India’s Christians Hope for Change
By ICC’s India Correspondent
05/07/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – India is in the process of electing the next government that will be tasked with leading the world’s largest democracy. An estimated 900 million people will participate in this election, making it the largest democratic election in history.
For India’s Christians, and other religious minorities, these elections are critical. After nearly five years of rule by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the level of religious intolerance and blatant persecution of India’s Christians has skyrocketed.
According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), violent attacks on the country’s Christian minority have more than doubled over the course of the BJP’s rule. In 2014, the year the BJP took power, EFI recorded 147 violent attacks on India’s Christian community. In 2018, after four years of BJP rule, EFI recorded 325 violent attacks.
Due to this dramatic rise in intolerance and persecution, many of India’s Christians are hoping for change.
“The number one issue in this election for Christians is safety,” Dr. Paul R.T. Maran, National Bishop of Indian National Apostolic Diocese, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “This election is like a ‘do or die’ situation. If the BJP comes to power in the 2019 election, Christians won’t be treated as equal citizens because their aim is to establish [a] Hindu India.”
“When the election schedule was released, we organized a prayer chain in all the churches that are under my supervision,” Dr. Maran, who oversees 4,000 churches across India, said. “We are praying for change in the government.”
Speaking about the difficulties his churches have faced under the current government, Dr. Maran said, “We are managing 13 cases against churches in my denomination in the courts just in Coimbatore town in Tamil Nadu. All of the 13 cases are related to local authorities requiring prior permission for Christians to hold prayers in their houses. This is in spite of several high court rulings stating that no permission is needed from the government to pray in private homes.”
“The number one issue in this election for Christians is safety. This election is like a ‘do or die’ situation.”
This desire for change was echoed when ICC reached out to Christian leaders in Bihar.
“We are praying for change, as we’ll soon have a new government,” Pastor Jacob Mani, who serves as the head pastor of a small congregation in Bihar and is no stranger to persecution, told ICC. In recent months, Pastor Mani endured intense pressure and intimidation at the hands of Hindu radical groups. The situation grew so bad that Pastor Mani was forced to shut down his church.
A few days prior to talking to ICC, during the peak of the election campaign, Pastor Mani was asked to vacate his rented house. When Pastor Mani asked his landlord why he was being evicted, the landlord confessed that he had been forced to evict Pastor Mani because he was being pressured by Hindu radicals.
“Even though I belong to this country, I am made to live like an outsider, just because I worship and practice a different faith,” Pastor Mani lamented. “People do not trust each other due to their varied religious identities. The community in the village is sadly more divided. We have been experiencing this division more aggressively in the last four to five years. The issue is very much motivated by the politics of the day.”
In Uttar Pradesh, located in northern India, Christians have faced more persecution under the current government than many have in their entire lives. While speaking with ICC, Pastor Ram Chander from Haripur village said, “I have been practicing the Christian faith for the last 30 years and I have never seen the kind of hatred that we are facing today.”
Pastor Chander and his congregation were attacked on Easter Sunday this year. In an increasingly familiar pattern, the individuals who attacked his church were not prosecuted. Instead, the police arrested Pastor Chander and his brother, accusing the pair of engaging in forced conversions.
“The last five years have been difficult years for me and the Christians of this region,” Pastor Chander explained. “I have faced more trouble in the last three to five years than the rest of my Christian life. I had to stop leading worship in two places after government officials openly took the side of Hindu radicals.”
On May 23, the results of these critical elections will be announced.
For many Christians, another five years of BJP rule would be a heavy blow to their already persecuted and exhausted communities. While there are many Christians in India already bracing for this eventuality, there are also those who still cling to hope that change is just around the corner. These Christians hope that the new government will respect the religious freedom of India’s diverse communities and take active measures to protect the freedom and diversity that are and will continue to be an important part of India’s foundation.
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