Three months after Christian charity organisation Compassion International was forced to shut its operations in India following a government directive, the Indian side may be asked some tough questions from US interlocutors on the crackdown on NGOs during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stay here.
The Prime Minister, who arrived in Washington DC Saturday night, will meet US administration officials Sunday onward and US President Donald Trump Monday.
Influential US Congressman and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, Ed Royce, told The Indian Express, “The US-India partnership is critically important, and that’s why I hope Prime Minister Modi will take time to listen to those who are concerned about crackdowns on non-governmental organisations, including the shuttering of Compassion International that was providing critical tutoring, nutrition and medical services to more than 145,000 Indian children.”
Royce has been at the forefront of those critical of the Indian government’s actions against NGOs, especially Compassion International.
Since the current US administration has a strong base in the conservative constituency in the US, Modi’s visit may give an opportunity for the administration to raise this issue. While it is highly unlikely that Trump may raise the issue, other key administration officials may raise this with the Prime Minister and his official delegation, US officials indicated.
David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, a global advocate for persecuted Christians, wrote in The Hill, a DC-based news outlet on American politics, on Saturday: “As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to meet with President Trump this week, a question is looming: what will President Trump say about the rise in brutal persecution of Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities in India? Can we expect the President to bring this issue to light, or let it linger in the shadows? Having recently returned from India, I witnessed firsthand accounts of pastors imprisoned and churches attacked by mobs of Hindu radicals, not to mention the abysmal saga of Compassion International, wherein the Indian government’s crackdown-on this and other organizations-has led to tens of thousands of children throughout India losing access to medical care, meals and tuition.”
There are no meetings scheduled between US Congressman Royce and Modi so far, and officials maintained that this will be the first Modi-Trump meeting and the two leaders will focus on the “big picture”.
In March this year, Royce and more than 100 members of the US Congress had written to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, asking him to allow US-based charity Compassion International to continue its work in India.
Compassion International was forced to terminate its service to India after nearly 50 years of work there, after the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an inter-bank circular preventing all commercial banks in India from processing CI’s wire transfers without prior Ministry approval. As a result, Compassion was unable to process the funds it needed to continue, and was forced to close its sponsorship programmes on March 15 this year.
In the letter written in March, US Congressmen led by Royce had said that as long-time supporters of the US-India partnership, “we have worked diligently to deepen ties between our two countries. As the largest and oldest democracies in the world, India and the United States share bonds rooted in political pluralism and respect for the rule of law. It is with this in mind that we write to express our deep concern over the lack of transparency and consistency in your government’s enforcement of the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act.”
Compassion International has worked in India since 1968, and its programmes support over 145,000 Indian children, providing critical tutoring, health and nutrition, and medical services. Being a faith-based child sponsorship NGO based in Colorado, it has served nearly two million children living in extreme poverty across 26 countries worldwide.
In February 2016, the Indian government had issued an order against Compassion, preventing funds from reaching its local church partners in India. “These restrictions appear to be religiously motivated. Compassion is an unapologetically Christian organization that seeks to serve children in poverty as a response to its faith. The decision is disappointing because Compassion accepts and serves children and families in India of all faith backgrounds and rigorously follows Indian law,” an official of Compassion International said.
In March, Santiago Jimmy Mellado, CEO of Compassion International, wrote to its sponsors, “As we navigate this difficult moment in Compassion’s history, I am flooded with emotions. I am heartbroken for sure, over the 147,000 babies, children, young adults and mothers who will no longer receive the benefits of Compassion’s program. I am distraught over the partnerships with 589 churches that will come to an end. I am concerned for our 127 staff members who have committed their careers to helping the poorest of the poor in their own communities.”
Indian government officials, however, maintained that any NGO, foreign or Indian, has to operate in India, or for that matter anywhere else in the world, within the laws of the country. Officials have also said that the government had been fully transparent in this regard, including in conversations with Compassion International’s officials concerned.