Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Hindu priest was a slave
From the Times Ledger:
A Hindu priest finally got some justice Wednesday after being forced to toil for $50 a week in a Corona temple for seven years.
A jury awarded Devendra Shukla more than $2 million after finding during an eight-day trial in federal court in Brooklyn that Sat Prakash Sharma, his wife Geeta and the Vishva Seva Ashram temple were civilly liable for forced labor, involuntary servitude and human trafficking against the 34-year-old Indian immigrant, according to Shukla’s lawyer, Sanjay Chaubey. Sat Sharma is the temple’s director and president and Geeta Sharma sits on its board.
Krishnan Chittur, the Sharmas’ attorney, vehemently disagreed with the verdict, saying it “was contrary to the weight of the evidence” and that the court had provided him with a briefing schedule for proceedings to have the verdict overturned on appeal.
Before Shukla came to America, he was told he would be paid $500 per week and receive free room and board for working as a priest at the temple, located at 104-38 Corona Ave., but when he arrived, he was forced to live in a tiny, cell-like room, and his employers paid him only $50 per week, for a total of $21,000 in seven years, Chaubey said.
He was forced to work days as long as 18 hours, doing all matter of tasks including ministering, construction work, janitorial duties and more, and the Sharmas used fear tactics to ensure he did not go to authorities or flee his situation, according to Chaubey.
Shukla was awarded about $2.8 million by the jury but the amount was lowered by $500,000 because Shukla may have improperly discussed certain details of the case with journalists, according to Chaubey.
Chittur contended that much of the evidence that Chaubey introduced was “fabricated” and that Shukla was free to move about, was paid the full $500 per week, lived in a nice basement room, was running businesses via laptop and that witnesses countered many of his grievances.