India has moved to cut off foreign funding to a charity founded by Mother Teresa, saying the Catholic organisation did not meet conditions under local laws, dealing a blow to one of the most prominent groups running shelters for the poor.
The home ministry said in a statement on Monday the Missionaries of Charity’s (MoC) application for renewing a licence that allows it to get funds from abroad was “refused” on Christmas.
The statement said the reason was “not meeting the eligibility conditions” under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) after “adverse inputs were noticed”, without giving further details.
The move came after several right-wing Hindu groups disrupted Christmas mass in parts of India during the weekend, including in Modi’s parliamentary constituency in the most populous Uttar Pradesh state where local elections are due early next year.
Hardline Hindu outfits affiliated to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have repeatedly accused the MoC of leading religious conversion programmes under the guise of charity by offering poor Hindus and tribal communities money, free education and shelter.
Earlier on Monday, the chief minister of West Bengal state, Mamata Banerjee, sparked outrage when she tweeted that the government had frozen the bank accounts of the charity.
“Shocked to hear that (at) Christmas, Union Ministry FROZE ALL BANK ACCOUNTS of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in India!” wrote Banerjee, an opposition leader and vocal critic of the Modi government.
“Their 22,000 patients & employees have been left without food & medicines. While the law is paramount, humanitarian efforts must not be compromised.”
The charity, headquartered in West Bengal, later said in a statement the government had not frozen its accounts but added that its FCRA renewal application had not been approved.
“Therefore … we have asked our centres not to operate any of the (foreign contribution) accounts until the matter is resolved,” it said.
Nobel Peace laureate Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun who died in 1997, founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. The charity has more than 3,000 nuns worldwide who run hospices, community kitchens, schools, leper colonies and homes for abandoned children.
Vicar General Dominic Gomes of the Archdiocese of Calcutta said the freeze of the West Bengal accounts was “a cruel Christmas gift to the poorest of the poor”.
Hate attacks on Christmas weekend
Since Modi came to power in 2014, right-wing Hindu groups have consolidated their position across states and launched hate attacks on religious minorities, saying their action is to prevent religious conversions.
Earlier this month, MoC found itself under investigation in Modi’s home state of Gujarat following complaints that girls in its shelters were forced to read the Bible and recite Christian prayers. The charity denied the allegations.
Christians and other critics have said the justification of preventing conversions is false and note Christians represent only 2.3 percent of India’s 1.37 billion people, while Hindus are the overwhelming majority, accounting for nearly 80 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion people.
Al Jazeera’s Pavni Mittal, reporting from New Delhi, said Christmas celebrations were disrupted during the weekend and last week, including the vandalising of a life-size statue of Jesus Christ at Ambala in Haryana, a northern state governed by Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP.
“This past Christmas, a statue of Jesus Christ was vandalised in northern India and in other parts of the country too. Churches reported Hindu mobs entering and disrupting their services,” she said as she covered a protest against religious attacks in the capital.
Mittal said a mob burned a model of Santa Claus and chanted slogans against Christmas celebrations and religious conversions on Saturday. Local media reports said the incident happened outside a church in Varanasi, Modi’s parliamentary constituency and one of Hinduism’s holiest cities.
Anoop Shramik, a social activist in Varanasi, told the Reuters news agency he saw about two dozen people burning the Santa Claus.
On Saturday, Christmas celebrations were also disrupted in Silchar in the northeastern state of Assam after men, claiming to be members of Bajrang Dal – a far-right group with close ties to the BJP – forced their way into a church, NDTV news channel reported.
Several Indian states have passed or are considering anti-conversion laws that challenge freedom of belief and related rights that the Indian constitution guarantees to minorities.
Elias Vaz, national vice president of the All India Catholic Union, condemned the latest incidents.
“The strength of India is in its diversity and the people who have done this at Christmas are the real anti-nationals,” Vaz said.