India’s Choking of Funds to Missionaries of Charity and Other NGOs Draws Outcry

The Hindu nationalist government announced new restriction blocking foreign contributions to the Catholic order on Christmas Day. The funding block goes into effect Dec. 31.

Missionary of Charity sister cares for unwanted children at  Nirmala Shishu Bhavan  orphanage in Kolkata, India.
Missionary of Charity sister cares for unwanted children at Nirmala Shishu Bhavan orphanage in Kolkata, India. (photo: Anto Akkara Photo)

NEW DELHI — The Church in India has joined the secular chorus of protest against the choking of funds to the Missionaries of Charity and other groups by the country’s ruling Hindu nationalist government, utilizing legal provisions controlling receipt of foreign funds.

“When funds to the nuns who feed thousands of poor are curbed citing legal provisions, I can only say the atmosphere is getting more polluted,” Archbishop Felix Anthony Machado, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), told the Register Dec. 30.

Archbishop Machado, who heads the Diocese of Vasai near Mumbai, was reacting to the national and furor over India’s BJP-led government refusing to renew the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) license of the Missionaries of Charity, citing “inadequate information in their request for renewal of the accounts.”

The FCRA was initially enacted in 2010, and became more restrictive when it was amended in September of 2020.

“Since the FCRA amendment was passed by the Parliament, and when the government officials claim that ‘we are enforcing the law,’ what we can do?” Archbishop Machado asked. “But the question is: What was the motive behind the amendment and to whom it is being applied?” 

“Some adverse inputs were noticed,” said a Dec. 27 statement by India’s federal Home Ministry, which monitors foreign funds to Indian charities and action groups, explaining the refusal to renew the FCRA accounts of the Missionaries Charities congregation that triggering the controversy.

The MCs did not meet the eligibility conditions for renewal due to “audit irregularities,” according to the statement,which noted that the government took the decision on Dec. 25.

“This is a painful shock and a cruel Christmas gift to the poorest of the poor,” said the CBCI’s Council for Laity in a Dec. 30 statement.

“In the present situation after midnight of 31st December 2021, the Missionaries of Charity cannot receive foreign funds to feed the poor under their care,” the council lamented.

V C Sebastian, the council’s secretary, pointed out that with 240 houses for orphans, the destitute and AIDS patients all over India, the MCs have been “giving healing touch to millions of destitute people with a new lease of life.”

Missionary of Charity sister and a volunteer attend to a destitute man in Kalighat Home for the Dying in Kolkata, India.
Missionary of Charity sister and a volunteer attend to a destitute man in Kalighat Home for the Dying in Kolkata, India. | Anto Ankara Photo

MC Statement

“We appreciate the concern of our well-wishers and extend our heartiest greetings for Christmas and the New Year,” Sister Prema, the superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, commented in a conciliatory Dec. 27 statement regarding the situation. 

Sister Prema stressed that the order’s FRCA registration had not been suspended or canceled and that there had been no freeze imposed on any of their bank accounts, as some media reports had erroneously suggested.

“We have been informed that our FCRA renewal application has not been approved,” Sister Prema’s statement concluded. “Therefore as a measure to ensure there is no lapse, we have asked our centres not to operate any of the FC accounts until the matter is resolved.”

Asked about several dioceses and Church charities now facing the same situation of the MCs, Archbishop Machado commented, “I had visits of two investigation teams from the government around Christmas time. The investigation is not at our convenience and we have to oblige when they come.”

“However, we as Church leaders have a limit to the level we can speak up. Even the MCs have responded with a gentle statement. But we are happy that the big (Indian) media has been speaking up for us and the affected NGO sector,” Archbishop Machado said.

Indian news media outlets have published data that shows how FCRA has been used by the Hindu nationalist Modi government to close over 19,000 of FRCA accounts since it assumed power in 2014.

And the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) released a statement last year raising serious concerns following the government’s September 2020 amendment to the FCRA legislation. In a subsequent briefing statement, the ICJ called the FCRA “a tool to silence Indian Civil Society Organizations,” and asserted that the law violates India’s international obligations with respect to freedom of assembly, association, expression and the right to participate in public affairs.  

 

‘In Limbo’

The 2020 amendment made the legislation more stringent and the remaining 22,000 FCRA license holders are now “in limbo” to fulfil numerous conditions for renewal by Dec. 30, The Hindu reported.

“I am myself struggling to renew my account and they are flooding with questions,” a prominent Christian activist who heads a national network of secular NGOs told the Register pleading anonymity. 

Citing one of the new norms, he noted that all FRCA accounts have to be linked to new bank accounts through a single branch of the State Bank of India, located in New Delhi. 

“In COVID times, you have to make a trip to New Delhi to open that account to renew your FRCA license. This is draconian. In fact, the renewal requirements and process are as cumbersome as getting a new FCRA license,” he noted.

Besides impairing the operations of thousands of advocacy groups campaigning on civil and political rights, the Christian activist said, “organizations of the minority communities doing charity works are also choked by the BJP government. MCs fall in this category.”

Aakar Patel, former chair of Amnesty International India which had its FCRA license withdrawn by the Modi regime during his leadership, has authored a book tilted Price Of The Modi Years. In an article published Dec. 21, Patel recounted his organization’s negative experiences. 

“When I asked at one point if our accounts were to be frozen, I was told by one of the officers that ‘goats are not informed if their throats are to be cut,” Patel wrote regarding the dismissive response of one government official involved with FCRA enforcement. 

Along with Amnesty International, several other leading international NGOs including Compassion International, Greenpeace and Oxfam have had their FRCA license canceled by the Modi government. 

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