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U.S. lawmakers urge India to ease curbs on Christian charity

Republican Chairman Ed Royce – who recalled how he helped build the India caucus from 12 members to 160 members – called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a visionary but termed the move against the Christian charity, Compassion International, “dogmatic.”   | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan

U.S lawmakers from Republican and Democratic parties urged the government to ease strictures on American Christian charity Compassion International (CI), even as the stand-off between the US and India over the Colorado-based NGO that has worked in India since 1968, continued. According to the NGO’s counsel at a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Compassion International will shut its India operations “within three weeks” if the Home Ministry (MHA) doesn’t lift funding restrictions, which would put “145,000 Indian children” in peril, and denied it was involved in conversions.

On Tuesday, the Committee met in Washington for a session titled, “American Compassion in India: Government Obstacles”, hearing testimonies critical of the MHA actions from Compassion International and Human Rights Watch.

Republican Chairman Ed Royce began the hearing by praising PM Modi for his vision, but then went on to blame the “Indian bureaucracy” for being “dogmatic.” “We have spent nine months and hundreds of hours dealing with the Indian bureaucracy on this, and it looks like the bureaucracy is trying to run out the clock,” Mr. Royce said.

Mr. Royce, who is also the head of the India Caucus, said that he and Secretary of State John Kerry had been negotiating the issue of Compassion International with Indian officials. In August, The Hindu had reported that Mr. Kerry had even raised the NGO’s treatment with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during their Strategic Dialogue in Delhi, an unusual escalation in US expressing concerns on the issue. Subsequently, the government had agreed to lift funding restrictions on 10 of about 350 NGOs that Compassion wants to fund.

Mr. Royce said it was a “rumour” and a “myth” that CI was involved in conversions, adding that he had a personal interest in the matter as his Chief of Staff Amy Porter was a donor to children helped by the NGO. “Now, Amy and thousands of other American families are being obstructed from supporting these children,” Mr. Royce said.

Sources told The Hindu that the NGO and the US Embassy have written another letter to the MHA demanding “proof” that NGOs funded by Compassion International were involved in Christian conversions. In the letter Compassion International asked for evidence of the “number of people who converted to Christianity with the help of foreign funds sent by them”, a senior government official said.

The Hindu spoke to Indian and US officials in Delhi and Washington on the issue. While the MEA declined comment, an official said the high profile Congressional hearing was “avoidable” and the witnesses misrepresented several facts pertaining to the situation. Of a total of 3 million NGOs in India, “There are more than 30,000 NGOs that have FCRA clearance, and only 20 of them are in the prior clearance category. To portray this as a clampdown on civil society is a misrepresentation of facts,” he said.

The hearing also included critical comments on issues other than the Compassion issue. Referring to the arrest of JNU Student leader Kanhaiya Kumar earlier this year for a speech, Democrat Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the Committee, and another old-India hand said, “it’s troubling that a country with such a long tradition of an empowered and active civil society might be going down this path.” Others at the hearing brought up issues over Greenpeace, National Endowment for Democracy and Ford Foundation, and what Human Rights Watch official John Sifton referred to as “attacks on Christians” and the 2002 Gujarat riots in India.

 Striking a conciliatory note, Stephen Oakley, an official of CI, told the Committee that it was willing to work with the Indian government to address concerns regarding conversions. Mr. Oakley said CI would be forced to stop its activities in the next few weeks, if restrictions on transferring funds to them are not lifted. In February 2016, India made it mandatory for CI to obtain prior permission before transferring funds to local groups, after security agencies concluded that it was supporting religious conversions. 

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 10:20:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/U.S.-lawmakers-urge-India-to-ease-curbs-on-Christian-charity/article16773234.ece

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