India’s chauvinist crusade | The daily star

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A Missionaries of Charity nun cares for a patient at Nirmal Hriday, a home for the poor and the elderly founded by Mother Teresa in Kolkata, India. File Photo: Reuters

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A Missionaries of Charity nun cares for a patient at Nirmal Hriday, a home for the poor and the elderly founded by Mother Teresa in Kolkata, India. File Photo: Reuters

The restrictive, illiberal trend that has characterized India for the past five years has a new data point. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government decided that Christmas Day was a good time to deny charity missionaries renewal of a license to receive foreign funds.

Founded by Mother Teresa, who was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2016, this order of Christian nuns has been active in India since 1950. But because Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swear by a “Hindutva” ideology – and commit them to a vision of India as a Hindu nation – the government is waging a widespread campaign against organizations that cannot stand their bigotry.

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Since all NGOs in India require official approval under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) of 2010 to receive foreign funds for their activities, the government can wield significant power over civil society. And Modi’s national security advisor Ajit Doval has made it clear that the government wants to use this power. In a recent speech that baffled the country, Doval highlighted NGOs as “the new frontiers of war”, arguing that “it is civil society that can be infiltrated, subjugated, divided and manipulated to harm a nation’s interests “.

The government has picked up the Achilles’ heel of undesirable NGOs: many of them are largely funded by international donors, foundations and charities. As a result, the union’s Home Office revoked Greenpeace’s foreign funding license in 2015 and frozen Amnesty International’s accounts in 2020, effectively paralyzing its Indian activities. In June 2021, the same did the highly respected Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

But while these secular groups have been targeted for their liberal political orientations and human rights work, the government has reserved a special level of hostility for the foreign-funded religious NGOs it suspects of converting ignorant Hindus.

In action against Missionaries of Charity, Modi and the BJP have broken sharply with previous Indian governments, all of whom welcomed the noble (and Nobel Prize-winning) work of Mother Teresa in the service of the poor, the dying and the destitute.

In response to media inquiries about the Missionaries of Charity’s decision, the Home Office alleged that when it reviewed the charity’s extension request, “some adverse contributions were noted”. In December, a police complaint was filed against the organization in Gujarat alleging that the missionaries were forcing Hindu girls to convert. But the group denies the allegations, insisting that they “did not convert anyone to the Christian faith or compel anyone to marry”. A formal charge has yet to be brought to trial.

While the government has made it clear that it will crack down on efforts to use charity as an incentive for conversion, the targeted organizations have also made it clear that they are doing nothing of the sort. There is a widespread belief that only Christian and Muslim organizations will be scrutinized while Hindu charities continue to receive foreign funding. Hindu groups, for example, have openly tried to convert the Adivasi indigenous people of India in the north-east of the country, but none have been targeted by the government for foreign funds.

The government’s efforts are already having a measurable impact. International funding for nonprofits in India fell 30 percent between 2016 and 2021, according to Bain & Company. During this time, the Ministry of the Interior took action against 13,000 NGOs for various reasons and withdrew 4,800 licenses.

The focus on conversions is in line with the broader Hindutva project. Hindutva followers see India as a Hindu nation that has historically been plagued by invaders and invaders who want to change its essential character. In their view, the conversion of Hindus to other faiths would dilute being Indian itself. The BJP is therefore making a systematic attempt to contain institutions whose work, ethos or principles conflict with the narrow-minded vision of the Government of India.

India is at a turning point. For decades it was considered a rare democratic success story in developing countries. It had a reputation for celebrating its diversity, accepting differences, and allowing all groups, beliefs, and ideologies to flourish. But with its restrictive, bigoted, and increasingly autocratic approach, Modi’s government is signaling to the world that it wouldn’t mind if India had a completely different reputation.

Shashi Tharoor, a former UN Under-Secretary-General, is a member of the Indian National Congress

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2022
www.project-syndicate.org
(Exclusive to The Daily Star)


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