- The multi-faith statement was drafted by Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus and the Micah Institute, and describes the inhumane labor conditions faced by the workers, as well as the role that caste-based discrimination played in this case.
A broad coalition of over 120 religious leaders and organizations have endorsed a multi-faith statement of solidarity with workers who were reportedly exploited at the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey.
The multi-faith statement was drafted by Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus and the Micah Institute, and describes the inhumane labor conditions faced by the workers, as well as the role that caste-based discrimination played in this case (the workers are primarily from Dalit backgrounds). The statement concludes with a declaration of solidarity with the workers, and a call to action:
“As faith leaders and communities, we stand in solidarity with the workers who have come forward at great risk to themselves and their families. We applaud the work of immigration lawyer Swati Sawant, herself a Dalit, who has taken up their case. And we demand a full investigation into these allegations to hold BAPS temple leadership accountable.
In the spirit of justice, we call on all religious communities to hold their leaders and places of worship accountable for any exploitation and discrimination based on caste, race, immigration status, or other criteria.”
Several Hindu temples and organizations endorsed the statement, including the Global Secular Hindu Forum (UK), Hindus for Human Rights, Shri Shakti Mariammaa Temple, The Shakti Mission, and the United Madrassi Association Inc. Additionally, several Hindu religious leaders and scholars endorsed the statement, such as Pravrajika Vrajaprana (Senior Sannyasini, Vedanta Society of Southern California), Pandita Pratima K. Doobay, and Pandit Raja Gopal Bhattar.
The statement also received endorsements from organizations and leaders across many faith traditions, including the International Commission for Dalit Rights, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, Jewish Voice for Peace, Interfaith Center of New York, New York Board of Rabbis, New York State Council of Churches, and the Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations.
Notable comments from endorsers:
“If the allegations are true, this is modern-day slavery in the 21st century.” (D.B. Sagar, President, International Commission for Dalit Rights)
“Human rights cannot be abrogated by greed or heedless disregard. We insist on workers’ rights everywhere, including in religious institutions.” (Rabbi Ellen Lippmann)
“The charges filed in this lawsuit are deeply disturbing, especially since these workers were employed in the construction of a Hindu temple. In fidelity to Hindu teachings, all temple employees and all human beings ought to be treated with justice, dignity, and respect. The Hindu tradition teaches the existence of God in every being. We do not honor God by cruelty to fellow beings.” (Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion, Saint Olaf College)
As religious leaders and representatives of faith-based organizations, we are appalled by the allegations of labor and immigration violations at the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) Temple in Robbinsville, NJ, as reported by the New York Times on May 11th, 2021.
According to a federal lawsuit filed in May 2021, BAPS brought over 150 workers from India to the US to build the Robbinsville temple on the promise of standard work hours and ample time off. Instead, they were forced to engage in menial labor for nearly 13 hours a day and were paid just over one dollar per hour for their labor. Temple leaders confiscated the workers’ passports upon arrival in the United States and confined the workers to a fenced and guarded compound for over two years.
While “Religious Worker” R1-Visa provides an opportunity for faith leaders and other religious workers to enter the United States, BAPS temple leaders used these visas as a pretext to exploit these temple workers. As a justification for these inhumane working conditions, temple leaders told the US government in applications for R-1 Visas that the workers were devout religious volunteers who did not expect to be paid. They coached the workers themselves to tell immigration officials that they were engaging in seva — a term used by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs to refer to selfless service.
As members of the interfaith community, we must heed our diverse religious traditions’ calls to speak up against all cases of injustice and human rights violations. There is no excuse for the exploitation of these workers. It is all the more horrifying that these workers are primarily from Dalit backgrounds and dependent on temple authorities for their immigration statuses. This is a clear example of how caste-based discrimination and casteism remain a harmful reality in Hindu and South Asian American communities.
As faith leaders and communities, we stand in solidarity with the workers who have come forward at great risk to themselves and their families. We applaud the work of immigration lawyer Swati Sawant, herself a Dalit, who has taken up their case. And we demand a full investigation into these allegations to hold BAPS temple leadership accountable.
In the spirit of justice, we call on all religious communities to hold their leaders and places of worship accountable for any exploitation and discrimination based on caste, race, immigration status, or other criteria. We must uphold the values of compassion and social justice at the heart of our diverse faith traditions by affirming the trauma faced by these communities and by dismantling the unjust norms and systems that continue to objectify them. Finally, as members of diverse faith communities, we must commit to providing necessary aid and support for all workers who are unjustly exploited.
Global Secular Hindu Forum (UK)
Hindus for Human Rights
Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Shri Shakti Mariammaa Temple
The Shakti Mission
United Madrassi Association Inc.
All India Secular Forum
Baltimore Yearly Meeting (Quaker)
Beloved Community Interfaith Network
Birmingham Interfaith Human Rights Committee
Birmingham Islamic Society
Canadians Against Oppression And Persecution
Birmingham Islamic Society
Ecclesia Ministries of New York
Citizen Power Initiatives for China
Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America
Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition
Institute for Religious Freedom and Tolerance
The Interfaith Center of New York
International Commission for Dalit Rights
Jewish Voice for Peace
Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church
Latino Pastoral Action Center, Inc.
