Skip to main content

Hindu nationalistic 'onslaught'? Global intervention sought to help Indian NGOs

Counterview Desk
Commenting on the 2019 elections, a global e-journal, “The Conservation”, in an article sponsored by prestigious McMaster University, a public research university in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, has argued that the return to power of Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has created “uncertainty about the future of advocacy in India”, insisting, “NGOs need international protection from Hindu nationalism in India”.
Authored by researcher at the university Roomana Hukil, who is with the department of political science, McMaster University, the comment asserts, NGOs have been under pressure ever since 1976, insisting, “Civil society organizations have faced multiple operational challenges as successive governments have tried to undermine their work with accusations of ‘anti-nationalism’ and ‘sedition’.” But, it believes, "systematic dismantling" of NGOs began only in 2014 under the BJP rule.

Excerpts:

It’s important to examine the role of Hindu nationalism -- also BJP’s founding ideology -- since it regards NGOs as undemocratic and anti-Indian. But it’s equally critical to remember there are provisions guaranteed under international law to protect NGO activity in India.
BJP’s Hindutva ideology is based on the advancement of a Hindu rashtra, or Hindu kingdom. The underlying tenet is to regulate the working of civil society through Hindu religious doctrine that imposes vigilantism, violence and punishment on those who defy order.
Hindu nationalism reinforces the glorification and revivalism of Hinduism, the supremacy of a nation and invokes intolerance towards other non-Hindu groups that seek sociocultural change and justice in society.
The BJP views NGO activists as defiant because they challenge conventional notions of power, social structures and hierarchies that conflict with the idea of Hindu majoritarianism and status quo culture.
For instance, the Modi government targeted faith-based organizations in 2017 for their alleged involvement with religious conversions. Compassion International, a foreign-funded Christian charity group, was shut down and asked to partner with other religious organizations apart from Christians if it wanted to re-register as a legal enterprise again.
Similarly, several local as well as transnational NGOs seeking justice for Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 were threatened with investigation and bank account closures if they continued their work.
While previous governments have been intolerant towards NGOs in the past, the BJP is taking it further, polarizing civil society with far-right politics. Transnational NGOs have been targeted for “serving as tools for foreign policy interests of western governments,” but local NGOs that don’t fall under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) mandate are also experiencing repression and harassment.
In 2018, 13 activists were killed during the Sterlite protests in Toothukudi, Tamil Nadu.
In Pune, several lawyers, academics and poets were arrested for their alleged involvement as “[Urban Naxals]” practising unlawful activities last year. Additionally, recent amendments to the Forest Rights Act proposes restoring authoritative powers to forest authorities. This will deny land ownership rights of forest dwellers and reduce accessibility to tribal land through force and vandalism.

Systematic dismantling of NGOs

The BJP has meticulously orchestrated a systematic dismantling of NGOs (non-governmental, non-profit organizations) that has put the future of Indian advocacy surrounding socioeconomic and environmental issues in jeopardy.
Congressional amendments to the FCRA in 2010 made it clear that there would be stricter oversight and monitoring of foreign-funded NGOs that engage in critical discourse.
These amendments included:
  • Regular registration renewals;
  • Setting up of separate bank accounts for foreign and domestic contributions; 
  • Prescribing various offences and penalties for defaulters, including suspension and cancellation of registration licences. 
In effect, the FCRA crippled the NGO sector, subdued critical dialogue and restricted transnational partnerships in civil society deemed crucial for effective policy-making.
However, with the BJP in power, the scope of transnational advocacy has been even further reduced.
Since 2014, local activists have been finding it difficult to obtain financial, technological or capacity-building support from abroad or from local officials because external NGOs and local philanthropic organizations are reluctant to aid rights-based advocacy. While the FCRA curtails foreign funding, philanthropists currently shy away from supporting critical activity for the fear of appearing anti-government.
Activists are now concerned about the prospects for activism in India, and are worried about their day-to-day survival in the state as the BJP continues to penalize dissenters.
In this light, what can international and local organizations do to safeguard the interests of NGOs in the future?

