By Ubair Ul Hameed
New Delhi: Hundreds of Indian NGOs are undergoing unprecedented government audits, raising worries that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which is widely known for its hostility to the non-profit sector, may exploit the audit findings to take action or retaliate against individual groups.
Government auditors have been visiting NGO offices since January, staying for 10-14 days each time to look through financial data. According to conversations with non-profit executives and accountants, the visiting auditors also asked probing questions regarding Muslim workers and benefactors, as well as NGO staff’s political allegiances.
Auditors inquired about his Muslim field employees, according to the head of another Delhi-based NGO that works in the field of human rights and labor law.
“Out of all our 280 or so employees, they singled out one Abdul Jabbar and said: ‘Show me the expenses he has filed,’” he was quoted by Quartz, as saying.
“And they would look at the vouchers of his lunch, for instance: 2 rotis and daal.” Then they asked about another employee, a woman from Kashmir. “What is the message we’re getting here? That we shouldn’t employ Muslims?”
According to the Quartz report, the auditors demanded files on approximately 100 beneficiaries from the executive director of another Delhi-based NGO. The auditors informed him that they had been ordered to search for proof of money distributed to Muslim or Dalit organizations, as well as those that backed farmers’ demonstrations earlier this year and those who supported rallies against India’s controversial citizenship law in 2019.
President of the All India Majlis Majlis e Mushawarat , Navaid Hamid, said that it’s an attempt to marginalize Muslims in India. “Shame! Modi government auditors are asking NGO’s about their Muslim beneficiaries. The message is clear to social sector: Don’t employ Muslims and don’t help the Muslim community. Muslims are country’s institutionally marginalized & targeted community,” Navaid said it a tweet.
The auditors’ were also looking to determine if NGOs had any kind of political leanings.
The CEO of an international NGO said that their work in fields of health, education, and livelihood, was seen as “political” work by the auditors.
“They were getting alarmed at this and asked why we were doing all this political work,” the non-profit’s CEO said, “and they were surprised by some of the things I said about the rightward shift of Indian politics.” He had to explain to the auditors how, for instance, issues of caste inequality were also issues of livelihood.
NGOs are seeing it as “quiet gathering of evidence”. “Once the government has all these audits, then it can cherry-pick what you like or what you don’t like, and it can act as it pleases,” CEO of an NGO told Quartz.