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

Bharat Ratna nominee ‘joined hands’ with British masters to 'crush' Quit India

By Shamsul Islam*
The Quit India Movement (QIM), also known as ‘August Kranti' (August Revolution), was a nation-wide Civil Disobedience Movement for which a call was given on August 7, 1942 by the Bombay session of the All-India Congress Committee. It was to begin on August 9 as per Gandhi's call to 'Do or Die' in his Quit India speech delivered in Bombay at the Gowalia Tank Maidan on August 8. Since then August 9 is celebrated as August Kranti Divas.

132 Gujarat citizens, including IIM-A faculty, others declare solidarity with Kashmiris

Counterview Desk
A week after it was floated, 132 activists, academics, students, artists and other concerned citizens of Gujarat, backed by 118 living in different parts of India and the world, have signed a "solidarity letter" supporting the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), who, it claims, have been silenced and held captive in their own land. The signatories include faculty members and scholars of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A).

Plebiscite in J&K? Delhi meet demands implementation of UN 'commitment'

Counterview Desk
A citizens’ protest, organised on October 19 at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, to protest against the 75 days of “oppression” of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) saw over 200 activists, academics, intellectuals, prominent citizens, students, citizens from a large number of groups controversially appeared to suggest holding plebiscite in order to decide the future of the state.

Without tribal consent? 1,000 of 1,700 acres 'acquired' off Statue of Unity, Narmada dam

By Our Representative 
The Gujarat government has already acquired 1,100 acres out of 1,700 acres of the tribal land of six villages – Navagam, Limdi, Gora, Vagadia, Kevadia and Mithi – for developing tourism next to the 182-metre high Statue of Unity, the world's tallest, putting at risk the livelihood option of their 8,000 residents, and is all set to acquire rest of the land, representatives of the villagers have alleged in Ahmedabad.

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are abou…

Cess for Gujarat construction workers: Spending less than 10%; no 'direct help' to beneficiaries

By Our Representative
While the Gujarat government’s Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, set up in 2004, as of March 31, 2019, has collected a total cess of Rs 2,097.62 crore from the the builders, it has spent less than 10% -- Rs 197.17 crore. And, as on May 31, 2019, the total cess collection has reached Rs 2,583.16 crore, said a statement issued by Bandhkam Majur Sagathan general secretary Vipul Pandya.
Pointing out that just about 6.5 lakh out of 20 lakh workers have been registered under the board, Pandya said, vis-à-vis other states, Gujarat ranks No 13th in the amount spent on the welfare of the construction workers, while 11th in the amount collected.
And while the builders are obliged to pay just about 1% of the total cost of their project, the calculation of the cess is flawed: It is Rs 3,000 per square yard; accordingly, Rs 30 per square yard is collected. “Had the cess been collected on the real construction cost, it would have been at least Rs 7,000 cr…