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Future uncertain for Mother Teresa’s charity after Indian government cuts access to foreign funds

“The fact that the Christmas season was chosen to communicate” this decision “speaks volumes,” said the general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
Nuns from the Catholic Order of the Missionaries of Charity pray at the tomb of Mother Teresa in Kolkata, India, in August 2019.Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP via Getty Images file

The future of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in India hangs in the balance after the government said it would not renew permission for it to access foreign funding.

Mother Teresa, who was canonized by Pope Francis in 2016, received multiple honors for her work for the sick and dying, including the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. A Catholic nun who was born to Albanian parents, she founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 in Kolkata, where she lived for most of her life, before her death in 1997. 

With more than 5,000 nuns worldwide in 120 countries, the charity provides education, medical care, social assistance and disaster relief to the poor.

The charity’s renewal application was refused Dec. 25 after “adverse inputs were noticed,” the government said in a statement. It did not clarify the nature of its findings. 

NBC News contacted the foreigners division of the Ministry of Home Affairs for more information on the ruling but did not get a response.

The decision to block the funding came two weeks after an investigation was launched into allegations of forced religious conversions in one of the homes for children the charity runs in the western state of Gujarat. 

A police complaint was filed against the charity after Priyank Kanoongo, the head of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, said that non-Christian children were being taught the Bible. 

A spokesperson for the charity declined to comment on the allegations.

Nuns of Missionaries of Charity distribute food to the poor and needy in Kolkata on Tuesday.
Nuns of Missionaries of Charity distribute food to the poor and needy in Kolkata on Tuesday. Bikas Das / AP

The Missionaries of Charity later said it had asked its centers not to operate on foreign contribution accounts until the matter was resolved. 

Evangelical Fellowship of India General Secretary Vijayesh Lal condemned the decision. “The fact that the Christmas season was chosen to communicate” this decision “speaks volumes,” he said. 

“Mother St. Teresa is perhaps the most famous icon of the Indian church in recent times,” he said. “Add to this her near constant vilification by Hindutva right-wing leaders as part of their social discourse and one gets a sense of where this all is coming from.”

Hindutva is a right-wing ideology that sees religious minorities as a threat and aims to create a Hindu nation. 

According to Lal, there were more than 15 attacks on Christians on Christmas Day alone. India is home to the second largest Catholic population in Asia after the Philippines.

Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected in 2014, attacks on religious minorities have increased, with Muslims regularly facing violence, discrimination and legal intimidation at the hands of Hindutva nationalists.

Members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a militaristic group that has long espoused "Hindutva," are known to march through the streets beating drums and blowing horns. AFP via Getty Images

There were more than 300 attacks on the Christian community in the first nine months of 2021, according to a recent report compiled by a group of Christian nongovernmental organizations. There are more than 20 million Christians in India, making up less than 3 percent  of the nearly 1.4 billion population, according to the 2011 census data.

Eight states have enacted anti-conversion laws in the past few decades, which criminalize religious conversions by means of force or “allurement” and recently another anti-conversion bill was passed in Karnataka, a southern state governed by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India, Karnataka would be the 12th state in India to pass such a law. 

The laws have been criticized for creating a hostile environment for minorities, as often no evidence is required to support the accusations of forced conversions. 

In recent years, the Modi government has stepped up its scrutiny of nonprofit groups that receive foreign funding. Since 2017, more than 6,600 charities have been denied permission to receive foreign funding, Reuters reported