The curious case of Mother Teresa’s FCRA and Amit Shah’s MHA

The MHA order would mean that after midnight of 31st Dec, the organisation would have no funds to operate its large number of children and old people’s homes which employ thousands of Indian workers

The curious case of Mother Teresa’s FCRA and Amit Shah’s MHA

John Dayal

I wouldn’t know for sure if the signature of Mother Teresa of Calcutta was on the application of the Missionaries of Charity when they applied for permission under the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act, FCRA, to receive donations from people all over the world for their work with foundling babies and the dying destitute in almost every state of India.

But there is little doubt that Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s personal nod would have been necessary for the cancellation of the FCRA permission. Specially as it is the Christmas season when the eyes of the world are, unfortunately, so firmly fixed on India.

The small Christian community here is reeling under a fusillade of Sangh extremist violence against churches, statues of Christ, and as always, against children, women and men deep in worship, and perhaps singing lullabies to the new-born Yesu.

For the record, at least 300 cases of such violence were recorded primarily from Karnataka, which is enacting an anti-conversion law targeting Muslims and Christians, Assam which saw such communal violence in recent years, Haryana where the Friday Namaaz cannot be held in peace, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

It would take the Home minister’s permission, if not his specific order, before any joint secretary in the Union Ministry of Home Affair’s FCRA cell to issue orders that the Missionaries of Charities’ application for renewal was being rejected. After all, these were stated by the Mother, the people’s saint, long before she won the Nobel peace Prize, was bestowed India’s highest civil honour, the Bharat Ratna, and then canonised a Saint of the Catholic Church.

The MHA order would automatically mean that after midnight of 31st December, the organisation would have no funds to operate its large number of children and old people’s homes which also employ thousands of Indian women and men workers in various occupations.

This is the first time the FCRA has not been renewed. The community hopes, together with the Sisters, that the government will renew the FCRA soon. Pope Francis has been invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit India next year, and this could be a major public relations disaster for the Indian leader.

The government panicked when it realised that the unthoughtful, in fact cruel, order had triggered mass outrage in India and the world. International news agencies and India’s free press and its social media ensured that the news had gone viral.

After an initial silence, the government of Prime minister Narendra Modi admitted that it had not approved the renewal without which the Catholic organisation will have no money to function next year.

The damage to the government’s image perhaps would have been a little less if it had said the licence was not renewed because of faulty accounting, procedural errors, or other issues. It chose to remain silent.

The outrage was swift, first from Catholic activists and then from political quarters. The chief minister of the state of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, who knew the Mother well, tweeted her strong condemnation of the Modi government’s action.

The attempt at damage control was crude, as always.

First came a note issued by Mother Superior Prema which said, inter alia, “We would like to clarify that the FCRA registration has been neither suspended nor cancelled. We have been informed that our FCRA renewal application has not been approved. Therefore, as a measure to ensure that there is no lapse, we have asked our centres not to operate any of the FCRA accounts until the matter is resolved.”

The Press Information Bureau of the central government issued a statement saying the “State Bank of India informed that the Missionaries of Charity itself sent a request to SBI to freeze its accounts. No request / revision application has been received from Missionaries of Charity for review of refusal of renewal.”

It does not take the brains of an Einstein to see how the two statements play out. TMC leader O’Brien was quite right in dismissing the government statement as a damage control exercise.

This refusal of the government to renew the FCRA citing "adverse remarks” stigmatises not just the institutions of the Missionaries of Charity but the name of Mother St Teresa, who is revered not just by Catholics, but by vast numbers of people from all religious communities, and even the Communists of her home state of West Bengal.

The Mother had anyway been a target of vilification by the Sangh Parivar, the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata party which is in power in India with Narendra Modi as Prime minister. Even in the past, police and central organisations had tried to arrest Missionaries of Charity sisters on such charges as trafficking in children. All charges were false.

The government and the ruling party are also seemingly sending a message to the Christian community. Christians have made common cause with civil society and with the Muslims, who are the principal victims of government and political pressure on violations if civil liberties, freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

On its own issues, the community succeeded in gathering civil society to make strong protests against the anti-conversion law being brought in the Karnataka.

The Vajpayee and Modi governments at the centre and BJP governments in the states have long wanted the church to stop all social outreach work that empowers the people, specially the poor and the Adivasis. The Adivasis resist their natural resources including the firsts where they dwell to be sold off to corporations.

And what did these ‘adverse reports’ presumably by the Intelligence Bureau, also under the MHA, and the Enforcement Directorate under Finance ministry, have to say? Did they discover anti national activities, acts of treason or conspiracies to go assassinate someone?

Mother Teresa’s Sisters pose no threat to anyone in India or the world. The tiny Christian community, just 2.3 per cent of the population, also poses no threat to anyone.

The Nuns and MC Brothers do not run plush schools or private universities that earn in the millions of dollars. Nor are not funded by the government or its agencies. They run homes for new-born infants abandoned and left on the streets and garbage dumps by our own young women and men. They run homes for afflicted young that no government or charitable orphanage would willingly care. And they nurse the destitute and dying, lending some dignity to their passage.

The Nuns and brothers get no salary, but they do have staff members — driver and cooks and others — who need to be paid a salary, and there are medicines and foodstuff to be bought. This FCRA ban is tantamount to starving them, and torturing the children and old in their care, to bring them to submission.

And yet they have been targeted often. In Jharkhand, the Missionaries of Charity had faced persecution, and now another state is hounding two sisters on charges of conversion of some such trumped up allegation.

Sisters faced physical violence in the Kandhamal district of the state of Orissa in 2008 during the anti-Christian mass violence in which over 390 churches and 5,600 houses or more were destroyed. Fortunately, no sister was injured though several Catholic and protestant priests were killed.

Christian persecution peaks every year at Christmas time. On an average, we face about 400 attacks a year. The states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Karnataka are the worst impacted by right wing Hindu violence. This year, on Christmas Day, there were at least seven attacks on churches or Christian groups in the states of Haryana, Karnataka, Assam, among others. The following were the Christmas Day incidents of violence:

1. Sangh Parivar activists burned the effigy of Santa Claus shouting Santa Claus Murdabad in Agra, UP

2. Protests were held in front of Matridham Ashram, Varanasi, UP, and slogans were raised against the church.

3. Haryana Bajrang Dal activists protested at Christian schools where celebrations were being held on Christmas.

4. ‘Hanuman chalisa’, a Hindu chant, was played by zealots in Kurukshetra, Haryana, on a stage set up for Christmas celebrations

5. Statue of the Holy Redeemer was vandalised in Ambala, Haryana.

6. Christmas celebration was disrupted in Pataudi, Gurugram, Haryana

7. Bajrang Dal activists stormed a church in Silchar, Assam, during the midnight Mass

8. Christmas celebrations were interrupted by right wing Hindu groups at Nirmala school, Mandya, Karnataka.

The situation of Christians, and of Muslims, is the worst ever since the Indian independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. Right wing Hindutva forces have been empowered and strengthened, and the state is actively conniving with them. Often, the police and lower judiciary are also complicit. This had never happened, and at such a scale, ever in the past, even when the BJP was in power between 1998-2004 with Atal Behari Vajpayee as Prime minster.

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Published: 28 Dec 2021, 6:00 PM