for the organizers to be held accountable (they have since apologized) and for more people to learn about Hindutva hate.

For many New Jerseyans, the Edison bulldozer scandal is the first time that they have heard about the intolerant ideology of Hindu nationalism, also known as Hindutva or Hindu supremacy. But it is unlikely to be the last time.


I have been studying global Hindu nationalism for years, including a recent focus on Hindu Right goals and tactics in the United States. America, especially New Jersey, is a stronghold for Hindu nationalist groups who provide financial support and ideological guidance for the larger global movement. This extremist ideology — which has roots in early 20th-century European fascism — has flourished for decades, largely unchecked, in our state and has had many harmful consequences.

Hindu nationalists propagate their intolerant ideas in the United States through a network of organizations. Some of the most common include the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad-America (VHPA), and the Hindu Students Council (HSC). Sometimes a Hindu nationalist group registers as a foreign agent, such as Overseas Friends of BJP, which promotes the interests of India’s far-right ruling party. More commonly, Hindu nationalist groups try to spread and normalize their extremist ideas under the ruse of promoting Indian culture, such as at the Edison parade.

In the recent parade, the celebration of human rights violations was merely symbolic, but it is sometimes far more visceral for New Jersey communities. In 2021, federal agents raided a Hindu temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey and found Dalit men—who are at the bottom of a hierarchy of social oppression known as the caste system—held in bonded labor. Governor Murphy joined the many who condemned the “horrific, unfathomable” conditions of modern-day slavery. What he did not note is that the Hindu temple, part of the BAPS denomination, has strong ties with India’s Hindu nationalist BJP government. As of now, a case is pending in federal court in New Jersey that accuses BAPS of human trafficking in multiple states.

Hindu nationalists regularly attack lots of people—including Dalits, Christians, and the many Hindus who oppose Hindutva—but Muslims are their most common targets. In India, Muslims are subjected to daily violence and harassment, an abysmal situation documented by human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United States International Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF). In 2022, USCIRF recommended India for sanctions for the third year in a row due to rapidly worsening conditions in the country, especially attacks on Muslims.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 2, 2022 at 9:37am

The Edison bulldozer scandal is a wake-up call for people to learn about Hindutva hate | Opinion by Audrey Truschke

https://www.nj.com/opinion/2022/09/the-edison-bulldozer-scandal-is-...

Here in New Jersey, Indian Muslims are mainly safe from Hindu nationalist violence, although not always. In 2019, the Rutgers-New Brunswick Hindu Students Council — a Hindu nationalist group — invited a Hindutva demagogue from India to speak. The off-campus event featured Islamophobic hate speech. It also involved a recent Rutgers-Newark alum — and Kashmiri Muslim — being heckled and physically assaulted by others present. At the time, few noticed beyond the South Asian American community, but it is one brick in a larger edifice of anti-minority, Hindu nationalist hate.

At a meeting of the Edison city council on Aug. 22, a councilmember applauded the activists who had called out the parade bulldozer as a hate symbol: “By you bringing this to our attention, it stops it from going forward... what you’re doing today by bringing awareness is the first step, and that’s the strong step that needs to be done. You’re educating us.” I appreciate his words. But I wonder if he and the other councilmembers have any idea what that education often costs those brave enough to speak.

U.S.-based Hindu nationalists regularly attack South Asian community groups, such as the Indian American Muslim Council, which has been active on the bulldozer issue. They smear individual members and spread Islamophobic rumors about entire organizations, such as when the far-right Hindu American Foundation and its allies attacked IAMC last year. Hindu Right attacks in the United States can put one’s family at risk and even require the use of safe houses.

As a professor who works on Hindu nationalism, I am also subjected to regular Hindu nationalist attacks. I often require armed protection when I speak publicly in America, due to the threat of Hindu supremacist violence. While law enforcement has kept me safe thus far, it has not stemmed the waves of hate unleashed against me and Rutgers, my employer. Hindu nationalists are part of the Global Far Right, and so we sometimes see bleed-over ideas, such as the anti-Black racism lobbed against Rutgers administrators, including President Jonathan Holloway, in a recent propaganda piece by a Hindu nationalist.

Anti-Asian hate crimes are growing in New Jersey. By targeting South Asian Muslims and Dalits, as well as Hindus who disagree with them, Hindu nationalists in the United States are contributing to that alarming trend. If we are to confront and begin to counter such hateful assaults, we must recognize Hindutva’s deep roots and long-standing harms in New Jersey.

A hard truth is that while many New Jerseyans are only now learning the basics of Hindu nationalism, many of our state’s minority communities — especially South Asian Muslims — have lived for decades with the spectre of fear and intimidation imposed by purveyors of this intolerant ideology. It is time for that era to end, and for us to say together — Hindutva hate has no home in New Jersey.

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