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India: Put an end to coercive actions against NGOs and donors - Open Letter to the Prime Minister

10 May 2015

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May 8, 2015

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

We write to you today as members and representatives of Indian civil society organizations and, most importantly as Indian citizens, to express our deep concern at how civil society organizations in general and their support systems, including donors, are being labeled and targeted.

Funds are being frozen, intelligence reports are being selectively released to paint NGOs in poor light, disbursal of funds are being subjected to case-by-case clearance, and their activities are reportedly being placed on ‘watch lists.’ As a result several NGO projects have shut down, donors are unable to support work, and there is an overall atmosphere of State coercion and intimidation in India’s civil society space.

Today, standing in solidarity with India’s most marginalized communities, with the NGO sector and donors who support us, affirmed by the guiding principles of our Constitution – justice, equality and liberty - we address you through an open letter.

As you are aware, NGOs work both in the welfare sector and in empowering people to be aware of and enforce their rights as enshrined in our Constitution. Such action may include questioning and protesting decisions taken by government in many areas. This work is both our right and our responsibility as civil society actors in a democratic nation. Indeed the Indian government acknowledged this. At the Universal Periodic Review of India at the UN Human Rights Council in 2012, the Government spoke of ‘…the Government’s active association with civil society and the increasing and important role that civil society and human rights defenders are playing in the area of human rights.’ Government of India further said that, ‘The media, civil society and other activists have helped the Government to be vigilant against transgressions’.

Many of us receive both Indian and foreign donations in compliance with laws and carry out activities intended to help those marginalized in India’s development. Many of us have partnered with Government, both at State and Central levels, towards many goals - achieving universal education, access to health care, women’s empowerment, and providing humanitarian relief in times of tragedy such as the recent earthquake. We have also worked in pilot projects - some over the years have been scaled up, and others have richly contributed to the policy framework of the Government of India. It should be a matter of pride for any government and a sign of robust people-centric engagement that NGOs and citizens have impacted State policy.

On other issues, your government and indeed previous governments may or may not agree with some of our views. These may include the issue of nuclear power plants, acquiring tribal and other lands, upholding Dalit rights, protecting rights of minorities against the scourge of communalism, protecting rights of sexual minorities, or campaigning for the universal right to food. Yet, we expect that Government protect our right to work and express our views. It does not behoove the Government to label any and every conflicting voice on these issues as ‘anti-national’, ‘against national security’ or ‘donor driven’ and seek to create a public atmosphere that justifies “a crack down on NGOs.” These very words shame any society. ‘Watch lists” and “crack-downs” belong in another age and have no place in a modern democracy.

Your government has raised the issue that some NGOs may not have complied with the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), the law governing receipt of foreign donations in India. We state categorically that we stand fully for transparency and accountability in both government and NGO practice, and it is in fact civil society actors who have fought hard for these principles to be enshrined in all areas of public life. So let us constructively ensure transparency and legal compliance across the vast NGO sector,

including societies, trusts and a range of public and private institutions. However, such efforts cannot be capricious, selective or based on flimsy grounds. At the moment it seems that ‘compliance’ is serving as a garb to actually target those organizations and individuals whose views the government disagrees with, and indeed to monitor and stifle disagreement itself.

There is irrefutable documentary evidence that State action against select organizations has been arbitrary, non-transparent, and without any course of administrative redress. The effect has been to harm important work being done by NGOs at the grassroots and send a signal of threat to civil society. Our concern includes the manner in which many Indian NGOs and international partners have been targeted for different reasons. Thus, civil society organizations in India today find themselves in a situation where the only avenue of redress appears to be through the judiciary. Mr. Prime Minister, this kind of coercive domestic environment being created under your watch does not augur well for the worlds largest democracy that professes aspirations to being a global leader in promoting freedoms and democratic values.

Further, in an increasingly globalized world, where even business interests freely collaborate across national boundaries, to label any individual or NGO that engages with international forums or any donor who supports such NGOs, as ‘anti-national’ is illogical. India is signatory to international conventions and treaties and seeks to adhere to the highest international standards of democracy, liberty, justice and human rights. The Government of India regularly reports at these forums. It is accepted practice that NGOs and civil society actors also present their views at these forums, often disagreeing with the views of their respective governments. Many of us, signatories to this letter, engage in active advocacy at international forums. This upholds the best traditions of global democratic debate, and the right to seek a more just nation and more just world. It is not anti-national to do so. We do not believe that any government can claim that it alone has the prerogative to define what is ‘national interest’. The citizens of this country, who elect the Government into power, are the ultimate stakeholders, and must be allowed to define, articulate and work towards their idea of ‘national interest’ too, whether or not it concurs with the views of the Government.

Mr. Prime Minister, it does your Government no credit to use its power to stifle the rights of individuals or NGOs to legally and freely associate, to work with communities, to receive donations to do such work, and to express their views on a range of issues that directly affect our country and its people. An atmosphere of hostility against civil society actors in a democracy, and the uncertainty and insecurity created among communities across the country, can only be to the detriment of our society and the Government.

