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India restores Missionaries of Charity foreign funding. But why was it revoked?

The government of India has restored to the Missionaries of Charity a license which permits the religious order’s Indian provinces to receive funding from foreign sources, including the order’s provinces in other parts of the world.

Missionaries of Charity at the Nirmala Sishu Bhavan Orphanage and Home for Special Children, in Chennai, India. Credit: U.S. State Department.

The license was revoked Dec. 25, when the Indian government said a renewal application contained initially unspecified “adverse inputs.”

Cutting off foreign funding to Missionaries of Charity in India threatened the order’s medical clinics, orphanages, hospices, shelters, and food distribution; sisters had already begun rationing food and supply distribution at some centers serving the poor.

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs said Jan. 7 that the order’s license has been restored.

The Indian government has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks, amid reporting that the Missionaries of Charity along with thousands of international relief organizations, had seen their foreign funding cut off.

According to one Indian news agency, the Missionaries of Charity’s “adverse inputs” pertain to both questions about a Missionaries of Charity land purchase, and to the 2018 arrest of a staff member at a Missionaries of Charity-run orphanage, who was accused of selling babies to childless couples.

The religious order said in 2018 it was “shocked” by the employee’s actions, which ran contrary to its “moral convictions.” The order also said it would set in place protocols to prevent any such activity from happening again.

The Missionaries of Charity depend upon foreign contributions to fund its charitable work in India. Over the past five years, the order’s Indian provinces have received more than $50 million USD in foreign funding, according to Indian media. When the order’s license to receive foreign funds was revoked, the sisters also decided not to spend foreign contribution money in their bank accounts until the issue was resolved — presumably so that they would not later be charged with spending money they should not have received in the first place.

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It is not clear whether other organizations, including Oxfam India and the Indian Medical Association, have also seen their licenses restored; thousands of organizations have seen their foreign funding licenses revoked in recent weeks.

Some Indians have alleged that that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has used the certification process to target critics — especially those who seem to stand in the way of Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda. Christians across the country have faced persecution in recent years under anti-conversion laws, and baptisms in some parts of the country take place in secret. Muslims have also faced violence and persecution in many parts of the country.

Many of organizations which lost their certification last month were Christian or Muslim aid groups, according to Indian media reports.

Early last month, the Missionaries of Charity were investigated for allegedly proselytizing Hindus, a crime in many parts of the country. Police are investigating the charge that Missionaries of Charity in northwestern India were requiring Hindu girls living at an orphanage to read Christian texts and recite Christian prayers against their will.

The Missionaries of Charity deny the charge, but the issue is being taken very seriously in the Indian state of Gujarat, where a controversial law requires that religious conversions be approved by a local authority. As many as half of applications to convert from Hinduism to other religions have been turned down by regional authorities in Gujarat.

There is no evidence that the investigation played into Missionaries of Charity’s loss of funding, but some in India say it's likely they’re related, given the anti-Christian overtures of Hindu nationalists in the Modi government.

The newly restored foreign funding license for the Missionaries of Charity is valid until 2026.

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