On 28 September, the Indian government passed the Foreign Contribution Regulations Act, regulating how NGOs can work in the country.
Amnesty International has ended its operations in India after the Indian government froze its bank accounts, just as a new bill regulating non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in India has been passed.
Rajat Khosla, Amnesty's senior director of research, advocacy and policy, told the BBC, "We are facing a rather unprecedented situation in India. Amnesty International India has been facing an onslaught of attacks, bullying and harassment by the government in a very systematic manner.
"This is all down to the human rights work that we were doing and the government not wanting to answer questions we raised.”
The Enforcement Directorate, an agency set up to investigate economic crimes, froze the bank accounts of Amnesty’s Indian arm on 10 September, after Amnesty International published two reports criticising the Indian government’s human rights record.
The Indian government claims Amnesty’s local arm has broken the law on receiving funds from overseas. A statement by the government said, “India, by settled law, does not allow interference in domestic political debates by entities funded by foreign donations.”
This comes just as the Indian government has passed a new bill in parliament, The Foreign Contribution Regulations Act (FCRA), on Monday (28 September). The Voluntary Action Network India (VANI), a body of Indian voluntary organisations, has said the bill will make it virtually impossible for NGOs to function. “Collaborations even with national NGOs which are compliant with FCRA regulations will be curtailed as the Bill talks of no sub-granting, therefore killing the overall spirit of collaboration,” the VANI has stated.
The Bill also limits administrative expenses to 20 per cent of foreign donations received, where the cap had previously been 50 per cent. The Bill counts salaries as administrative expenses, except for certain specific roles such as teachers and doctors. “This means all the salaries of outreach workers, field staff who support villagers and rural communities are also counted as administrative expenses,” said the VANI, calling it a ‘major blow’.
Open Doors local partner in India, Heena*, has shared, “Considering that most of the Christian organisations and churches are registered as NGOs, this new bill is targeted especially at Christian mission organisations which had been operating for a long time in coalition with international churches and organisations, and often get its funding from outside India.”
Previous versions of the FCRA bill have already been used to limit the work of many NGOs. In 2016, around 20,000 NGOs had their FCRA licences cancelled.
Heena shares, “A few days ago, several such NGOs saw their FCRA licences cancelled, as they had links with churches and were falsely alleged to be actively involved in the forced conversion of tribal people. The Union Home Ministry has given instructions to cancel the FCRA license as well as freeze their respective bank accounts.”
Open Doors works through local church partners in India, and is therefore not directly affected.
However, our local church partners continue to need our prayers as they face the new level of scrutiny this bill creates. Heena says, “Please pray for the mission organisations and churches in India which are mostly registered as NGOs. The government alleges that the grants they receive are used in fraudulent conversions to Christianity and are seeking different means to stop them functioning.”
*Name changed for security reasons
Father God, we pray for mission organisations and churches in India which are registered as NGOs, and ask that You would make a way for them to do Your will and support Your people in India. We pray for Your protection over our brothers and sisters in India.
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