'It Is Devastating For Families': How Compassion International Is Being Forced Out Of India
There are just five days to go until Compassion India will pack up more than 500 projects in India and leave around 145,000 children without support.
After nearly 50 years in the country, the Christian charity is being forced out.
'I don't want to use hyperbole but it is actually devastating for many of these families,' says Justin Dowds, chief executive of Compassion UK in an interview with Christian Today.
The Hindu nationalist Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is cracking down on foreign charities it sees as threatening.
Compassion is just one of 11,000 NGOs to have lost access to foreign funds since Modi came to power in 2014.
Under the vague accusation of being 'detrimental to the national interest' the charity has been placed on a 'prior approval' list that means the Indian government can control, and therefore block, any funds coming in from the West.
'They have basically told all Indian banks not to approve money that comes from overseas for Compassion,' says Dowds.
'There is a definite crackdown.'
Compassion partners with more than 500 churches around India through its 'sponsor-a-child' programme. It provides funding for schooling, food and healthcare to some of the poorest areas through its projects. It employs more than 100 full time staff and funnels around £45million a year into the country through its $38-a-month patronage programme.
'It is Compassion's support that allows children to go to school because as part of our programme they receive access to healthcare, and the additional cost of going to school such as shoes and books otherwise they are turned away,' says Dowds.
'In many areas they come to the programme every day after school to get extra support,' he adds.
'Wider than that we feed them once a day and we buy the food from the local market every day to feed 200-300 children.
'That is a lot of revenue and support coming out of the local market. We are also employing staff and putting money in to the local economy
'You can't take out $40-50million a year out of the economies of the poorest of the poor and not see quite a dramatic impact.
'Each child is part of a family. One child I spoke to said it was her responsibility to go home from school and teach her brothers and sisters what she had learnt. She taught her mother and father to write their own names so they could fill in forms to get the support they were entitled to.
'The trickle down impact of our projects is enormous.'
All of that ends next week after being starved of funds since the government froze their overseas donations in March 2016.
'The challenge is we have not received a single word from the Indian authorities defining exactly what the charge or accusation is,' he says.
Comments in local press have suggested government officials accuse Compassion of forcibly converting people to Christianity. But there has been no evidence of this and Compassion vehemently denies the charge.
After repeated lobbying attempts by both the US and UK governments, the charity is left with no choice. They are being advised to go down a legal route but with no guarantee Modi's government will respect the ruling even if they do win, Dowds is reluctant.
But he is not giving up. Although it is now all but certain Compassion India will fold next Wednesday, he says there is one final push that could allow it to reopen.
A final mass letter writing campaign is being organised to the US congress urging support. And even after that and the inevitable closure next week, Dowds says he still has hope for Compassion in India.
'We are ultimately called to release children from poverty in Jesus' name,' he says.
'I don't believe that excludes Indian children. We want to work out a solution.'