US lawmakers say Indian action against Christian charity “dogmatic,” “troubling”

U.S lawmakers from Republican and Democratic parties on Tuesday urged the Indian government to ease the restrictions imposed on Colorado-based Christian charity Compassion International (CI). Indian security agencies have accused the organisation of supporting religious conversions.

At a hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee, 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 CI “dogmatic.”

'No conversions by it'

Mr. Royce said it was a “rumour” and a “myth” that CI was involved in conversions and suggested that if the Indian government wanted to be sure, it could go down the list of local NGS supported by it one by one to ascertain that.

Democrat Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the Committee 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.” The fact that the high profile committee chose to hold a hearing on the matter of one particular organisation indicates the significance its members attach to this, he has said.

 “This isn’t a hearing that the Committee expected to be holding,” Mr. Royce said. “For the past nine months, this Committee has had meetings, written letters, made phone calls, and for that, I thank our Members,” he said.

'CI willing to work with India'

Stephen Oakley, an official of CI, told the Committee that it was willing to work with the Indian government to address concerns regarding conversions. “If there are concerns regarding a particular partner, we will be willing to remove them from our network,” he said, adding that the spiritual component of the support provided to poor children in the network involved values that were common to Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. 

Mr. Oakley said CI would be forced to stop its activities in the next few weeks, if restrictions on transferring funds to them were not lifted. CI supports 145000 children in India through 580 partner organisations, he has said.

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.

'Using FCRA for a troubling crackdown'

John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, told the Committee that the Indian government was using the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), for a “troubling new crackdown on civil society is underway in India, especially in the last few months.” Indian sources questioned the premise that restrictions on CI indicated a clampdown on civil society organisations in general.

The official has said India put CI in a category that requires prior clearance for funding NGOs in India, and this does not mean a complete ban on its activities. “There are more than 30,000 NGOs in India 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. India has three million NGOs, he said.  

Misrepresentation of facts: India

Indian sources said the high-profile Congressional hearing was avoidable and the witnesses misrepresented several facts pertaining to the situation. India has already cleared nearly a dozen organisations to receive funds from CI and there is no legal bar on carrying out the activities through these bodies. CI has transferred funds to several local NGOs that do not have FCRA clearance, and such transfers are in conflict with the Indian law, he has said.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 10:40:20 AM |

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