On Thursday 6 January, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, Co-Chair of the APPG for Dalits, tabled a Parliamentary Question ‘To ask Her Majesty’s Government about what representations they have made to the government of India about the blocking of overseas funds for the Missionaries of Charity and other non-governmental organisations’.
India’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) appears to have been used to hinder many NGOs from operating within the country. This Act in effect requires that any NGO that receives income from abroad is registered with the government with a registered bank account in Delhi – wherever they maybe be located. However, accusations have been made that it is being used to silence a number of civil society voices that have criticised the current government. Many have heard about the problems that Oxfam India and Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity have had, but there are 179 NGOs whose licence renewal has been denied, not to mention those that have apparently not been renewed due to going past their expiry date, and some organisation’s bank accounts have been frozen. Support from abroad for minorities, who may receive limited funding within India, is absolutely essential.
It is heartening, therefore, to see Lord Harries table this parliamentary question and raise the issue of certain minorities being targeted under the legislation. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon stated that he was well aware of the difficulties, and that officials have discussed both with the British High Commission in Delhi and the Indian Government itself, and that they will ‘continue to monitor developments in this respect’. He added that Christian, Muslim and Hindu organisations were also on the list, and that he was seeking more information.
The subject of caste discrimination was also raised by Lord Collins of Highbury and Lord Hamilton of Epsom, who asked how caste discrimination was compatible with human rights. Lord Ahmad himself brought up the Dalit community, and it was positive to see that this marginalised group is being considered in discussions.
To see a full transcript of the debate, you can find it here.
Several days later, Catherine West (shadow minister Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) asked in the House of Commons what discussions had been had with the government of India on their refusal to renew Oxfam India’s licence. The response from Amanda Milling was somewhat disappointing, merely stating that she was aware of the difficulties, and that where there are concerns, they are raised directly with the Indian government, adding that the British High Commission in New Delhi ‘will continue to monitor developments, and engage with religious representatives and run projects supporting minority rights’.
It is essential that the British government receive assurances that there is no political motive behind the refusal of licences under the FCRA. Those who are suffering most through India’s decisions are Indians themselves, particularly those who have little access to support and justice.