Over the past month, while U.S. attention has been focused on the presidential election and transition, the Indian government has unabashedly taken steps to shut down a wide range of human rights organizations and block aid to 145,000 of its poorest and most vulnerable children and families.
India’s actions should shock human rights advocates and all who value the United States’ relationship with the world’s largest democracy.
One of the children impacted is sixteen-year-old Rinki, whose family struggled to provide for daily necessities — food, clean drinking water, clothing and shelter. Few government programs exist to help them, but Rinki’s mother enrolled her in a Compassion International child development center operated by a local Christian church.
Support for the more than 580 such centers serving these 145,000 children in India comes from donors in the United States and 13 other countries.
Through the development center staff, Rinki enjoys nutritious meals, tutoring and counseling that counters poverty’s debilitating message that “you don’t matter.”
She has discovered a sense of purpose and hope that life is more than merely surviving. Today she and her family are thriving. Thanks to a special monetary donation from a family in Tennessee, Rinki’s father developed a business as an independent fisherman and now provides a sustainable livelihood for his wife and children.
My organization, Compassion International has operated harmoniously with successive Indian governments since 1968, benefiting more than 280,000 Indian children and their families.
By supporting children’s health, nutrition, education and holistic well-being, Compassion provides opportunities that benefit, not only children like Rinki, but also whole communities and Indian society at large.
Yet since Prime Minister Modi’s election in 2014, Compassion and many other NGOs have experienced governmental intimidation and persecution under the guise of enforcing India’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
In a secret order issued in February, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) blocked Compassion from transferring funds to the development centers serving children like Rinki. In November, Indian bureaucrats refused to renew foreign funding licenses for Compassion and at least 24 other NGOs — severely disrupting our humanitarian work.
Compassion has committed no crimes, broken no laws, and to date has received no formal notice of illegal actions or a response from the Indian government. That’s a common thread among the more than two dozen NGOs affected by India’s most recent actions, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International India.
The government is providing no reason for its decisions and no recourse for the organizations to appeal. Indeed, the democratic ideal of freedom of religion and the free expression of religion, which are cornerstones of the Indian constitution (Articles 15 and 25) are under attack from within India.
In Compassion’s case, Prime Minister Modi’s government has since April blocked roughly $3.5 million in monthly aid to India’s most vulnerable children for, as far as we can tell, no other reason than that Compassion is founded on and demonstrates Christian values.
This blockade is in spite of the fact that Compassion and its development centers rigorously observe Indian law and serve children and families in India of all castes, creeds, classes and religions.
As of today, most of the Compassion centers in India have run out of funds. If a resolution is not reached immediately, Compassion will no longer be able to fund any work in India, extinguishing a beacon of hope and opportunity for the 145,000 children currently in these programs and countless others who would enroll in the decades to come.
Compassion wants nothing more than to continue supporting India’s children and families, and we respectfully urge Prime Minister Modi to immediately and unreservedly reverse his government’s decisions and release the funding that India’s poorest desperately need.
And we sincerely hope U.S. officials — including President Obama, President-elect Trump and members of Congress, among many others — will boldly intervene in this situation to defend urgently needed humanitarian efforts in India.
For the tens of thousands of Indian children like Rinki, we can only hope such help doesn’t come too late.
Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado is president and CEO of Compassion International.
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