Listen: Compassion CEO Tim Hanna explains the crisis unfolding for their India child sponsorship projects. Above: A Compassion sponsored child in India.
Pop singer Dami Im is famous for sponsoring children living in poverty in places like Uganda and India, through the charity Compassion.
Yet sadly, Dami and thousands of other Australians may soon find themselves cut off from supporting the children they’ve come to love, at least in India.
Compassion is the latest casualty in the Indian government’s crackdown on foreign aid organisations, and may be pushed out of that country by March 15.
There are currently 145,000 children being supported by Compassion, but their sponsorships are under threat because of the government’s increasing suspicion of organisations receiving overseas funding.
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Compassion on Government ‘Watch List’
Despite having worked in India since 1968, Compassion has been placed on a ‘watch list’ and last year had its international funds frozen.
The move has been made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which came into power in 2014.
Currently the finances of Australian supporters who sponsor a child in India, are sitting in a holding fund, while Compassion works to try and have the situation resolved.
If the charity status of Compassion is not renewed, after March 15 it will have to withdraw all of its work from India—meaning one less source of hope for 100 million children currently living without proper nutrition or education.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry has even spoken on the issue, trying to save the futures of not only 145,000 children from poverty-stricken families, but also Compassion’s 6,000 Indian employees.
“Anti-Cultural Activity” the Only Reason Given
Compassion Australia’s CEO Tim Hanna said negotiations with the Indian government have been unsuccessful so far.
He told Hope 103.2’s Breakfast team that no clear reason was given for the withdrawal of Compassion’s charity status.
“Every now and then you hear the word ‘anti-cultural activity’ but we don’t know what that means, so we’re a little perplexed,” he said. “Now it’s got to the stage where funds have run out for our 580 projects in India.
“At our two Indian offices, the last of the funds will run out on March 15. If nothing changes dramatically in the next couple of months, the devastation of having to finish our work in India looms before us.
“The Indian constitution allows freedom of religion so we don’t understand why, except just a particular emphasis of the government.”
In a message to supporters, Mr Hanna said he was filled with “grief, helplessness and a real sense of injustice” and asked people to pray for a breakthrough, saying, “God is still Sovereign in the midst of all this.”
Government’s Opposition to Christian Charities
According to Indian Express, Compassion is just one of up to 14,000 non-government organisations that have been barred from receiving foreign funds since 2012, “for violating norms”.
In an article by the Catholic news agency CruxNow, Stephen Oakley, General Counsel for Compassion International, described the withdrawal of support for Compassion as a “deliberate and systematic attack intended to drive us out”.
He said that in the past three years Compassion offices in India had experienced harassment, investigations and unprecedented large tax bills, and had their permissions to operate revoked.
“The government wrongly believes that we’re using humanitarian efforts to convert Indians to Christianity,” Mr Oakley said, “…[but] this is religious discrimination, pure and simple.”
CruxNow writes that the crackdown is part of a “rising tide of Indian nationalism” led by President Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP.
“In the case of Compassion International, however, there’s an extra element: The fact that it’s Christian, at a time when “Indian nationalism” often includes strong doses of militant Hindu radicalism, means trouble for the country’s religious minorities, especially Christians and Muslims.”
Australian Child Sponsors Being Informed
Although Tim Hanna didn’t mention the anti-Christian element of the situation, he said Compassion is keeping supporters informed.
“If it does eventuate that we have to get out of India, we will talk to supporters at that time and there will be options for them to decide what happens to those funds; anything from going towards other needs, to a refund if they would choose that.
“We have been in connection with the supporters all the way through.”
“Pray for Your Sponsor Child, Their Family and the Project”
Silas Balraj, Compassion’s Asia vice president, said it was traditionally out of character for India’s government to push back against charity organisations.
“India has a very unique law that encourages NGOs to receive funding from different parts of the globe,” he said. “Compassion, being the largest donor into the country, has been enjoying this blessing and opportunity for many years.”
Mr Balraj said the organisation has been “totally submissive” to the Indian government’s expectations, and can’t understand the change.
“We are collaborating fully with the government of India. We are committed to being fair and honest before them and we have not broken any law,” he said.
He thanked the many child sponsors who have changed the lives of thousands of children and hoped that even if Compassion has to pull out of India, churches will continue to run their child programs.
“They will not be able to continue at the scale of a compassion assisted program [but] I would encourage sponsors to continue to pray that God’s will be done in this issue,” he said. “Pray specifically for your child, their family and the project, that the churches can continue to support that child.”
For details head to Compassion.com.au.