Indian Civil Society Under Attack

We have become increasingly concerned about the growing threat to the future of Indian civil society, and specifically of its NGOs. The danger is not from an apathy of the population or lack of participation of diverse communities – the threat is from the Government of India (GOI). The GOI is seeking to restrict civil society and to silence any NGO that questions the policies of the ruling party. One of the tools of repression by the government is the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), a law which restricts any funding for Indian NGOs that comes from abroad. The FCRA is an Indian act of Parliament, by the 42nd Act of 2010. It is “to regulate the acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality by certain individuals or associations or companies and to prohibit acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality for any activities detrimental to the national interest and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

As most civil society organisations (CSOs) in the developing world, Indian NGOs are often supported by donations and grants from foundations or individual philanthropy from developed countries, and many of these CSOs survive only because of this international assistance as the GOI does not offer any resources. Since it became law in 2010, the FCRA has made it more difficult to secure funding from abroad, which was already a challenge — a barrier that is well known to NGOs around the world.

The IMAXI Cooperative was rooted in India during its start-up in 2010-2011 as about half of its founders were either Indian or ‘Persons of Indian Origin’ (PIO). Substantial efforts were made to establish an NGO, linked with other IMAXI branches in Asia, Africa and Europe, that would evolve into a cooperative of folks from marginalised communities coming together to develop tools to help others empower themselves. Within a few months of registering the IMAXI Cooperative as an NGO in Kerala, the burden of the restrictions of the FCRA became all too clear, and would force us to abandon our plans in 2013, at a heavy loss to our little group of poor community activists. We know how FCRA can frustrate bottom-up initiatives.

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Know Your RightsSpeak

Rosa_Luxemburg_knowledge_280“Never use a long word where a short one will do”, said George Orwell in 1945. That was also the year that the initial drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights began, giving birth to a new language – ‘RightsSpeak’, as we call it.  Sadly, Eleanor Roosevelt, who led the drafting, didn’t follow George’s advice so  understanding the Declaration’s language and all the other declarations and treaties that have followed is a challenge for most people.

Knowledge is power, and by learning today’s ‘RightsSpeak’ we can better participate in efforts to realise rights in our communities. We must not leave the discussions about our human rights only to academics and legal experts simply because their words are often too difficult or complicated.

As it’s extremely important for everyone to learn about Human Rights (HR), the IMAXI Cooperative is compiling an ‘Open’ glossary of terms which may be useful. We hope that this list of short definitions will grow — if there’s something that you don’t fully understand, or another term that you think should be on this list, or an improvement, please get in touch with us.

(Click on the Rosa’s head in the image…)