ucanews.com reporter, New DelhiUpdated: September 20, 2019 07:44 AM GMT
Members of Indian tribal groups attend a protest in Mumbai in October 2018 over social and economic issues. (Photo by Punit Paranjpe/AFP)
Christian leaders in India are complaining that the nation's pro-Hindu government is placing unfair restrictions on voluntary organizations receiving foreign funding.
The federal home ministry on Sept. 16 announced changes to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
The new rules require all chief functionaries of voluntary groups to sign affidavits that they have not been prosecuted or convicted for forced religious conversion or creating communal tensions.
There are also declaration requirements in relation to not engaging in what the government defines as "sedition" as well as details about the use of foreign funds.
Until now, only the heads of organizations needed to give such an affidavit. Now all office bearers must sign the affidavit and undertake to report any violation of requirements.
The amended rules apply to new registrations and re-registration of organizations after five-year terms expire.
A.C. Michael, a senior office holder of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) that campaigns for Christian rights, said the onerous provisions are unreasonable and appear to be an attempt to discourage Christian leaders from managing voluntary organizations.
"Thousands of these organizations are headed by religious leaders who profess and preach their faith," he said. "It could be another step towards throttling religious freedom."
Christian leaders have warned that if someone accuses an office bearer of a violation, and those under him have not reported it, the entire team could be punished.
The FCRA was introduced in 1976 to restrict political functionaries receiving funds from abroad. It also included journalists in an apparent move to choke political dissent. Over the years, rules were periodically tightened.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, which first came to power in 2014 and has since been re-elected, introduced tougher registration and financial reporting measures.
In 2012, India had 43,527 voluntary organizations authorized to receive foreign funding, but the Modi government canceled licenses of some 20,000 of them in 2018 for various alleged violations.
Father Denzil Fernandes, director of the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute in New Delhi, says the government shouldn't "paint all with the same brush."
Instead of seeking a declaration from all voluntary organizations, the government should identify those misusing funds for conversion or other unlawful activities, he said.
FCRA already required the completion of complicated paperwork in relation to financial details, objectives and work carried out. "There is hardly any chance of any wrongdoing," Father Fernandes said.
He noted that despite several allegations of forced conversion against Christian ministers and priests, there had as yet been no convictions for such a crime.
Joseph Dias, of the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum, said the government wrongly links foreign funding with conversion and sedition in a bid to stop Christians engaging in humanitarian work.
The BJP and affiliated Hindu groups have accused Christian missioners of bringing funds from abroad to use for conversion activities.
In particular, they allege Christian social services, such as health care and schools, are used to convert gullible tribal and socially poor Dalit people, formerly known as untouchables.
Hindus form 966 million (80 percent) of India's population of 1.3 billion. Muslims account for 172 million (14 percent), while Christians comprise 29 million (2.3 percent).