We therefore ask the Government to:

1. Put an end to coercive actions against NGOs and donors, without reasonable cause or due process, or seek to cripple the ability of these organisations to carry on their legitimate and sanctioned work.

2. Urgently review all orders placing restraints on organizations, and revoke such orders where due process has not been followed by the government, no redress mechanism is clearly stated, and grounds are vague, subjective or flimsy. Those we are currently aware of include, among others, INSAF, Peoples Watch, Sabrang Trust, Greenpeace India, Ford Foundation, HIVOS and ICCO.

3. Initiate an immediate dialogue between the NGO sector and Government to address our concerns going forward. Amend the presently opaque FCRA rules and regulations; ensure complete clarity and transparency on provisions and processes, as well as forums and mechanisms of redress; remove all provisions that are amenable to subjective interpretation; ensure their uniform application to all NGOs, trusts, foundations, and societies.

We look forward to your response and action on these vital issues of national interest.

Yours Sincerely,

Sl.No. | Name of the Person | Organization Name

  1. A N Pandey, Gramika India
  2. Adv. Roma, Human Rights Law Centre
  3. Ajitha SG, OMON Mahila Sanghattan
  4. Aleyamma Vijayan, Sakhi women’s resource center
  5. Amit Narkar, National Centre for Advocacy Studies
  6. Amitabh Behar, NFI
  7. Amulya Naik, Odisha Chas Parivesh Surakhya Parishad
  8. Anil Chaudhary, Popular Education and Action Centre
  9. Anil Kumar, PWESCR
  10. Anjali, RTFC‐Expanded‐Steering‐group
  11. Annie Namala, Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion
  12. Antoinette Araujo
  13. Nirmala Samaj Kendra
  14. Anuradha Kapoor, Swayam
  15. Anurag
  16. Samajwadi Jan Parishad
  17. Arundhati Dhuru, Humsafar
  18. Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh
  19. Ashok Choudhary, All India Union of Forest Working People
  20. Ashok Rau, Freedom Foundation‐India
  21. Ashok Sharma, Update Collective
  22. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, Feminists India
  23. Awdesh Kumar, Srijan Lokhit Samiti
  24. Badal Tah, ANKURAN
  25. Baitali Ganguly, Jabala Action Research Organisation
  26. Bharti Ali, IACR
  28. Biraj Patnaik, Centre for Equity Studies
  29. Bondita Acharya, Purva Bharati Educational Trust
  30. Cedric Prakash SJ, PRASHANT’ (A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
  31. Debashish Shyamal, Dakhin Banga Matsyajeebi Forum
  32. Debi Goenka, Conservation Action Trust
  33. Deepa Pohankar, Human and Institutional Development Forum
  34. Dhruv Mankad, Anusandhan Trust
  35. Dr Ramesh Awasthi, Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsha Mandal, Pune
  36. Dr. Joslin Thampi, Bullock‐cart Workers Developmet Association
  37. Duno Roy, Hazards Centre
  38. Gabriela Dietrich, Pennurumai Iyyakkam
  39. Gayatri Buragohain, Foudation for Social Transformation
  40. Geetanjali Misra, CREA
  41. George Pattery, Jesuit Residence
  42. Godfrey DLima SJ, MPSM
  43. Hari Kishore Bajpai
  44. National Council for Social Welfare, VANI
  45. Harsh Jaitli
  46. Harsh Mander, Aman Biradari
  47. Hazel D’Lima, Nirmala Niketan
  48. Hiren Gandhi, DARSHAN
  49. Ingrid Srinath, Hivos
  50. Ingrid Srinath, Hivos India Advisory Services
  51. Jagdananda CYSD
  52. James Poonthuruthil
  53. Mathias Institute
  54. Jashodhara Dasgupta NAMHHR
  55. Jesuratinam Christy SNEHA
  56. John J Centre for Education and Communication
  57. Joseph Xavier Indian social Institute
  58. Jothi SJ Udyani Social Action Forum
  59. K Babu Rao Human Rights Forum
  60. KALYANI MENON‐SEN Feminist Learning Partnerships
  61. Kanchan Chopra Ex‐ Institute of Economic Growth
  62. Kavitha Kuruganti Centre for sustainable agriculture
  63. Kiran Modi Udayan Care
  64. Kumaran Handloom Protection Forum
  65. L.SURYA NARAYANA REDDY Grameena Vikas Samithi
  66. Lisa Ginasci ADM Capital Foundation
  67. M. Ilango National Fishworkers’ Forum
  68. Madhurima Nundy India‐China Comparative Health Resource Centre
  69. Magline P Theeraadesha Mahila Samiti
  70. Makeshwar Samagra Seva
  71. Mangal Sing Shramik Adivasi Sangathn
  72. Manju Gardia Jan Jagruti Kendra
  73. Manoj Jena Human Rights Front
  74. Mohan Rao National Handloom Federation
  75. Mridula Bajaj Mobile Creches
