Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents raided a temple in New Jersey Tuesday after allegations that a Hindu sect lured hundreds of low-caste men from India to work on the building’s construction for about $1 per hour under grueling conditions, numerous sources reported.
At least 200 low-caste men are involved in a lawsuit that accused Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, a Hindu sect known as BAPS, of exploiting the men at the Robbinesville site, according to CBS.
Lawyers representing the men said they worked nearly 13 hours per day and did intense manual labor like building roads and digging ditches for roughly $450 per month, according to The New York Times. They were allegedly forbidden from speaking to visitors and religious volunteers and were given foods with insignificant nutritional value, like lentils and potatoes. The men also reportedly faced having their pays reduced if they committed minor violations, like not wearing a helmet.
The lawsuit says the men were promised standard work hours and time off, the Times reported. They lived in trailers on the property and allegedly were not allowed to leave, CBS reported.
“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,” Swati Sawant, an immigration lawyer who arranged legal teams to represent the temple workers, according to the Times.
Most of the men are Dalit, which is the lowest caste in India’s caste system, accoring to the Times. After one man died from an apparent illness in the fall, workers reached out for legal assistance.