Thoughts on economics and liberty

Prohibiting foreign religious charity

I'm posting below my comment made on Shantanu's blog re: political implications of religion. I'm posting it for further action. In particular I need to discuss it further on FTI. Our religious tolerance policy needs to be amended, I think. (I've also dealt with this issue in my September 2010 article for Freedom First, to be published here on 15 September). Basically my view is that foreign funded religious work amounts to yet another invasion of India.

====THE COMMENT (very slightly edited)====

Dear Shantanu

Re: “Christian groups here have reinforced and complimented a sense of distinct ethnicity and otherness which have acted as the main source for creating a non Indian feeling and thereby resulting in separatist movements in the north eastern parts of India.”

To what extent this is true, I’m not sure. There are many other causes as well, including severe mismanagement and misgovernance.

But on the issue of religious interference in politics I have a view. I’m neither a Hindu, nor Muslim nor anything. Just a human. But I note that religions, particularly organised religion, have political impacts. And that means that neither India nor any other country can permit the intrusion of foreign religious funds into the country. Just as political funding by foreigners is prohibited under the law in India (and elsewhere), so also religious funding must be prohibited.

The problem is that foreign funding of religious work mostly goes under the umbrella of charity. I oppose charity on many grounds (e.g. see, but one more ground now exists, a view I have formed only during the last year, that charity by religious groups should be prohibited regardless of any good they may claim to do. This is necessary, for such charity invariably disturbs  the political balance, and indeed, has significant political impacts.

Note that the free society should not oppose proselytisation and conversion, but these should be restricted to domestic funds and efforts. 

I’m inclined to suggest that FTI add this clause into its religious tolerance policy. In any event, this situation is unsustainable. The political impact of religion needs to be curbed.

There must be no mixing of religion and politics. The state must control any attempt of religion to influence politics. I wonder, though, whether our existing confused political parties have any idea about the nightmare they have created. It is time for good leadership to assemble and show India the right way forward – of freedom, with accountability.




See my previous comments posted on Shantanu's blog in March this year.

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9 thoughts on “Prohibiting foreign religious charity
  1. Milind Kotwal

    Dear Sanjeev,
    This is not easy or straight forward at least in India.. This will require clarity in understanding of following :
    1. What is nationality ? what is regional identity? what is religious identity ?
    2. How are we going to assign rights and previlleges with these identities ?
    3. What issues are National Issues, which issues are religious issues and which issues are regional issues ?
    And if you into all these questions you would find, solution that is applicable across India is almost non-existant..!!

  2. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Milind, I am interested in amending the FCRA (, not in abstract academic discussion. This is a specific legal matter that can be incorporated into the existing law, prohibiting any foreign funding from religious organisations. Political organisations are forbidden to get FCRA authorisation. Religious organsations in India can be so prohibited.

    Re: What is a religious organisation in India? That is one directly or indirectly affiliated to a particular religion. The details can be worked out later. I can readily identify a large number of organisations in my mind that would be captured by this definition. 

    Similarly this prohibition would apply to religious organisations outside India. They would be prohibited from funding any Indian organisation, for any purpose including schools, hospitals, etc. 



  3. Harsh Vora

    Hi Sanjeev — Firstly, I apologize for consistently commenting on your blogs. They've been intriguing, to say the least. While I assent to most points in this entry, I would like to differ slightly in one point you made: There must be no mixing of religion and politics. I understand where you come from. Under the sensitive circumstances that India is in right now, it seems that religious issues are tearing us apart. To discuss further, I guess we need to clarify what actually religion is, and how it is misinterpreted.
    Since I am an adherent of Swami Ramdev's views (on religio-political matters), let me lay them down in brief: For Swami Ramdev, "organized religion" is definitely an evil, since it breeds superstitions, false beliefs, stubbornness, rigidity, and many other evils. Dharma is a complex word, of which "religion" is a very crude and base translation. He explains that Dharma is simply that which conforms to our conscience. Whenever we do anything other than what our conscience dictates, it is adharma. Thus, rituals are not necessarily a part of dharma. "Religious dogmas" are not necessarily a part of dharma. However, qualities such as truth, non-violence, compassion, humility, obedience, justice, etc. are a part of dharma for these qualities conform to our inner conscience. It's that simple. Mind that violence is also sometimes integral for dharma, for it helps in maintaining greater non-violence. If we go by this definition of dharma according to Swamiji, then he himself is not a Hindu. He is a human (proponent of humanity), as opposed to animals that these politicians are.
    Hence, I would humbly say that dharma should be integrated into politics. And, as I said, dharma does not mean "religion." When a politician has clear knowledge of what dharma is, he cannot help but encourage superlative technology (for it is for the good of citizens), he cannot help but discard superstitions (through implementing right policies and laws), he cannot help but strive to provide excellent education to the "antim aadmi." Swami Ramdev often gives an example of Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya. These men were cunning (in a right manner), yet they conformed to dharma.
    So, my point is this: Religion should be definitely separated from politics. But dharma should not. If dharma is discarded, politics will become corrupt (which it is right now). And for a politician to be dharmic in the truest sense, he has to have clarity and foresight with regards to dharma. Spirituality has been India's back-bone. If that is separated from politics (for political leaders directly or indirectly influence citizens' lives), then we would surely grow like America and Japan, but in the process, lose our cultural and moral values in the a few hundred years.
    Just a different vantage point! Note that I have not used the word God anywhere in this comment. Just because "godliness" is a secondary (and controversial) topic. Our focus should be predominantly on dharma, only!