  76. Mukti Bosco Mukti HFF
  77. Munnilal Vikalp Social Organisation
  78. Nagendra Kumar Nandi Social Action for Community Alternative Learning
  79. Nandita Gandhi Akshara
  80. Nasim Ansari Tarun Chetna
  81. Navaid Hamid Movement for Empowerment of Muslim Indians
  82. Neeru Chaudhary Childreach India
  83. neetu routela Jagori
  84. Nikhil Dey MKSS
  85. Nonibala Narengbam Women in Governance ‐WinG Manipur
  86. Noor Jehan Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan
  87. Nupur Centre for Social Justice
  88. Paul Divakar NCDHR
  89. Philip Kujur Mines Monitoring Centre
  90. Prabha Nagaraja TARSHI
  91. Pradip Chatterjee DISHA
  92. Prashant Centre for Human Rights
  93. Priya Pillai Greenpeace
  94. Prof. Indira Hirway Centre for Development Alternative
  95. Punit Minz Bhindrai Institute for Research and Social Action
  96. Rajendra Kumar Pal Ganeswar Club
  97. Rajiv Agarwal Society for Labour and Development
  98. Ramesh Chandran Anantha
  99. Ravi Rebbapragada Samata India
  100. Razia, IACR
  101. Richa Singh Wada Natodo Abhiyan
  102. Roshni K. Nuggehalli, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action
  103. S. Srinivasan LOCOST
  104. S.C. Mishra Bassanta
  105. Sachin Jain Vikas Samvad
  106. Sadre Alam, Centre for Community Support and Social
  107. Sailesh Suyani, Saurashtra Machhimar Sangharsh Samiti
  108. Samit Kumar Carr, Occupational Safety & Health Association of Jharkhand
  109. Samith Aich, Greenpeace India
  110. Sanjeev Kumar, Delhi Forum
  111. Sanny Bhai, Jesuits in Social Action
  112. Santhosh Kumar, Dalit Sakti Sanghattan
  113. Sarojini N.B, SAMA
  114. Satyam Shrivastava, SRUTI
  115. Seema Misra, Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives
  116. Seema Prakash, Spandan
  117. Shafiqur Rahman Khan, EMPOWER PEOPLE & People’s Campaign against Bride trafficking
  118. Shakil Ahmed, Islami Relief Committee
  119. Shankar Mahanand, Partners in Justice Concerns
  120. Sheba George, SAHR WARU : Women’s Action and Resource Unit
  121. Shivani Chaudhry, Housing and Land Rights Network
  122. Shripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra
  123. Subrat Das, CBGA
  124. Sudeshnasen Gupta, Alliance for Right to ECD
  125. Sukla Sen, EKTA (Committee for Communal Amity)
  126. Suma Philip, Navachethana
  127. Suman Sahai, Gene Campaign
  128. Suneeta Dhar, Jagori
  129. Suresh S, State Convenor, Health Sub‐committee, Jana Vignana Vedika
  130. Sutapa, MAITREE
  131. Swathi Sheshadri, EQUATIONS
  132. Syeda Hameed, MWF
  133. T. Peter, Kerala State Swatantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation
  134. T. R. Shankar Raman
  135. Nature Conversation Foundation
  136. Taruna, Centre for Health and Social Justice
  137. Ulka Mahajan, Sarvahara Jan Andolan
  138. Urvashi Butalia, Zubaan
  139. Usmangani Sherasia, Machhimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sanghattan
  140. Vijayan MJ, Programme for Social Action
  141. Vinod Koshy, Tiruvalla Ecumenical and Charitable Trust
  142. Virendra Vidrohi, Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)
  143. Virginia Saldanha, Indian Christian Women’s Movement
  144. Vishal Talreja, Dream A Dream
  145. Walter Fernandes, Animation and Research Centre
  146. William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Defender and Freelance Journalist
  147. Xavier Dias, Khan, Khaneej & Adhikar
  148. Xavier Manjooran, SHAKTI, Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre
  149. Abha Bhaiya, Individual
  150. Agnelo Dias, Individual
  151. Anil, Individual
  152. Aruna Roy, Individual
  153. Aubrey D’Souza, Individual
  154. Devika Singh, Individual
  155. Enakshi Ganguly, Individual
  156. Farah Naqvi, Individual
  157. Fr. Joe, Individual
  158. Gagan Sethi, Individual
  159. Karuna Bishnoi, Individual
  160. Kate Currawalla, Individual
  161. Majlis Law, Individual
  162. Mallika Sarabhai, Individual
  163. Mira Shiva, Individual
  164. Nandini Rao, Individual
  165. Narasimha Reddy Donthi
  166. Pamela Philipose, Individual
  167. Poonam, Individual
  168. Rakhi Sehgal, Individual
  169. Roshmi Goswami, Individual
  170. Rukmini Sekhar, Individual
  171. Sathyasree Goswami, Individual
  172. Sejal Dand, Individual
  173. Shankar Singh, Individual
  174. Shireen Vakil Miller, Individual
  175. Vani Subramaniam, Individual
  176. Vidhya Das, Individual