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.