  4. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Harsh

    By religion I mean organised religion that has as name and title. I'm fine if you believe in a Dharma. Everyone has a set of ethical principles that can be called dharma, if you wish. 

    I also note that Swami Suddhananda (whose lectures in Melbourne I heard last year, and for whose ideas I later set up a facebook page: writes, "When people become religious they deny themselves everything and many times they become cynical, frustrated individuals. They indulge in fasting and denial of all sorts." (p. 28 of Self-Knowledge(. He basically doesn't talk of Hinduism or any religion, just a common sense understanding of who (or what) one might be.

    But all this is merely a personal philosophy. Everyone can have a personal philosophy, called by any name. When you construct a temple, though, and invite people to pray there, then it becomes organised religion. Any organisation of individual spiritual matters is religion.

    Mixing religion with politics includes things like:

    a) Enacting Hindu laws in parliament.

    b) Enacting Muslim laws in parliament

    c) The state management of temples

    d) The state funding of Wakf boards

    e) State subsidies/arrangements for Haaj, etc.

    These actions that aim to control or guide our spiritual (or non-spiritual) beliefs or to fund them, ARE IMPROPER.



  5. Harsh Vora

    Hmm, what do you think about banning cow-slaughter in India? Swami Ramdev has been consistently rallying against cow-slaughter in India. He explains it well, "These politicians have no limit of wickedness. They ban the slaughter of tigers (which are carnivore), and allow free killing of cow (which are herbivore, and which have been considered as mother since ages). No animal should be allowed to be killed in Bharat Varsha, for all of them have the right to live."
    He emphasizes the importance of cow not merely on the religious basis, but on moral and well as scientific grounds. Moral ground: They provide us milk. Until we are a certain age old, our biological mother breast-feeds us. And after that age, our cow feeds us with milk. So, they are are second-mother, and deserve to be respected. Scientific ground: Cow manure has been used as a beneficial fertilizer in farms. Cow urine helps us cure many diseases of the body. For example, the pH value of cow urine is 8-10 so it is a sure shot medicine for indigestion. Cow urine is anti-neoplastic which helps to cure cancer. These are just a few of the many benefits. Thus, cow should be given better if not less importance. 
    This, I strongly believe, is a legitimate reason raised by Swamiji. I fear we might not be on the same page, so far as this matter is concerned. Note that this has to do least with "organized religion," for conscience surely dictates that ALL beings have the right to live.

  6. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Harsh

    My view is very simple. The cow is food in all parts of the world (except for a few Hindus and Jains in India), and Hindus ate the cow for thousands of years till the influence of the Jains made them change their mind. 

    Regardless of that, I don't expect the state to dictate what food a person may or may not eat. I don't expect it to create a law that you SHOULD eat beef, for instance.

    The ONLY reason the state can impose its views on such matters is if you harm others in this process, or if doing so will harm the environment.

    The cow is not a scarce animal. Plenty of cows exist and plenty more can be produced as needed. The tiger is a genuine scarce animal and being at the top of the ecological food chain of the jungle, the dying out of tigers can severely damage the natural environment. For instance if tigers die then all forests will be ravaged and destroyed by plant eating animals. Hence for tigers a different policy applies.

    But the policy on tigers (see my article on the environment: does not ask that you don't kill tigers. It asks for tigers (indeed jungles) to be privatised and reared just like any other animal. Wherever wildlife has been privatised (Coase theorem will show you how it works), it has flourished.

    There are innumerable instances of the truth of this theorem. There is, for instance, no threat of extinction of crocodiles in Australia since crocodile farms are licensed to grow them and sell their meat and skin. It is a highly profitable business. Eg. see

    I respect yours or Baba Ramdev's right NOT to eat beef IF you so feel (on any ground, call it moral is you wish), but I REFUSE to have you impose your will through the state on this matter. That involves the TOTAL DESTRUCTION of freedom.

    You will first have to prove to me that eating beef is harmful. The entire world except a few Hindus in India eats beef, and they haven't died. Note that Indians ate beef for thousands of years till the Jain influence grew strong. They didn't die. And I know of MANY MANY Indians who eat beef outside India. They aren't dying. So what's the problem? Food is supposed to nourish. What you or I or anyone else puts into our own mouths is none of the business of others.

    If eating beef is not lethal and it doesn't kill others, then there is no cause to interfere in the freedoms of others to eat beef. I think Baba Ramdev is trying to impose HIS version of morality on the rest of the world. That amounts to dictatorship. Let him learn to respect others. 
    He is welcome not to kill cows for food. But let him please learn the basics of freedom.



  7. SandeepS

    "Hindus ate the cow for thousands of years till the influence of the Jains made them change their mind."
    This is a stupid statement due to your lack of knowledge in Sanskrit language.
    You are arguing that banning of some animals is justified if the those animals were in the "scarce" category; then how do you agree the banning of "dog-meat" in your model western countries.
    Again, You seems to be out of sync with the directive principles of Constitution of India.

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