counterview.net | May 19, 2021
Top civil rights network, Occupational and Environmental Health Network India (OEHNI), which is known to work for occupational safety and health (OSH) rights, has said that not only are the Swaminarayan temple owners in New Jersey responsible for “violating” the labour law of the US by paying a meagre $1 per hour to its workers, it is should also take the responsibility for high level of silicosis in Sirohi, Rajasthan, where stand stone for the temple is mined.
In a statement, Jagdish Patel, national coordinator, OEHNI, said, stones so carved in Rajasthan are exported to the sites where this temple is being built. More than 200 workers who were taken to New Jersey site were made to work for long hours and not paid minimum wages, even as “silica dust levels at work were neither monitored nor maintained as per US standards.”
OEHNI was shocked to learn about the plight of the Indian migrant workers who were flown to the USA by their employer to build a Hindu religious sect Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) temple in the New Jersey state. We thank and congratulate the International Commission on Dalit Rights for filing a law suit for violating labour laws like minimum wages and safety at work. We appreciate and congratulate the brave workers who have dared to bring this challenge on foreign soil where they have poor political and social support.
BAPS has their workshops in Sirohi district in Rajasthan where sand stone in mined and worked on by the local craftsmen to carve the arches, designs and statues as per the drawings provided to them. They are exposed to dangerous levels of silica dust which is not monitored. Hundreds of stone workers have been victims of silicosis and have died prematurely. Most of these workers in India are not covered by social security and are not paid any compensation by the employer. Instead the state Government in Rajasthan pays them some relief.
Stones so carved in Rajasthan are exported to the sites where this temple is being built. It is shocking to know that more than 200 workers who were taken to New Jersey site were made to work for long hours, were not paid minimum wages in US and were working in hazardous conditions. From what we understand, the silica dust levels at work were neither monitored nor maintained as per US standards.
What is more shocking is to know that their passports were being confiscated by the employer to restrict their freedom. Most workers who do not know English must have very hard time. Their right to work with dignity was robbed from them. One of the sustainable development goals is Goal 8.8 Decent work which has been forgotten by the employer of these workers.
When they have been rescued, we hope and believe that they will be taken care of by the local Government and local supporters. We laud the statement issued by the The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craft workers and its Administrative District Council of New Jersey (BAC) along with the Pathar Gadhai Mazdoor Suraksha Sangh (PGMSS).
We support the action taken by the International Commission on Dalit Rights and we stand by the brave struggle waged by the workers. It will open up new windows to look at the conditions of the migrant workers brought under the name of religious volunteers. We demand quick and full justice for these workers.
We also recognize that workers in Rajasthan produce for temples in the United States and as an importing country; it should be concerned about the workers safety and work conditions. We also appeal to the Indian diaspora, who would be among the largest number of devotees of these temples to stand by the workers.