Red tape and restrictions: India’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act is preventing NGOs from doing their vital work

Home of Hope, Chennai, is a church-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) that helps underprivileged children and orphans with monthly sponsorship feeding programs, and helps women with microloans. Like many NGOs, Home of Hope relies on funds from generous donors across the globe to sustain their work, but the Indian government is making life increasingly difficult for this and many organisations like it.

Since amendments to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) came into effect in September 2020, things have been different. Two boys receiving support from Home of Hope were prevented from sitting their final examinations in September as they were unable to receive the funds that helped pay their fees on time. Several other critical needs, such as healthcare for COVID-19 patients, were also left unmet due to the delay in funds. 

Of course, Home of Hope is not the only organisation affected by the new regulations. A majority of Christian charities, organisations and even educational institutions in India are funded by international donors, relying on them to survive. The FCRA amendments have made it almost impossible for them to function. 

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World NGO Day: Standing up for those who stand up for others

27 February marks World NGO Day – a day to celebrate the work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) around the world. As a key part of civil society, NGOs help to drive positive change, protecting and promoting fundamental human rights, democracy, and rule of law.

CSW networks and collaborates with hundreds of NGOs around the world, empowering communities whose concerns may often be overlooked, amplifying these issues in international advocacy arenas, and whenever possible, providing a platform for them to address policy makers directly.

Even as the world celebrates the invaluable work of civil society, there are many countries, including several on which CSW focuses, where the work of NGOs is not celebrated, but is instead stifled or shut down by state or non-state actors.

India: Civil society suffocated

Perhaps one of the most restrictive environments for NGOs to operate in is in India. In recent years, the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other Hindu nationalist groups have increasingly attempted to label dissent as damaging to India’s national interests, arguing that those who speak up about human rights are ‘anti-nationals.’

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FoRB on the Frontlines: “A rival to the government”

In several Latin American countries, religious leaders often take on the roles of community leader and human rights defender. As a result, these leaders often face harassment, intimidation and even violence at the hands of state and non-state actors. Over the next few weeks CSW will be presenting interviews with religious leaders working in the region to highlight their experiences on the frontlines of freedom of religion or belief.

David* is a religious leader working in Venezuela. In his role, he has provided pastoral accompaniment to victims of human rights violations.

“To do social work in Venezuela – distributing food and other things, the work that I do – you have to be very discreet, you have to be very careful, and even then it’s impossible not to put yourself at risk.

In theory we have freedom of religion in Venezuela, but some priests and religious leaders are a target for the government, which is a kind of confederation of forces that aims to stay in power by trying to maintain social control over the people.

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Video Footage Shows Stark Reality of Physical attacks on India’s Religious Minorities

Recent years have seen a worrying, increase in attacks against religious minorities in India. Even as the country marks the 68th anniversary of the constitution, which guarantees the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion, there is evidence that there has been a dramatic rise in tensions between religious groups, due in large part to the validation of Hindu nationalism propagated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party, guided by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh  (RSS), its ideological wing.

Recent video footage obtained by CSW of a physical attack against two Christians portrays the stark reality for many religious minorities in India today.

VIDEO: Two church leaders from Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Kadamalaikuntu, Tamil Nadu are seen here being threatened, ridiculed and forcefully detained by six men on motorbikes as they attempted to leave a village after distributing Christian tracts. They also had sacred ash forcefully applied on them.

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The European Parliament’s Watchdog on Freedom of Religion or Belief: Bark or Bite?

European Union (EU) policy on the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) has seen several positive developments over the past decade, one of the most significant being the 2013 EU Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of FoRB.

Achieving consensus on the guidelines was no easy task as the 28 Member States have various models of church-state relations; some even have legislation or internal challenges that constitute obstacles to FoRB and can undermine its human rights message overseas, such as blasphemy laws. However agreement on the guidelines produced a common reference point for Member States and commits the EU to using a variety of tools to protect the victims of FoRB violations worldwide.

The European Parliament (EP) Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance aims to be the watchdog that ensures their implementation.

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