India: Activists denounce “witch hunt” by foreign-funded NGOs | Asia | An in-depth look at current events on the continent | DW

The Indian government’s recent decision to cut foreign funding for a charity founded by Mother Teresa has drawn strong criticism from NGOs and rights activists.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government denied Missionaries of Charity (MoC) permission under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) after receiving “unfavorable contributions,” a statement released by the Foreign Minister said. Ministry of the Interior on December 25.

“During the examination of the MoC renewal application, some negative contributions were noted,” noted the ministry, without providing details.

The charity – founded in 1950 by the late Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who has dedicated most of her life to helping the poor in the eastern city of Kolkata – has more than 3,000 nuns around the world who run hospices , community kitchens, schools, lepers and homes for abandoned children.

Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work and was later declared a saint.

The MoC, which operates shelters across India, received around $ 750 million (€ 660 million) from overseas in the 2020-21 fiscal year, according to The Hindu newspaper.

Activists criticize the Modi government

The Commerce Ministry said in a statement that it had instructed its centers not to use foreign currency accounts “until the problem is resolved.”

The organization, however, rejected reports that its bank accounts had been frozen.

The government’s move came just two weeks after Gujarat state police began investigating the charity for the “forced conversion” of Hindus to Christianity.

Die-hard followers of Hinduism, the majority religion in India, often accuse the Ministry of Culture and other Christian charities of engaging in religious conversions.

Activists say religious minorities in India have faced increased levels of discrimination and violence since Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party (BJP) came to power in 2014.

Modi’s government rejects reports that officials have a radical “Hindutva” (Hindu hegemony) agenda and insists that people of all faiths have equal rights.

“While FCRA permissions are widely denied to these organizations, other right-wing Hindu groups are allowed to receive funds with little or no oversight,” prominent criminal lawyer Rebecca John told DW.

“The FCRA has now become a weapon to force organizations and trusts that work in the NGO sector to close their overseas accounts and thus minimize their work in India,” said John.

Henri Tiphagne, executive director of People’s Watch, called the government’s actions a “complete witch hunt”.

Foreign funding for his organization was suspended in 2012, and he is still challenging the case in court.

Many NGOs hit by restrictions

This is not the first time that the Indian government has refused permission for an NGO to receive foreign funding.

In 2020, rights group Amnesty International announced it was halting operations in India, citing “continued crackdown” and “harassment” by Prime Minister Modi’s government.

Amnesty’s bank accounts had been frozen by India’s Law Enforcement Directorate, a government investigative agency, forcing it to lay off its 150 employees and halt its campaigns and research.

Other organizations, including Sabrang India, Lawyers Collective and Navsarjan Trust, have also been targeted by FCRA.

These organizations criticized mining infrastructure and projects, demanded justice for anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002, and denounced violations against Dalits. In response, they were faced with repeated questions about their work, threats of investigations and the blocking of foreign funding.

Groups such as Greenpeace India and the Ford Foundation have also been hit with restrictions.

With the reduction in NGO funding, many struggled to function and decided to go out of business.

“Extremely concerning”

Six months ago, authorities blocked the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a civil liberties group, from receiving foreign contributions.

People working for the organization said they were surprised by the decision as CHRI works with government stakeholders.

They have challenged this decision in the Delhi High Court and are awaiting its verdict.

“The National Human Rights Commission, state police and prison services and legal aid institutions recognize CHRI as a resource partner and expert in the areas of police and prison reform and transparency of governance, ”CHRI Director Sanjoy Hazarika told DW.

“We are a recognized specialist in the field of the right to information,” said Hazarika.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told DW that it is “extremely worrying” that authorities are targeting rights groups.

“This unfortunately indicates a lack of confidence when a proud democracy cannot tolerate criticism or the ability of groups to tackle entrenched social inequalities,” she said.

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru

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