Muslim Community Network
Prophetic Whirlwind Ministries
Revealing Light Ministries
The New York Board of Rabbis
New York State Council of Churches
Save the Persecuted Christians
Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations
Abhi Janamanchi, Senior Minister, Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church
Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion, Saint Olaf College
Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Co-Founder, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Apurva Parikh, Ph.D. Candidate, University of South Carolina
Chandra Ramsammy, President, The Shakti Mission
Dave Kutayiah, Member, Shri Shakti Mariammaa Temple
Dr. Gautham Reddy, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Helen Erwin, Executive Board Member, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Jeffery D. Long, Professor of Religion, Philosophy, & Asian Studies, Elizabethtown College
Karen Sonilal, Team Lead, Grassroots Action Team, Jahajee Sisters
Kunwar Hari Om, PAIGAM
Medha, Student, Harvard Kennedy School
Neha Ratnapuri, Interfaith Student Council Representative, Tufts University Hindu Student Council
Nikhil Mandalaparthy, Advocacy Director, Hindus for Human Rights
Pandita Pratima K. Doobay, Priestess-in-Residence, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Pravrajika Vrajaprana, Senior Sannyasini, Vedanta Society of Southern California
Raja Gopal Bhattar, Hindu Pandit, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Raju Rajagopal, Co-Founder, Hindus for Human Rights
Samir Durvasula, Executive Board Member, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Shashank Rao, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Shana Sippy, Assistant Professor of Religion, Centre College; Co-Director, ReligionsMN.org
Shreena Niketa Gandhi, Assistant Professor of Religion, Michigan State University
Sravya, Board Member, Hindus for Human Rights
Sunita Viswanath, Co-Founder, Hindus for Human Rights; Co-Founder, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Vanmala Hiranandani, Associate Professor, University College Copenhagen
Varun Khanna, Visiting Assistant Professor, Swarthmore College
Vibhusha, NYC Chapter Co-Chair, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Vijah Ramjattan, Founder & President, United Madrassi Association Inc.
Vijayendra Kadalabal, Hindus for Human Rights
Abby Richardson, Research Associate (Volunteer), Ashoka
Aileen Kroll, Member, Beloved Community Interfaith Network
Aminah Ahmed, Youth Leader, Indian American Muslim Council
Anas Gilgamesh, Iraqi LGBTQ Rights Activist
Aniqa Nawabi, Executive Director, Muslim Community Network
Anne B. Evans, Leadership Group Member, Ashoka
Brian A. Hatcher, Professor and Packard Chair of Theology, Tufts University
Bruce Knotts, Director, Unitarian Universalist Association Office at the United Nations
David Kimball, Humanist Chaplain
Chenxing Han, MA, Independent Scholar
D.B. Sagar, President, International Commission for Dalit Rights
Dede Laugesen, Executive Director, Save the Persecuted Christians
Eliza Kent, Professor of Religious Studies, Skidmore College
George Pattery, Xt Hall, Kozhikode, Kerala
James Fairbanks, Editor, Saving Justice Newsletter
Javeed Mirza, President, TAJ Software
Jianli Yang, Founder and President, Citizen Power Initiatives for China
Jonathan Michael Golden, Director, Drew University Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict
Dr. Katherine Harper
Keisha E McKenzie, Senior Vice President of Programs, Auburn Seminary
Koshy George, President, Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America
Linda Green, Physician, Life After Release
Naheed, Country Director, Women for Afghan Women
Dr. Rehan Khan, Executive Director, Masjid Al-Falaah
Patton Burchett, Professor, College Of William & Mary
Peter Cook, Executive Director, New York State Council of Churches
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, American Jewish University
Rabbi Barat Ellman
Rabbi David Wirtschafter, Temple Adath Israel
Rabbi Debora S. Gordon, Congregation Berith Sholom
Rabbi Ellen Lippmann
Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann, SAJ-Judaism that Stands for All
Rabbi Lisa Grant
Rabbi Melinda Zalma
Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition
Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, Congregation Beth Elohim
Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg, Malkhut
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah
Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub
Rev. Brian Britton, Director, Harvest Family Network
Rev. David W. Dyson, Pastor Emeritas, Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church
Rev. Eileen Fisher, Co-Director, One Spirit Interfaith Seminary
Rev. Joel Gibson, Micah Institute
Rev. John Magisano
Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen, Executive Director, Parity
Rev. Meherzad Mahesh, UU Minister, Labourstart India
Rev. Sam Joanna Ghiggeri, Movin’ On Dream Initiative Inc.
Rev. Susan Victor, The Maker’s Place
Rosa Mercado, Urban Missionary, Latino Pastoral Action Center, Inc.
Saquib Rahim, Physician Executive
Shikha, Soka Gakkai International-USA
Simran Jeet Singh, Visiting Professor, Union Seminary
Steven M. Vose, Lecturer, University of Colorado Denver
The Rev. Dr. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director, The Interfaith Center of New York
William Elison, Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara
Victor Begg, Emeritus Founding Board Member, Interfaith Leadership Council Metro Detroit
Nikhil Mandalparthy is an executive board member of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus. Rev. Joel Gibson is the director of Micah Institute.