Indian govt trying to undermine work of NGOs lending support to Muslims, Dalits

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New Delhi, July 09 (KMS): Auditors from the Indian government have been asking NGOs about their Muslim employees and beneficiaries as well as about the political allegiances of NGO staff and the exercise has triggered fears among the staff of the NGOs that the findings would be used in reprisals later against some specific organisations.

They are also told to stay away from “active politics, a report in the Quartz has revealed.

The auditors have been visiting the offices of NGOs since January and sitting on the financial records in each case for 10-15 days. The exercise is seen as part of the Modi government’s efforts to undermine pro-minority non-profits and civil society groups that are critical of the government. In the last couple of years, the government has cancelled the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) of hundreds of organisations, many of whom are working for tribal and minorities in far off lands.

One director of an NGO which lends support to smaller groups and beneficiaries said the auditor asked them about nine beneficiaries, including Muslims, Dalits and groups supporting independent journalism. The questions were:  “why they were given money, how much money they got, what they spent it on”.

According to Quartz, the executive director said, that they’d been asked to look for evidence of money disbursed to Muslim or Dalit groups, or to groups that supported the farmers’ protests earlier this year, or to those that supported protests against India’s controversial citizenship bill in 2019.

Another NGO asked about Muslim field workers.  “Out of all our 280 or so employees, they singled out one Abdul Jabbar and said: ‘Show me the expenses he has filed,” said the founder of the NGO. “And they would look at the vouchers of his lunch, for instance: 2 rotis and daal.” Then they asked about another employee, a woman from Kashmir. “What is the message we’re getting here? That we shouldn’t employ Muslims?”

The news report has sparked angry reactions from civil society who said that targeting organisations specifically because they work for Muslims reaffirms the nature  of the Modi government.  “Since assuming power the Modi government has been attacking voluntary organisations in a big way. First they victimised us, then they stopped our funding,’ said Shabnam Hashmi, a well-known name in civil society who runs Anhad NGO.

“The government cancelled FCRA of over 2,000 NGOs and now those left are being harassed. This reminds of Hitler’s Germany because you are specifically targeting organisations for Muslims being their beneficiary. This is calculated segregation of Muslims one on the lines of NRC and CAA.”

In 2018-19, the NGOs recieve163 billion Rupees ($2.2 billion) in foreign funding but next year the government amended the rules restricting the liberty of the organisations on how to use the money.

Around 22,000 are currently licensed under FCRA and they will have to apply again later this year for renewal.  “Naturally there’s a huge amount of anxiety across the sector that, at the moment of renewal, these audits could be used in some kind of vendetta,” Amitabh Behar, the CEO of Oxfam India, was quoted by Quartz.

The stringent policy has compounded the difficulties of the NGOs prompting 43 of them during the peak of Covid-19 second wave to write to the home ministry in May, urging the relaxation of the tight rules to bolster relief work amidst the crisis.

The report says that the Home ministry this year sent letters to around 300 NGOs to announce audits. The form with the letter states, without going into detail, that the authorities found  “after a preliminary scrutiny of the Annual Returns submitted online” that some FCRA rules are being broken.

“I’m surprised no one has challenged this in court yet.” An accountant in Kolkata, told Quartz, adding that organisation don’t want to take a chance to ask the government what rules have been broken. “Everyone is worried about their FCRA license renewal.”

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