Religious freedom in India?

By November 19, 2010

India (MNN) — Despite a long history of Christian persecution in the country, the International Religious Freedom, report released this week by the U.S. State Department, gave India's central government a fairly high rating on its religious freedom laws.

"The national government, led by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), continued to implement an inclusive and secular platform that included respect for the right to religious freedom," claimed the report.

Unfortunately, whether this is true or not seems to have made little difference. Don with Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India agrees that the secular central government has decent laws regarding religious freedom, but that they seldom step in at the state level.

Don says the situation with religious minorities in India mirrors that of the caste system. "The caste system was outlawed over 50 years ago, and yet the caste system remains very strong and is required to be reported on forms that you fill out for the government. So even though there's a law that disbands caste, it's a part of the system, and it hasn't changed." Don says likewise in India, "There is religious freedom. In some places that is respected, but in many places it is not."

The problem is, when religious freedom is not respected, Don says the national government tends to look the other way. Even the report admits that although the central government has good intentions toward religious freedom, attacks against minorities continue to go unattended. "This shortcoming was exacerbated by a low police-to-population ratio, corruption, and an overburdened and antiquated court system," notes the report.

"There have been, in my opinion and my experience, some positive developments in terms of the central government's attitude toward persecution, but they have little influence on what happens at the state level and have not really taken any kind of aggressive step, as far as I've been able to see, to stop the abuse against Christians," explains Don.

This may not be such a problem if the abuses were not so frequent. Don goes as far as to say that "where the Hindu fundamentalist groups have power or a strong following in the area, Christians are attacked on a regular basis."

The report on religious freedom in India took note of some of these instances from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010, but many were left undocumented. For instance, the anti-conversion laws present in six of India's states were discussed, but the attempts and successes of Hindus to forcibly convert Christians were never mentioned. Instead, accusations against Christians to convert Hindus–especially those of lower castes–by force were discussed. Suffice it to say, this has not been the experience of most ministries connected with Mission Network News.

Don says the media in general is often slanted this way though in a country comprised of 80 percent Hindus and only two percent Christians. "Even though Christians are often times forced under threat of life to enact Hindu ceremonies to deny their faith, those are not deemed as forced, but are acceptable," explains Don.

There is clearly a disconnect between the national law and the actual reality for Christians in India, but what can be done? Don says the situation is unlikely to change any time soon, and the best thing for Western believers to do is to pray. Remember also that despite the large amount of suffering felt by the church in India, they continue to grow in number.

"They've been persecuted, and they know what it means to follow Jesus whole-heartedly. So in spite of–or because of–persecution in many ways, the church in India is maturing and strengthening."

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