Thu, Mar 09, 2017 - Page 6 News List

US Christian charity closing in India amid crackdown

‘SPONSOR A CHILD’:The shutdown of Compassion International comes as India curbs foreign funds for activities deemed detrimental to the nation

NY Times News Service, NEW DELHI

India’s crackdown on foreign aid will claim its most prominent casualty this month, as a Colorado-based Christian charity that is one of India’s biggest donors closes its operations after 48 years, informing tens of thousands of children that they will no longer receive meals, medical care or tuition payments.

The shutdown of the charity — Compassion International — on suspicion of engaging in religious conversion, comes as India, a rising economic power with a swelling spirit of nationalism, curtails the flow of foreign money to activities it deems “detrimental to the national interest.”

LOSS OF LICENSE

More than 11,000 non-governmental organizations have lost their licenses to accept foreign funds since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014.

Major Western funders have been barred from transferring funds without permission from Indian security officials.

However, few have been as vocal about their struggle as Compassion International, which solicits donations through its US$38-a-month “sponsor a child” program and distributes them through church-affiliated service centers.

It has repeatedly ranked as India’s largest single foreign donor, transferring about US$45 million a year.

Its executives vehemently deny the government’s allegation that it is funding religious conversions and say India has given them no opportunity to rebut the accusation.

Instead, they say they found themselves in murky back-channel negotiations with a representative of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu ideological group that is closely connected with the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, but has no official role in governance.

“You think: ‘Wow, am I negotiating with the government or am I negotiating with an ideological movement that is fueling the government?’” Compassion International chief executive officer Santiago Mellado said in a telephone interview from the charity’s offices in Colorado Springs.

He added that a briefing on the situation would be submitted to US President Donald Trump’s administration this week.

NO COMMENT

A spokesman for the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees regulation of foreign charities, declined repeated requests for comment.

Religious charities, which make up half of the dozen top international donors to India, are watching the case closely, Mellado said.

“What we hear from our friends in India is that it would be tragic if they were successful in shutting down Compassion, because that would leave other ministries very vulnerable,” Mellado said. “They are feeling like they’re next.”

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