Several international groups—some with missionary and human rights portfolios—have been prohibited from operating in India since the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) of 1976 was updated in 2010. Under the revision to the law, the government can shut down any internationally funded NGO engaged in “any activities detrimental to the national interest.”
The government has also used this provision to shut down thousands of international NGOs since 2014; some reports estimate that 20,000 NGOs have been denied licenses to operate or continue operations. The process by which NGOs have to apply for certification lacks transparency, and NGOs who have been denied operational licenses often cannot obtain explanations for the denial.
The NGOs were often targeted for political reasons, however, non-Hindu religious organizations were also targeted. In November 2018, the Indian government demanded that 1,775 organizations provide further explanation for their failure to submit use of foreign funds over the last six years; these organizations included many non-Hindu religious groups, some Hindu trusts managing major temples, and secular human rights groups.
USCIRF’s 2018 report on limitations to religious freedom in South Asia and a 2018 Congressional Research Service report described the FCRA’s impact. Some among the Hindu population—including some Hindutva extremists—perceive Christian missionaries converting Dalits to be particularly threatening, as there are nearly 200 million Dalits in India.
Many observers assert that it was this fear of mass conversion that led to the 2017 shutdown of Compassion International, a U.S.-based Christian charity, which provided services to nearly 150,000 Indian children. Compassion International remained closed at the end of the reporting period; it hopes to reopen operations in India in the future, though this may prove difficult considering the way the FCRA has been applied against Christian groups.
Based on these concerns, in 2019 USCIRF again places India on its Tier 2 for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, egregious” standard for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). While the Indian government repeatedly has denied USCIRF access to India, the Commission welcomes the opportunity to openly and candidly engage with the government—including the chance for a USCIRF delegation to visit India—to discuss shared values and interests, including international standards of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights.