India (MNN) — Vandals in India’s Telangana State burned a church to the ground February 2nd.
This incident is but one of hundreds taking place daily. Although there are 64 million Christians, persecution in India is at its highest level in 70 years, a new report warns. A religious rights watchdog group focused on India, Persecution Relief, noted 477 incidents of violence recorded in 2018, up 37 from the previous year.
The 2019 Open Doors’ World Watch List confirms Persecution Relief’s findings. The list ranks the top 50 countries in which Christians face the most pressure. India rose to 10th place on the list, having been 28th five years ago.
Bibles For The World’s John Pudaite explains, “India has been a place of persecution for Christians in pockets around the country for many, many years. But now, under the Hindu Nationalist government that has ruled the country since April/May 2014, persecution against Christians has just been more accepted.”
Pudaite blames ultra-nationalism for the increase in violent attacks by Hindu extremists on Christians and churches.
“People can hurt Christians, pastors, burn churches, destroy Christian schools, and they know that they’re not going to get prosecuted by the government, that they’re not going to get arrested—that the thing will just go away”, he explains.
This is due, in part, to the fact that the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believes that being a Hindu is part of Indian identity.
A Shift In The Polls
However, their approach to governing the country has not lived up to the promises, and people are fed up. “Last year, there were some state elections and we saw the BJP get unseated from the majority in those states. We’re starting to see things where there are little movements back against the party and a lot of it is because their social and economic policies and programs have not panned out.”
What’s more, since the BJP spent a lot of time and resources shoring up their own power base, “a lot of their campaign platitudes are not playing out and we’re seeing people start to realize this—something that those of us who were always wary of this party had expected from the beginning.”
Here’s what’s at stake: 835 million voters. Since the stinging election defeat in December, the BJP lost three key states to the opposition party. With the general election expected this spring (date will be announced 45 days in advance), they could lose their grip on power. Recent polls suggest that, for the first time since 2014, the BJP does not have a clear majority in the Parliament in the opinion polls.
This has continued to slip in the month of January. Pudaite says, “It actually has slipped to the point that if the other national and regional parties got together in a coalition government, they would have a majority over the BJP.”
What it means for the upcoming elections? “This is very encouraging as we look at the situation and then we just look at how the persecution of Christians and the difficulties of operating as a Christian ministry have increased over these last four and a half years, that we would love to have a government that is more favorable to the Christians, or at least neutral.”
Be Cautious, Be Bold
If the general elections are so important, why hasn’t the government announced a date? It’s a security thing, explains Pudaite.
“The campaign actually gets rather violent as different political activists from the different parties do different things to try to persuade or even block opposing party voters from reaching the polling stations. They try not to release this information too much in advance.”
Big elections in India involve the military to keep things secure. It is days of coordination to keep the polling stations open and safeguard the ballots, and organizing 835 million voters across 29 states.
In the days ahead, he’s asking the body of Christ to join them in praying for Christians in India. Targeted reprisal violence, similar to that seen in Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood fell from grace, is possible.
“I would think that in the next couple months, it’s a time to be very cautious for Christians, but to (also) be very strong. We try not to be very political in our ministry or in our churches in India, but we also try to let them know that ‘you still have the right to vote. There is freedom of religion in this country and we want to uphold things that are in the constitution.’ We want to vote in a party that will uphold those principles.”
Header photo courtesy of Open Doors.