Navsarjan Trust, a leading NGO working for Dalit rights in around 3,000 villages of Gujarat, on Thursday sought resignations from all its 80 employees and announced to shut down three primary schools, citing cancellation of its licence under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) recently by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Following cancellation of the FCRA licence, the NGO was barred from receiving funds from overseas sources.
“We have sought resignations from our employees and relieved them because we can no longer pay their salaries after the central government revoked our NGO’s FCRA licence,” said Martin Macwan, managing trustee of Navsarjan that was set up in 1989. As much as half of the funds received by the NGO, according to Macwan, were used to pay staff’s salary, while the rest was spent on social activities and programmes of the organisation.
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“I spent around Rs 3 crore on our activities annually, and I arranged the funds from foreign sources. After cancellation of the FCRA licence, it is not possible to raise so much money from the sources within the country and hence, there is no option, but to relieve the employees,” said Macwan, winner of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2000. He was also the winner of Gleitsman International Activist Award for Human Rights in 2001.
Executive director of Navsarjan Manjula Pradeep, who was also asked to resign, told The Indian Express: “The government’s action is a big setback to the cause of Dalit movement in the state. However, an organisation as large as Navsarjan cannot completely shut down.” She has been with the organisation for 12 years.
The NGO had played a key role in galvanising support for the Dalit agitation in the state following the Una flogging incident in July this year. Macwan said his organistation’s role in the Dalit agitation appeared to be the “immediate provocation” for the government to cancel the licence. “The Una incident had attracted international attention,” he said, adding, “the action (cancellation of the FCRA registration) suggests that the central government is anti-Dalit. Navsarjan has been selectively targeted.”
Officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), however, maintained it was incorrect to say that the NGO was targeted for its role during the Dalit agitation.
According to the MHA officials, Navsarjan Trust was under the scanner following adverse field reports from the intelligence agencies. The FCRA licence, however, was “inadvertently” renewed in August this year, before it was cancelled on December 15 when the error was discovered during a scrutiny. The FCRA registrations of a few other NGOs were also cancelled.
Cancelling the FCRA licence of Navsarjan Trust, the MHA in its order stated: “Navsarjan Trust has come to adverse notice for its undesirable activities aimed to affect prejudicially harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes or communities.”
Defending the NGO, Macwan said: “We have only been working to protect the rights of weaker people, particularly Dalits, and promoting self-respect and dignity among them.”
Navsarjan, according to Macwan, was the first in India to file a public interest litigation on the existence of manual scavenging practices in 1996. It was after this PIL, he claimed, a law banning manual scavenging was passed in the country.