US lawmakers have urged the Indian government to allow a leading faith-based American charity, which counts religious proselytisation among its goals along with child development, to continue sending funds to its local affiliates.
Compassion International helps children from poor backgrounds in India through two local partners, both of whom are set to lose government permission to receive foreign funding in three weeks.
“It is my hope that by bringing attention to this issue (of Compassion International), as we’re doing here today, the 145,000 children will not be tragically denied the services they desperately need,” said Ed Royce, chairman of the US House of Representatives foreign relations committee, opening a congressional hearing titled “American Compassion in India: Government Obstacles” on Tuesday.
Chris Smith, a member of the committee, wondered if the time had come to designate India a “country of particular concern”.
The committee tried to broaden the discussion into an issue of civil society under attack, covering Indian actions against the Ford Foundation, which has since been cleared, and Greenpeace, which has been thrown out, and instances of “intolerance”.
Eliot Engel, the senior-most Democrat on the committee, brought up the issue of arrest of a college student this year for saying “what was deemed as ‘anti-national’ statement”.
Human Rights Watch’s John Sifton said, “A troubling new crackdown on civil society is underway in India, specially in the last few months.” And the US, as a “close ally”, he added, “needs to respond”.
But to most, including Indian officials, it seemed like a single-issue hearing, called to address Compassion International’s travails in India. “For anyone with any doubt about it,” said a source, “look at the topic — ‘American compassion …’”
Compassion International, which operates in 26 countries, sends $50 million a year to India, collected from American donors, to sponsor 145,000 children.
Its two partners — Caruna Bal Vikas, operating in the south, and Compassion East India, working in the north — were in November denied clearance under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act to accept foreign funding.
In May 2016, Compassion International was put on a list of sources of foreign funding that needed clearance from the government before transferring money to affiliates.
And Compassion East India came under investigation in August. The affiliates lost the permission to accept foreign money in November.