India’s government on Monday denied a bid by the late Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity to seek foreign funding, a move that would terminate a vital source of assistance for one of the leading groups providing aid and shelter to the country’s poor.
In a statement released Monday, the Home Ministry said it rejected the MOC’s application for a license renewal on Christmas because of “adverse inputs” in the consideration process.
The ministry did not elaborate.
Earlier on Monday, Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal state, where the MOC is headquartered, alleged in a tweet that the government had frozen the charity’s bank accounts during the Christmas holiday.
The ministry, however, rejected these claims as the MOC confirmed in a statement that its Foreign Contribution Regulation Act renewal application was denied.
“Therefore … we have asked our centers not to operate any of the (foreign contribution) accounts until the matter is resolved,” the MOC said.
According to reports, the federal government clarified that the MOC’s accounts were frozen at the charity’s request.
Vicar General Dominic Gomes of the Archdiocese of Calcutta said that the development was a “cruel Christmas gift to the poorest of the poor.”
Nobel laureate Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun who died in 1997, founded the charity in 1950. Since then, it has spread its operations across the world, with more than 3,000 nuns assisting the poor, sick and homeless through hospices, schools, community kitchens and homes for abandoned children, among other services.
The government’s decision came amid recent accusations from Hindu right-wing groups connected to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party that the MOC is trying to force recipients of its services, such as poor Hindus and tribal communities, to convert to Christianity.
The charity was also investigated earlier in December in the western state of Gujarat on allegations that it forced girls in its shelters there to read the Bible and recite Christian prayers, claims the MOC denies.
There has also been a spate of serious physical attacks against Christians, especially in the southern state of Karnataka. According to The Associated Press, a report from the Evangelical Fellowship of India showed that nearly 40 cases of threats or violence against Christians took place in the state this year.
Disruptions to Christmas celebrations last week and over the holiday weekend were also reported. At Ambala in Haryana, a northern state governed by Modi’s party, a life-size statue of Jesus Christ was vandalized.
In Varanasi, the base of Modi’s parliamentary constituency and Hinduism’s holiest city, activists reportedly burned a model of Santa Claus and chanted anti-Christmas slogans outside a church.
Elias Vaz, national vice president of the All India Catholic Union, criticized these incidents, saying they present a rejection of India’s identity as a highly diverse nation, according to the Reuters news agency.
“The strength of India is in its diversity, and the people who have done this at Christmas are the real anti-nationals,” he said.
Critics have accused Prime Minister Modi’s government of igniting religious tensions across the country with its pursuit of a Hindu nationalist agenda. Since assuming his office in 2014, right-wing Hindu groups have launched more frequent attacks against minorities under claims they are working to prevent religious conversions.
Within India’s population of 1.37 billion is the second-largest Catholic population in Asia, after the Philippines, of 18 million. Catholics and other Christians make up only 2.3% of the overall population in the majority Hindu nation.
Despite the right to freedom of belief enshrined in India’s constitution, several states have passed or are considering anti-conversion laws.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.