A major Christian charity, Compassion International, is ceasing aid operations in India, due to government officials there not allowing local teams to accept foreign donations. Government officials claim two of the charity's affiliates have been trying to convert children to Christianity.
Compassion International spokespeople said they have no choice but to formally stop Indian operations on March 15, ending support for 145,000 impoverished children there. That means shutting the doors of 589 Indian-staffed development centers that were caring for more children than any other of the 25 countries where the charity works.
ABC News reports Indian government officials refused pleas from American diplomats and Compassion International representatives to reconsider.
Chief executive of Compassion International Australia Tim Hanna said the decision ends nearly 50 years of aid in the country. "It's hard to comprehend that you can just say, well there's 147,000 children who are getting help and support, and we're going to not allow that help and support to continue," he said.
"That's hard for me in my mind to comprehend."
India's home ministry barred Compassion's local partner organizations from receiving money from individual, well-meaning sponsors, alleging two tried to convert aid recipients to Christianity. Home ministry officials indicated the charity's foreign donations were blocked, because it was registered as a "social, cultural, economic and educational" organization, and permitted to carry out religious activities.
While Hanna acknowledged the organization is driven by a Christian ethos, he denied any staffers were proselytizing. "We believe that would be the model Jesus would follow, He would look after the poor and care for them," he said.
"What government might call proselytizing, none of our staff [could do because they don't] work directly with kids, they work by training and equipping local church leaders to care for the poor. So it's not like we as an organization do any of that anyway."
Compassion International's U.S. managers were frustrated that the allegations were not allowed to be refuted before contributions were restricted.
India's government officials barred more than 10,000 non-government organizations from receiving foreign funds in 2015, in what advocates say is a misuse of laws designed to restrict foreign influence of Indian politics.
Rohini Mohan, a human rights researcher and author, said successive Indian governments have used the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act to limit criticism from abroad. "They passed this law to prevent any meddling from what they called foreign hands," she said.
She told ABC India's government officials want to see Hindu-based charities doing more aid work. "Along with anti-development, anti-national kind of rhetoric around NGOs, I think there is a larger sense today that Hindu organizations are somehow more objective and non-religious than Muslim or Christian, which is ridiculous," she said.