Since 2014 the Modi government has cancelled the licence of 15,000 foreign NGOs
NGOs complain about the crackdown on their work. NGOs are needed in India for children's education, support for the sick and help for the poor. For John Dayal, the Hindu nationalist party is against Western governments when they “raise questions about the treatment of Christians, Muslims and Dalits."
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Since it came to power five years ago, the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cancelled the license of 15,000 foreign NGOs working for the poor, the marginalised, street children and the sick.
"Every Indian government, but especially the current one led by the Hindu nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), has been hostile to international organisations and media scrutiny,” said John Dayal, general secretary of the All India Christian Council.
Speaking to AsiaNews, he noted that this anti-NGOs bias stems from the fact that they investigate the “real situation, such as extreme poverty, suicides among farmers, rape, human rights violations and civil liberties, and above all religious freedom."
NGO activities are restricted, their offices repeatedly shut down and their bank accounts frozen, whilst their staff are subject to travel curbs.
Greenpeace India is a case in point. Over the years, it has urged the government to address hazardous air quality in the country’s cities, but this month it announced that it was forced to close two regional offices and sharply reduce its staff after its Bengaluru (Bangalore) offices were raided and its bank accounts frozen.
One of way for the authorities to curtail the work of foreign NGOs is to accuse them of avoiding tax controls on foreign funding under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.
This is what happened to US-based Compassion International, forced to shut down in 2017. With US$ 45 million transfers to local centres each year, it was India’s largest donor and in its 48-year activity it helped some 280,000 children.
Some experts believe that the government no longer views NGOs as a resource for the country’s development. Instead, they are viewed as a threat because they put the spot on abuses of power, corruption and human rights violations.
Dayal agrees. "India does not usually grant a visa to United Nations special envoys to investigate human rights. It is very hostile to them. This is especially true when Western governments raise questions about the treatment of Christians, Muslims and Dalits."
However, by imposing more restrictions, “the lives of millions of beneficiaries who receive aid from the West are at risk. What started as mere suspicion towards groups headquartered in New York or Europe has morphed into full blown paranoia.”
The resulting crackdown on foreign NGOs "weakens the voice of India’s own human rights community, which needs access to domestic and international media to amplify its voice.”
Still, “the truth in the end will come to the fore and the human rights community will find alternative ways to speak out and put the spotlight on what is happening.”