Compassion International says nearly 150,000 children will be worse off unless restrictions on foreign funding are relaxed
An international Christian charity has said nearly 150,000 Indian children will be worse off if restrictions on foreign funding force it to cease its operations in the country next month.
Lobbying by US politicians including the former secretary of state John Kerry has so far failed to convince the Indian government to relax financial restrictions on Compassion International, which says it sends about $50m (£40m) in humanitarian aid to India each year.
The group, which funds charities that operate more than 500 child development projects in the country, says it has had $3.5m of aid blocked each month since March, when it was placed on list of organisations requiring “prior permission” to bring in funds from overseas.
It is scheduled to pull out of India by 15 March, at which point many of its child development centres – which have already scaled back services such as a free meals programme – will shut.
Compassion, which has been operating in India since 1968, says it has been given no explanation for the funding restrictions. But a spokesman for India’s ministry of home affairs said two affiliates of the organisation, Caruna Bal Vikas and Compassion East India, were funding religious activity without permission.
“Both these organisations had registered under FCRA [the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act] as “social, cultural, economic and educational” organisations but funded religious activities undertaken by Compassion International’s channel partners,” the spokesman said.
“Compassion International itself accepts that some part of the funds is used for religious/spiritual activities. Incorrect description of activities had also led to taxation enquiries.”
Officials had met with Compassion staff in January offering to help register the organisation’s partners as religious bodies, but it “chose not to pursue this suggestion”, the spokesman said.
The number of foreign-funded organisations operating in India has reportedly shrunk by nearly half in the past two years amid a crackdown by the government of Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party.
Twenty-five organisations were denied the right to receive foreign funding in November because of “activities not conducive to the national interest”, India’s home ministry said, and more than 11,000 failed to renew their licences.
The previous Congress-led government passed the FCRA. But critics, including three UN rapporteurs, have accused the Modi government of aggressively using the legislation to target human rights, environmental and other groups whose advocacy clashes with its agenda.
Using foreign money to propagate religion is permitted by the Indian constitution, but “coercing” conversions is banned in many states and Christian and Muslim proselytising is a sensitive issue in the Hindu-majority country, particularly among supporters of Modi’s party.
“It is part of the colonial civilising mission still continuing,” said Madhu Kishwar, an academic and journalist who has been critical of the work of Christian groups. “They use health and education as outreach, but harvesting of souls is their primary activity.”
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