India (MNN) — COVID-19 cases surge in South Asia with no slowdown in sight. On Friday, India recorded its highest death toll since the pandemic began. Its coronavirus caseload soared past 200,000 heading into the weekend.
Even so, India’s government began easing restrictions today, allowing some facilities to reopen under new guidelines. Places of worship must restrict attendance, and no “physical offerings” – like communion – are allowed.
“You cannot gather in groups of larger than 20 for a funeral, 50 for a wedding, and for regular services, I think they’ve kept it at 10 or 15,” John Pudaite of Bibles For The World says. “It’s kind of crazy and very, very difficult for our partners on the ground to navigate through this.”
There may be more to India’s strict lockdown than meets the eye, he adds. “Our work spreads across many state boundaries. Travel for our leadership in the field is almost impossible. We’ve been trying to do things with Zoom conferencing but, on the whole, we can see things are really, really being affected,” Pudaite explains.
“[It] makes you wonder, what is the intent here of the government, in terms of trying to restrict the size of the groups that gather together? It affects certain religions more than others.”
Regular communal gatherings are an integral part of India’s minority faiths, like Islam and Christianity. However, “these are not so common in some of the other religions,” Pudaite says, meaning the new rules restrict some faiths more than others.
“It’s being interpreted by some as a ‘backhanded’ form of oppression or persecution of the Christian Church in India.”
India’s harassment of religious minorities is no secret. In April, the USCIRF recommended sanctions against India in its annual report; persecution watchdog Open Doors USA ranks India 10th on its World Watch List – a compilation of countries where following Christ is most difficult.
Persecution was rising throughout India before the pandemic, and it’s showing no signs of stopping. Last week, attacks on Christians in central India ranged from threats and fines to violent assaults. Earlier this month, persecution watchdogs flagged a false government report describing positive conditions among India’s religious minorities.
Blessings from hardship
Amid hardship and struggle, believers find unexpected blessings. As church partners distributed the first round of care packages, Pudaite says a few believers wanted to “pay it forward.”
“We’ve seen some of them say, ‘God has provided enough for me in this month; let me pass on my blessing to a more needy person in our village’,” he describes. “It’s just really blown me away…here they are in this time of need, this time of shortages…and they’re saying, ‘thank you for God’s blessing, but I’d like to pass it on to somebody else’.”
“It’s just an amazing thing to see, and something that we want to continue to do,” Pudaite says. Pray alongside Bibles For The World and its local partners, “that they may be able to continue to work, even despite the lockdowns, despite all of the hardships that they’re facing currently.”
Header image obtained via Wikimedia Commons.