Robbinsville, New Jersey – A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of caste-oppressed laborers employed against the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) alleging violations of immigration and labor law. According to the New York Times, “The workers, who lived in trailers hidden from view, had been promised jobs helping to build the temple with standard work hours and ample time off, according to the lawsuit, a wage claim filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey. The majority are Dalit, the lowest rung in India’s caste system.”
Equality Labs’ Executive Director, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, said:
“This is a grave case of caste discrimination in the US. The BAPS sect used religious visas to hire Dalits for $1 an hour for backbreaking labor, reproducing the dynamics that sustain caste apartheid around the world. Cases such as this demonstrate why demands to ensure caste protections for workers have become increasingly prominent in the last five years as well as how Dalit people living in the US face the intersectional oppressions of caste, migration, gender-based violence and poverty.
“This case also brings back other significant workplace cases that Dalits have raised against casteist hostile workplaces. From the young Dalit minor girls who were sexually trafficked by Lakibali Reddy in Berkeley in 2004, to the over 500 caste workers, many of whom were caste oppressed, who filed a class action against Signal International for trafficking and inhuman conditions, to 2020 California Department of Fairness in Employment and Housing case against Cisco corporation. It is clear that caste is a workers rights issue and it is time that we talk about the glaring challenges of addressing casteist hostile workplaces with caste as a protected category.
“2021 has been a watershed year for anti-caste movements in the US and this is why. From the Alphabet tech workers , to Cal State University Student association to the county of Santa Clara the demand for caste as a protected category Americans around the country are standing up for caste oppressed communities around the world.
“Dalit communities and their allies have repeatedly pointed to the violent reality of caste oppression within the US. For those who come to the US with dreams of freedom, or of breaking the shackles of caste apartheid, falling into the hands of a predatory Indian employer is all to familiar to the situation back home. We are as Dalit American Professor Ajantha Subramanium says, “ a minority within a minority” and we are in desperate need of protection.
“We are amazed at the courage and power of the workers who are choosing to speak up about these conditions, and are in full solidarity. We also deeply commend the efforts and sacrifices of Swati Sawant in creating a path for the workers to find justice.”