India (MNN) — India just celebrated its 69th Independence Day, celebrating freedom from British rule and the bond of togetherness and brotherhood.
It reminds people of the unity and diversity of their nation. India is the only nation that has more than 1.2 billion people of different religions, languages, and cultures living together and marking milestones with zeal. Lindsay Ackerman, a spokesperson for Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India, says the Constitution is the rallying point. Indians are saying, “‘We have the ability to direct our future. All of our citizens are able to vote and to take part in leading the country.’ It’s a huge point of pride for India.”
Even while the debris from the parades is being swept up, the reality is that for some people, the freedom promised is a point of confusion. Ackerman explains, “For those who are in the minority–who are not Hindu in India–on a practical level, religious freedom is not always as ‘free’ as we might expect.”
On one hand, there have been confirmed reports of crackdowns on Christians. On the other, ministries are also saying that there is religious freedom guaranteed by the government. Which is it? It’s both. “One of the biggest challenges to religious freedom is knowledge about what your rights are as a citizen. Most people live in rural villages. Many of them are isolated, perhaps in the mountains or out in the middle of nowhere.”
Ackerman adds, “People are isolated from other communities, or isolated from cities. They may not be as aware of all of the things going on in their nation. They’re not as aware of the laws.”
Not being able to read presents another facet of challenge to the poorest of the poor in India. ”They have no way to gain knowledge about their rights as citizens, and that includes their rights to practice the religion that they choose, openly and freely.”
Mission India offers Adult Literacy Classes to help. During the yearlong classes, graduates achieve a 5th grade level of reading and writing, and the Bible-based lessons introduce them to Christ. To that end, says Ackerman, “We’re seeing such a multiplying effect of transformation of people being empowered and being able to do so much more than they ever even dreamed. We see a day that India will be transformed for Christ.” But community transformation can also be read as a shift in power.
For those in the upper castes, how do they react to literacy efforts for the poor and untouchables? Sometimes, Mission India teams are welcomed. At other times, there’s push-back. Occasionally, that takes the form of attacks, beatings, and riots. More often, says Ackerman, it’s being ostracized. ”Those are the stories of people whose families reject them and turn them out when they start to follow Christ. Those are stories of people who lose their jobs. They’re the stories of people who are not allowed to take water from the village well.”
Still, with the promise of freedom, through literacy or spiritual freedom in Christ, it means that people flock to hear the message for themselves. Hope comes through the realization of freedom. What that means, Ackerman says, is that a groundswell of prayer for the teachers comes into focus. “They’re the people on the ground who are from the community, volunteering their time and investing into these students. They’re also the ones that are taking a lot of risk. They’re the ones that are introducing literacy into communities that have never had that opportunity before. They may be perceived as a possible threat.”