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What’s The Real Reason Behind Modi Govt. Curbing Foreign Funding Of NGOs?

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By Karthik Shankar:

These days, Ingrid Srinath has more to worry about than just coming up with CSR initiatives. The CEO of Hivos India Advisory Services is as flabbergasted as anyone else about the government taking the warpath against NGOs.

What is going on? The government cancelled the licenses of over 9000 NGOs. This happened just days after the addition of the Ford Foundation on a ‘prior permission list’ (which for all intents and purposes freezes its funding) for supposedly aiding ‘communal activities’. This is just another in a long line of asinine decisions by the Modi government. The criteria for getting on the list is simple; anyone who takes on big business, or the government. Let me state unequivocally that there is a conversation to be had with regards to foreign NGOs being involved in revolutionary movements, given that the street demonstrations in Ukraine and Occupy Hong Kong were funded by foreign money. However, this is not the way to carry forward this discourse. Rule of law must still prevail and the Modi government has clearly shown that this is a power consolidation move.

modi govt.

In my conversation with Ingrid, she pointed out that there was no official intimation about anything being amiss despite the NGOs being in touch with the government. “All this information has been leaked through the media through an unnamed home ministry bureaucrat. An actual law can be challenged in court. Such a covert move allows the government plausible deniability.”

It’s an utterly hypocritical stance by the government. Let’s not forget the fact that the Delhi High Court just last year issued an order that BJP and Congress were prohibited from receiving foreign funding, which they were, to the tune of crores during the elections (BJP’s official spending was Rs 714 crores but as with all political parties, a bulk of the spending must have been in black, mostly from foreign sources). The HC used the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976. Now ironically, just over a year later, the very same act has been invoked by the BJP to monitor and freeze all funds to the Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation is deeply involved with liberal causes including propagating justice, democratic values and environmentalism. So, it clearly stands in the way of our government’s conservative agenda.

It is also clear why the government has a personal vendetta against Sabrang Trust. The organisation has been one of the most vociferous campaigners against communal politics, has published articles detailing the atrocities in the Gujarat riots and also published a detailed report which identified foreign organisations that were funding Hindutva groups in India.

It is important to note that Sabrang Trust is no paragon of virtue. Teesta Setalvad has been implicated in financial irregularities in the past. If this was simply part of a government ploy to exorcise funds from NGOs that went into the hands of wrong people, it is more than welcome. But that’s not the case. The government’s problem is with the Ford Foundation and its very nature itself. This selective culling of organisations that enjoy foreign patrons is ideologically motivated and that is something all of us should be wary about. Ingrid points out that mega corporations like Vedanta are permitted to bring in funds from abroad. “Dont’t people who are opposed to them have access to funds as well? It’s an uneven playing field.”

The move also propagates our society’s misguided belief that NGOs stand in the way of development. What NGOs do is fill gaps and serve people that governments cannot reach. They are also another extremely important layer of accountability in a democracy. It was an NGO that called out Nike’s slave labour like practices in Indonesia in the early 90s. Occupy Wall Street itself was triggered by a campaign from an NGO called Adbusters, but the U.S government didn’t ban it. Ingrid says that there’s a demonization of NGOs taking place. “At no point have any of the allegations been substantiated.”

This government’s stance is one of its most insidious attacks on democratic values and that’s saying something. But the Modi government seems to have a clear idea of what it is doing. The recent Land Bill ordinance, the suspension of an environmental NGO like Greenpeace, is all part of our increasing submission to corporate interests. If the government is so intent on preserving our country’s sovereignty, why didn’t that come up when we made all the concessions regarding the civilian nuclear deal with the U.S? Modi seems to have taken a literal leaf out of China’s book and applied it to the world’s largest democracy. Ingrid rightfully questions this uneven application of laws. “The media keeps saying that NGOs should be more accountable. More accountable than who? We already report to more government bodies than businesses.”

There’s no denying that philanthropy in the country will take a hit. Ingrid is troubled about the effect on altruistic endeavours. “Local charities still haven’t evolved to the extent required. It’s still approached as a technocratic function. Taking slum kids to cricket matches is considered philanthropy in India.”

The disenfranchised will have far fewer representatives to stand up for their rights now. It’s the stifling of discourse that’s most troubling for all involved. “A million emails were sent to TRAI for net neutrality. Yet, only child rights activists were speaking against the changes in the Juvenile Justice Act. Who speaks up for the people who don’t have voices now?” laments Ingrid.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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