Of politics and persecution: why India’s elections matter

By April 16, 2019

India (MNN) — Believers are closely monitoring India’s elections. According to Voice of the Martyrs’ Todd Nettleton, the outcome will shape India’s religious landscape.

Right now, persecution is at a record high under Prime Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. To these individuals, “India is a Hindu nation. One-hundred percent of Indians should be Hindu,” Nettleton describes.

“If you’re a Christian, a Muslim – if you’re anything other than a Hindu – they want you to change your religion and leave. And, they are actively attacking minority religious groups.”

Milan Vaishnav, who directs the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, D.C., describes a similar threat in this conversation with NPR:

One of the important things this election is going to determine is India’s future as a secular republic that embraces pluralism and adheres to the founders’ notion that India’s unity is strengthened by its diversity.

Troubling signs

The Indian subcontinent is the birthplace of four major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
(Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr)

Religion has been a driving issue in South Asia since 1947, when the British empire divided India and Pakistan along religious lines. Though Hinduism has been and still remains India’s majority faith, the country’s guiding document – its constitution – establishes a space for non-Hindu religions.

As Mumbai journalist Sunny Peter describes,

For a nation that was torn apart by religious strife at the time of its independence, it is crucial to maintain a delicate balance. Maintaining this among the various religious denominations is the Indian concept of secularism. In India, secularism means equal respect for all religions by the state — unlike the Western principle which implies the separation of state from religious institutions.

Problems arise when individuals or groups disrupt this “delicate balance.”

VOM’s contacts say discrimination is the norm for India’s Christian population. Common tactics include legal action – using loopholes to force church closures, for example – and physical violence.  Nettleton says the RSS – a radical arm of the BJP – is using whatever means possible to “crack down” on non-Hindu religious activity. More about the RSS here.

“If they can come in and say, ‘hey, the building codes don’t allow you to have public gatherings here’ they’ll use that. But, they’re also sending mobs of people with sticks and beating Christians, beating pastors.”

Last week, election officials temporarily banned Modi’s “right-hand man” from the campaign trail for hate speech aimed at Muslims. As noted here, statements about religion and caste often take center-stage during election cycles even though Indian law strictly forbids it.

How to help

(Photo courtesy of Open Doors)

First and foremost, please pray for the nation of India and its leadership. There’s a lot at stake over the next six weeks as millions of Indian citizens cast their votes.

“Is their government going to be actively opposed to Christianity, opposed to the Church, for the next four years? Or will it be a more moderate government that might actually respect the religious freedom that’s promised in India’s constitution?”

Pray also for the protection of individual believers and Christian communities throughout India. The second phase of voting begins Thursday, and the potential for violence remains high.

“There’s a lot that could go wrong,” Nettleton observes, referring the sheer size of India’s voter population and the logistics involved with casting and collecting ballots. “There’s a lot that could erupt into trouble and even violence. So, pray for a peaceful election process. Pray for God’s will to be done in the results…

“We certainly hope for a government that will respect the rights of Christians [and] the right, even, to tell a Hindu about Jesus.”



Header image depicts a voter’s hand. Voters in India receive a mark when they’ve cast a ballot. Photo credit: Incredibly Numing/Flickr/CC.

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