Eliminating charities and NGOs as part of the Hindutva agenda

Besides, NGOs over the years have become the eyes and ears of civil society highlighting shortcomings ignored by political parties and the local administration.

Published: 09th January 2022 07:30 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th January 2022 07:30 AM   |  A+A-

It was not a good start to 2022 for hundreds of non-government organisations (NGOs) and the wide network of local communities who rely on them. In one fell swoop, the Union government cancelled the foreign contribution licenses of nearly 6,000 NGOs. Many of these had not reapplied for the licence under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976. 

However, as many as 179 organisations were specifically denied licences for reasons that are still shrouded in mystery. Some of them that faced short shrift are big and respected organisations like the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa, and Oxfam India. Other well know community NGOs include the Hamdard Education Society and educational trusts like India Habitat Centre, Lady Sriram College for Women and the DAV College Trust. 

The move against the Missionaries of Charity has shocked the world. Though a Catholic order, Mother St Theresa had risen above both politics and religion. From a small band who started work in 1950 to bring succor to the lepers of Kolkata, she grew her network to 5,000 nuns in over a 100 countries working for those who had no future. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and was canonized as a Saint by Pope Francis in 2016, posthumously. 

There has been a systematic crackdown on NGOs since the NDA government took power in 2014. In the first round up to 2019, the government suspended the FCRA licences of around 14,500 NGOs. These included Greenpeace, Action Aid and Amnesty International - international networks the government felt were critical of government policies. Then followed a second guillotine a few months ago, around September of last year. From a peak of over 40,000 NGOs registered to receive foreign funds, the number has now whittled down to 16,829. 

Two-way clampdown

The systematic choking of NGOs has to be seen as a Hindutva programme with a two-fold strategy. The first pincer is against those NGOs seen as arms of Muslims, Christian and other minority religious groups. These are seen as proselytising movements who seek to convert Hindus through the ‘ruse’ of food aid and education. 

Despite the good work of the Missionaries of Charity, the BJP government has always looked upon the charity with suspicion. For instance, an investigation has been launched into the nuns allegedly forcing conversions at some of its homes for children in Gujarat. Police complaints have also been filed against the group for teaching the Bible to children. 

It is no coincidence that many of these NGOs have come under the attack of extremist Hindu groups like the Bajrang Dal. On Christmas Day there were 9 attacks on churches and other community gatherings while in the first 9 months of calendar 2021, as many as 300 such attacks have been documented against Christian communities. 

It is an interesting jugalbandi. The illegal pogroms are carried out by right wing, fringe groups, with supposedly no hand of the state; on the other hand, the sources of funding and support are slowly cut off by state fiat, and the community groups are slowly but systematically choked. 

The other drive is against those NGOs perceived to be critical of government and its policies. Oxfam International, a network of 21 charities that provides food aid, disaster relief and health support to poor communities, also challenges the inequality written into the Capitalist World Order. 

For instance, a year ago it brought out ‘India’s Unequal Healthcare Story’ where Oxfam argued that growing socio-economic inequalities in India are disproportionately affecting health outcomes of marginalised groups due to the absence of Universal Health Coverage (UHC). 

Yeoman service 

These kind of views are unpalatable. The unsaid government view is NGOs should restrict themselves to social service, and not meddle in politics. The ouster of Amnesty International from India followed the same trajectory: the organisation’s highlighting of issues such as the plight of political prisoners, and communal violence against the minority communities, was found to be damaging India’s international standing. 

The ouster of many like Oxfam will be a real loss to vulnerable communities who have scant access to state support. During the two waves of the pandemic, NGOs formed the core of the voluntary support providing food and medicines to those at the bottom of the ladder. Oxfam India, for instance, provided 6 oxygen generating plants and distributed over 13,388 life-saving medical equipment such as oxygen cylinders, BiPAP Machines, concentrators, and 20,000 testing kits in 16 states.

Besides, NGOs over the years have become the eyes and ears of civil society highlighting shortcomings ignored by political parties and the local administration. Providing a voice to the local community only adds to the democratisation of society, and taking away this voice will make our polity poorer.


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