That the BJP is less than enamoured of foreign-funded religious NGOs would be to state the obvious. But that it could refuse to renew the foreign-funding licence for the Missionaries of Charity, the Christian-order founded by Mother Teresa, globally known for its work among the country’s poor and destitute, suggests that a new threshold has been reached.
The timing of the government order could not have been more ominous – it was delivered on Christmas Day, just as celebrations had set in.
The BJP government has long been suspicious of NGOs and charities funded by overseas contributions and no efforts have been spared to tighten curbs on them–including outright bans on their functioning.
The government has for years sought to squeeze foreign-funded NGOs and charities. In 2020, it tightened restrictions on non-profit groups and previously froze bank accounts of groups such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International.
BJP supports believe that these foreign-funded NGOs are attempts by Christians to use charity as a means to convert Hindus.
In October this year, the Home Ministry had cancelled the foreign funding of Harvest India, a Christian missionary organization, for violating FCRA rules.
According to officials, Harvest India has more than 1,500 community centres functioning across the country for proselytising purposes, in addition to 1,500 and 2,000 pastors engaged in conversion activities.
The BJP government says that these foreign-funded NGOs are attempts by Christians to use charity as a means to convert Hindus.
Not all agree though.
'Why exempt Hindu outfits?'
``This is a fig leaf. How come only Christian and Muslim organizations are under the government scanner? Till date, no Hindu outfit, which constitute the majority of those who receive foreign donations, has even been questioned,” says human right activist Suhas Chakma, who carries with him a long list of tribals, who have converted to Hinduism in North East India.
Announcing the move earlier this week, the home ministry said it refused to renew the Missionaries of Charity’s registration under the all important Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which controls non-profit groups’ ability to receive overseas funding.
The Missionaries of Charity’s registration for such funding will expire on December 31. While it would still be able to operate, the charity and other groups rely on overseas funding, such as from the Catholic community outside India.
When asked, the home ministry stated that “some adverse inputs were noticed” while reviewing the charity’s renewal application. It denied allegations made by several opposition politicians that it had frozen the Missionaries of Charity’s bank accounts.
Nobel-Prize winner's legacy
Founded by Mother Teresa in 1950, the Missionaries of Charity has been widely recognised for its work caring for sick and poor residents of Kolkata and elsewhere. It is one of the world’s best-known Catholic charities.
Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun from Macedonia, moved to India and won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work. Pope Francis declared her to be a saint in 2016, 19 years after her death.
The Missionaries of Charity has long faced BJP hostility, which accuses it of using charitable work to convert beneficiaries to Christianity. This month, it faced a police complaint in Gujarat in for allegedly trying to forcibly convert Hindu girls.
The group denied the allegations, saying it had “not converted anyone or forced anyone to marry into Christian faith”, according to the Indian Express.
In a statement, the Missionaries of Charity confirmed that its “FCRA renewal application has not been approved” and that it would not operate any foreign-funded accounts “until the matter is resolved”.
Says Venkatesh Nayak, well known RTI activist from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative: ``our organisation was suspended from receiving FCRA funding in June. When we for replied with all the facts sent to us, we were told `how do you know so many facts’? The case still hangs. Heads they win and tail you lose.”
Nayak had filed an RTI application a few months ago seeking details of FCRA-registered organizations, which had been targeted by the home ministry with adversarial action during the COVID-19 pandemic period. This is what his conclusions said:
In 2019, the Modi government crackdown on foreign funding had resulted in a massive 40 percent decline in fund flows for social upliftment between 2014 to 2017-18, according to foreign consultancy, Bain & Co. Over 13,000 NGOs had been acted against by the home ministry in which 4,800 lost their licenses.