‘Ideological’ reasons behind shut down, says Compassion International; Centre, RSS refute claim

March 08, 2017 08:40 pm | Updated March 09, 2017 03:52 am IST

Screenshot of Compassion International’s India Updates page.

Screenshot of Compassion International’s India Updates page.

The Centre on Wednesday dismissed a statement by American Christian NGO Compassion International that it is being forced to shut down its operations in India next week because of “ideological” reasons, while the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) that was also accused by the NGO distanced itself from the issue.

“We have responded to the report (quoting Compassion International)”, an MEA official told The Hindu , pointing to the MEA statement calling the allegation that an RSS activist in the U.S. had suggested that the Christian NGO re-route some of its funding through the RSS, “totally extraneous to the law enforcement action”.

Meanwhile, RSS spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya said, “RSS has nothing to do with the allegations levelled and carry out our socio-cultural activities through support from the public rather than the government.”

The MEA and RSS officials were referring to a report in the New York Times published on Wednesday, which quoted Compassion International CEO Santiago Mellado, saying they had been approached by an RSS activist in Washington DC — Shekhar Tiwari, who works with a powerful Indian-American lobby group — with a proposal that indicated they were “negotiating with an ideological movement that is fuelling the government”.

In March 2016, the Ministry of Home Affairs had put Compassion International on a “prior permission” watch list, effectively curtailing its ability to bring in funds for NGOs in India, some of which were accused of carrying out religious conversions. After several appeals, CI announced that it is shutting down its India operations on March 15, 2017, after operating here for more than 30 years, bringing in approximately ₹292 crore per year.

According to the allegation carried in the NYT , the proposal forwarded was that the [Indian] government “might view Compassion International more favourably if the charity routed a portion of its $45 million in annual charitable donations away from churches and through non-Christian aid groups, including Hindu ones”.


Speaking to The Hindu over the telephone from the U.S., Mr. Tiwari denied approaching CI, saying that a lawyer for Compassion International, Stephen Oakley, had instead met him in 2016 through a friend and asked for advice.

“I told them I am against the conversion of children, and that if they wanted to prove that they were not into conversion, they should choose partners other than Christian Pentecostal outfits. I told them India is a secular country, but illegal conversions are not tolerated,” Mr. Tiwari said.

Mr. Tiwari is a prominent member of the Indian-American community affiliated to the BJP and the RSS, as well as a founder of the Washington-based non-profit organisation U.S. India Security Council Inc. (USISC), which is at the forefront of lobbying efforts for U.S.-India ties, and has an MoU with the powerful Delhi-based Vivekananda International Foundation that has many fellows appointed to government positions. However, Mr. Tiwari denied telling the CI official at any point that he was intervening on behalf of the government.

CI’s CEO has said in interviews that he felt “frustrated” as the restrictions placed on the organisation came despite several official interventions from the U.S. government and the Congress. Their case was taken up at the highest level by then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in 2016, while Mr. Oakley was accompanied for a meeting with Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar by the U.S. acting Ambassador Marykay Loss Carlson in January 2016. In between, U.S. lawmakers held a Congressional hearing on the issue, and received a commitment from the then nominated U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that he would look into the issue once he took office.

CI declined The Hindu ’s request for an interview on the allegations against them, saying only in a statement from its USA Communications Director, Tim Glenn, that the NGO is “confident that the local church in India will continue to do its best to care for children living in poverty in their country long after we have left. We still have hope that Compassion can one day resume working on behalf of children in India.”

(With inputs from Nistula Hebbar)

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