International intervention is crucial

In 2016, the United Nations Special Rapporteur pointed out that India was placing unreasonable restrictions on transnational advocacy networks by silencing them on obscure grounds. It asked the Indian government to repeal the FCRA, which didn’t happen.
This is because currently, UN regulations aren’t rigorously enforced to prevent governments from dismantling civil society operations in the Global South. If enforced, they could guarantee and promote NGO rights surrounding freedom of assembly and association. Sanctions should also be imposed to keep non-compliant and exploitative governments in check.
A common platform for discussion can help NGOs review government policies and deal with repressive actions. For instance, certain South African states allow NGOs to gather once a year to discuss issues of common interest. In India, that doesn’t happen.
There’s also a need for change in the culture of Indian philanthropy to ensure NGOs are supported and not questioned about their credibility. Activists must be treated as equal stakeholders in society so that money is distributed for civic education, legal literacy and accountability-related work.
Amid this cultural ecosystem change is the need for NGOs, in turn, to be fully transparent about their funding and operations.
Now that the BJP has won the election with a majority, it gives the Indian government the legitimacy to act freely and bend laws without being questioned because acquiring an electoral mandate by the state means complete adherence to government policies and structures.
But democracy isn’t just about winning elections. It is about equal participation. Socioeconomic and environmental reforms cannot be left exclusively for the government to manage. The international community must help ensure that civil society and the citizenry are being heard to counter India’s conservative policies and right-wing politics.

Comments

TRENDING

August 22 to be observed as Apostasy Day: International coalition of ex-Muslim groups

By Our Representative
In a unique move, an international coalition of ex-Muslim organisations has decided to observe August 22, 2020 as the Apostasy Day. To be observed for “the abandonment or renunciation of religion”, the coalition, calling upon people to join the call, said, the decision to observe the Apostasy Day has been taken because of apostasy is “punishable by death in Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, UAE, and Yemen.”

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

By Our Representative
Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book, "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

RSS' 25,000 Shishu Mandirs 'follow' factory school model of Christian missionaries

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
The executive committee of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) recently decided to drop the KISS University in Odisha as the co-host of the World Anthropology Congress-2023. The decision is driven by the argument that KISS University is a factory school.

India must recognise: 4,085 km Himalayan borders are with Tibet, not China

By Tenzin Tsundue, Sandeep Pandey*
There has as been a cancerous wound around India’s Himalayan neck ever since India's humiliating defeat during the Chinese invasion of India in 1962. The recent Galwan Valley massacre has only added salt to the wound. It has come to this because, when China invaded the neighbouring country Tibet in 1950, India was in high romance with the newly-established communist regime under Mao Zedong after a bloody revolution.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur*
Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Time to give Covid burial, not suspend, World Bank's 'flawed' Doing Business ranking

By Maju Varghese*
On August 27, the World Bank came out with a statement suspending the Doing Business Report. The statement said that a number of irregularities have been reported regarding changes to the data in the Doing Business 2018 and Doing Business 2020 reports, published in October 2017 and 2019. The changes in the data were inconsistent with the Doing Business methodology.

Delhi riots: Cops summoning, grilling, intimidating young to give 'false' evidence

Counterview Desk
More than 440 concerned citizens have supported the statement issued by well-known bureaucrat-turned-human rights activist Harsh Mander ‘We will not be silenced’ which said that the communal riots in Delhi in February 2020 have not been caused by any conspiracy, as alleged by the Delhi Police, but by “hate speech and provocative statements made by a number of political leaders of the ruling party.”

WHO chief ignores India, cites Pak as one of 7 top examples in fight against Covid-19

By Our Representative
In a move that would cause consternation in India’s top policy makers in the Modi government, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, has singled out Pakistan among seven countries that have set “examples” in investing in a healthier and safer future in order to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tata Mundra: NGOs worry as US court rules World Bank can't be sued for 'damages'

By Kate Fried, Mir Jalal*
On August 24 evening, a federal court ruled that the World Bank Group cannot be sued for any damage caused by its lending, despite last year’s Supreme Court ruling in the same case that these institutions can be sued for their “commercial activity” in the United States.