The United States has discussed with India the importance of NGOs and civil society being able to function freely, the country’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.

The Secretary of State was responding to a question on foreign funding restrictions on NGOs and civil society organisations in India. He was addressing a press conference in Delhi after he met with India’s External Affairs minister S Jaishankar. The two ministers met on the sidelines of the G-20 foreign ministers’ meeting.

“We’ve taken up these questions in the past and we have discussed the importance of NGOs and civil society being able to function effectively and freely wherever they are in our own country and here in India,” Blinken said. “So to the extent that issues have come up related to NGOs, we’ve discussed them directly with our Indian counterparts.”

He made the statement a day after the Ministry of Home Affairs suspended the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act licence of think tank Centre for Policy Research for 180 days.

Last year, the Centre had informed Parliament that it has cancelled the foreign funding licenses of 6,677 non-governmental organisations between 2017 and 2021.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah had said that the government will take strict action against non-governmental organisations that seek to use foreign funding to change the country’s demography.

On Thursday, Blinken also said the United States regularly engages with India to encourage it to uphold its commitments on human rights.

The Secretary of State was asked whether he discussed claims about democratic backsliding and human rights concerns in India with Jaishankar. The question was asked in the context of tax surveys conducted at the BBC offices in India last month.

“We have to work together to show that our democracies can actually deliver on our peoples’ needs, and we have to continue to hold ourselves to our core values, including respect for universal human rights, like freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, which makes our democracy stronger,” Blinken said.

“So we regularly engage with our Indian counterparts to encourage the Indian Government to uphold its own commitments to protect human rights, just as we look to ourselves to do the same thing. And in most conversations that I have with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Jaishankar, this is an issue that we discussed, again, as we did today.”

From February 14 to February 16, India’s income tax department searched the premises of the British broadcaster, less than a month after it had released a two-part documentary in January that examined Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged role in the communal riots that took place in Gujarat in 2002.

Last year, Blinken had expressed concern about the “rise in human rights abuses” in India. Blinken had made the statement after US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar had asked the US administration why it was “so reluctant” to criticise the Indian government on human rights abuses.

In April 2021, the United States Department of State released its 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, in which it flagged human rights concerns in India. According to the report, “unlawful and arbitrary killings, arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities, overly restrictive rules on non-governmental organisations, violence against women and minorities and restrictions on freedom of expression and the press” were some of the concerns in India.