The Central government on Thursday expressed concerns at news reports of the United States announcement to grant $5,00,000 for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in India to reduce ‘religiously-motivated violence and discrimination’.
Though the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) limited its official reaction, saying it was awaiting details of US’ move, senior officials quoted Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) rules and said there was no question to allow grant to any NGO working selectively. The Act permits only NGOs having a definite cultural, economic, educational, religious or social programme to accept foreign contribution, that too after such NGOs either obtain a certificate of registration or prior permission under the Act. India had earlier rejected the report of the US commission on religious freedom saying it was based on a “limited understanding of India, its constitution and its society.”
MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said details of the US announcement were being collected and such move will be judged according to Indian laws. In March this year, Influential US Congressman and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, Ed Royce and over 100 members of the US Congress had written to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, asking him to allow US-based charities to continue their work in India, when the Indian government forced US-funded Compassion International to shut its operations. The Centre has already cancelled licences of 20,000 foreign-funded NGOs for breaching FCRA.
During his confirmation hearing last month, the new US Ambassador-designate to India, Ken Juster had said that human rights and religious freedom would be one of his priority areas. Juster was confirmed by the Senate last week.
Earlier the US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in its notice of funding opportunity, said through its $4,93,827 India programme, it seeks to “reduce religiously-motivated violence and discrimination in India”. It called for proposals from the NGOs to develop and implement early warning systems to mitigate large-scale violence and implement conflict mitigation programmes between minority and majority groups.
Without mentioning recent incidents ranging from cow vigilantism to communal strife and violence against Dalits, the notice called for proposals to educate civil society and journalists about legal protections for religious freedom, particularly for members of religious minorities; document and report religious freedom violations to authorities; and educate law enforcement on human rights standards.
“The applicants also need to come out with ideas for successful programme activities to counter hateful or discriminatory public messages with positive messages,” said the notice.
It also said the proposals could be ideas to engage law enforcement to better protect rights of religious minorities, including preventing incidents of discrimination and violence and holding perpetrators accountable, the State Department said. There was, however, no response as to what necessitated the State Department to approve this grant for Indian NGOs. The current funding for such programmes in South and Central Asian countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kazakhastan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan exceeds USD 17 million.