Mother Teresa’s charitable foundation — Missionaries of Charity — received an unpleasant surprise at the end of 2021. The Indian government cut off foreign funding for Catholic organizations that help poor people in the world’s second most populous country.
In a statement, the Home Ministry said the charitable foundation “did not meet the eligibility requirements” under the Foreign Contribution Regulations Act (FCRA), without providing further details.
The decision comes shortly after hardline Hindu groups disrupted Christmas services in several parts of India last December, including in Modi’s parliamentary constituency in the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh where local elections are scheduled to take place this year.
Hindu hardliners affiliated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have repeatedly accused Missionaries of Charity of organizing a conversion program under the guise of charity by offering money, free education and housing to impoverished Hindus.
Missionaries of Charity denies the accusations, and Ranjeet Kumar, a resident of Calcutta, the capital of the state of West Bengal, has also confirmed it.
“I ask all central government officials to come to this foundation every morning at 6 and see a line of the poor and homeless that stretches for more than a mile being fed free. None of those people are Christians and none of them are Christians.” those who are asked to convert to Christianity,” he said.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun who died in 1997, founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. The charity has more than 3,000 nuns worldwide who run hospices, soup kitchens, schools, leper colonies, and orphanages for abandoned children. In India alone, the charity has helped thousands of people,
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, hardline Hindu groups have increasingly consolidated their position. They launched attacks against minority groups with the pretext of preventing the practice of converting.
Some states have even passed, or are considering, anti-religious conversion laws that further suppress religious freedom in the country.
Many Christian figures and human rights activists say the enactment of anti-immigration laws is wrong, and unfounded. Indian Christians represent only 2.3 percent of the country’s 1.37 billion population. Nearly 80 percent of the country’s population is Hindu.
Manish Dashee, a human rights activist, denounced the law.
“We are completely against this law. We are disappointed with what the government is doing. The constitution clearly protects religious freedom. Why does the government seem like it’s suppressing minority groups?” he said.
Pressure is also felt by Muslim minority groups in India. Hardline Hindu groups often stage protests ahead of Friday prayers. As a result, many congregational prayers were canceled, or even not permitted by local authorities because they caused trouble.
Religious divisions in India deepened under Modi’s Hindu nationalist government. Civil society groups accuse authorities in some states of favoring Hindus over minority communities.
Prerna Mehta, Associate Director of Urban Development at India’s World Resources Institute, an institute think-tank, say, for example, minority groups in India have less space and more limited access.
At Gurugram, near the Indian capital, New Delhi, the number of public areas designated for prayer, the Persian word for Friday prayers, has been halved to around 20. Hindu groups claim the spaces are for games and other activities, and state that religion should not be practiced there.
A high-ranking official at Gurugram denied that the authorities favored Hindu groups. “Friday prayers are still being held in many places. Protests are only happening in two or three places,” said Yash Garg, deputy commissioner of Gurugram district.
He said the community and government were committed to finding a peaceful solution, without giving further details.
Despite the denials, many human rights activists have reported an increase in killings and hate crimes against Muslims and Dalits, India’s lowest caste, during Modi’s reign – allegations the government denies. Meanwhile, many events marking Hindu religious festivals have become more aggressive.
Such incidents reflect “a clear disregard for any restrictions on religious manifestations in public spaces when it comes to Hindus,” said Neha Dabhade, deputy director at the Center for the Study of Society and Secularism. [ab/uh]