Christians and Christian Ministries Targeted in India
Christian organizations hamstrung by Indian government under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act
According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), conditions for Christians and Christian ministries in India have worsened over the last several years.
It recommends the United States designate India as a “country of particular concern” because of its “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Christians make up about 2.3% of India’s population, according to the Department of State. As a religious minority, Christians are suppressed by the national government through surveillance, harassment, demotion of property, and detention under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Christian ministries are targeted by the government under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA). According to the State Department, amendments to the FCRA passed in 2020 reduced the amount of foreign funding Christian groups can use for administrative purposes and added onerous oversight and certification requirements.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014, the Indian government has revoked permission for more than 16,000 nongovernmental organizations to receive foreign funding using the FCRA, Christianity Today reported. “It is deliberately an assault against the nonprofit sector,” said Vijayesh Lal, the general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, “and that includes the churches.”
Even giants like World Vision and Compassion International have been impacted. In November 2022, World Vision reportedly had its FCRA license suspended and in 2017, Compassion International was forced to shut down operations in India due to restrictions on funding.
The United Nations has criticized the FCRA in recent years. “The FCRA has been invoked over the years to justify an array of highly intrusive measures, ranging from official raids on NGO offices and freezing of bank accounts, to suspension or cancellation of registration, including of civil society organizations that have engaged with UN human rights bodies,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a press statement in 2020.
Christians also suffer due to anti-conversion laws in Indian states. Twelve of India’s 28 states have anti-conversion laws as of February 2023 according to the USCIRF. Violence against Christians has been reported by outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post. In May 2023, mob violence in the state of Manipur claimed 75 lives and displaced 35,000 people, according to Manipur’s government.
Much of the religious persecution seems to be motivated by a Hindu nationalist movement called Hindutva. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “an ideology advocating, or movement seeking to establish, the hegemony of Hindus and Hinduism within India; Hindu nationalism.”
Hindutva has been propagated by a paramilitary organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), established in 1925. One of its members assassinated Mahatma Ghandi in 1948.
According to the USCIRF, India’s ruling political party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is a political wing of the RSS that was formed in 1985. Modi was a member of RSS as a youth and now serves as prime minister of the government as a member of the BJP.
Since the BJP came to power in 2014, led by Modi, “Hindu nationalism has come to entirely dominate the Indian political landscape,” The Guardian reported.
Along with the rise of the BJP has come a rise in prominence of Hindutva groups and charities in the United States. A report by Jasa Macher published in May 2022 stated that the U.S. counterpart to RSS (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh) had 222 chapters across 32 American States in 2020. He also reported that Hindutva-affiliated charities sent most of the more than $158 million they raised to India.
The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations (FIACONA) believes there are groups in the US raising money to level churches and forcibly convert Christians to Hinduism in India.
In a letter to Senators Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, FIACONA claimed the Texas-based Global Hindu Heritage Foundation (GHHF) is “one of many Hindu supremacist groups” using the U.S. as an “operating base” to promote violence against Christians in India, the Christian Post reported.
GHHF denied the allegations in a post on its website.
A U.S.-based ministry to India, which preferred to remain anonymous, tries to balance security with transparency. It said the combination of government restrictions under the FCRA, the anti-conversion laws in some Indian states targeting Christians, and the U.S.-based Hinduvta groups cause it to keep reports about its progress evangelizing and discipling Indian people less visible. It is willing to make its reports available to donors upon request.