Hindu priest wins $2.3m after temple owners forced him to 'work as a slave' for seven years

Devendra Shukla

Temple slave: Devendra Shukla, 34, was forced to work in various jobs for a pittance by Sat Prakash Sharma

A Hindu priest has won $2.3million compensation after being forced to 'work as a slave' for seven years at a Hindu temple in New York.

Devout Devendra Shukla had his passport confiscated by Sat Prakash Sharma and his wife Geeta - who ran the Corono ashram in Corona, Queens - and was then forced to do their bidding for a pittance in exchange.

The court was told the 34-year-old worked 18-hour days, including heavy labour on a construction site, for which he received a paltry $50 a week.

Over the seven years he stayed with the Sharmas, Mr Shukla received a miserly $21,000 and was unable to once go home and see his family the whole time.

He finally snapped and sued the Sharmas and was overwhelmed when a jury sided with him and awarded the huge sum in compensation.

Fighting back the tears, he said: ‘I have received justice. I am hopeful that I will see my wife and children soon - it's almost 10 years that I have not seen my wife and children in India.’

Mr Shukla had moved to New York from his remote Indian village in the impoverished Uttar Pradesh region in the hope of providing for his family, who remained back home.

He ended up in seven years of misery at the hands of Mr Sharma, who was president of temple in Queens, and his wife, who sat on the board.

The court was told Mr Shukla had been promised pay of $500 per week, including bed and board - but the reality was nothing like it.

Instead he had to sleep in a windowless room or a ‘cell’, and was made to work from 5am to 11pm on a string of jobs for which he was not qualified.

The Sharmas have a separate construction business and they made the priest muck in as a loader, painter, electrician and pipe cutter.

Following an eight-day hearing, a jury at Brooklyn’s federal court found the couple were civilly liable for forced labour, involuntary servitude and trafficking violations.

‘From the temple of slavery, to the temple of justice,’ said Mr Shukla’s lawyer Sanjay Chaubey.

The Sharma’s lawyer Krishnan Chittur, had claimed in court that Mr Shukla just wanted a green card. He said the couple would appeal.

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