Vijayesh Lal is based in New Delhi. He is involved in reaching out to churches in India primarily through leadership and capacity building.
Ramesh is perplexed. He always thought that religion was a private affair till he became a follower of Jesus Christ. Ramesh is firm in his convictions having come to the Christian faith through personal exploration of the Bible and wants to be baptized, but he found out that the state is interested in his private matters.
Strange people whom he had never met started coming to his house and started troubling the family with questions about his faith and threats. This created a rift in the family, after all no one wants trouble with the anti-social elements. Today Ramesh is baptized, still facing pressures from the anti-social elements to re-convert to the "Indian" religion and his struggle continues daily.
India is a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic governed by the Constitution that came into effect on January 26, 1950. It has a parliamentary form of government, federal in structure, with unitary features.
The Constitution of India assures to all the citizens justice (social, economic, and political), liberty (of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship), equality (of status and opportunity) and fraternity (assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation). The fundamental rights embodied in the Constitution of India include the right to freedom of religion – to profess, practice and propagate any religion – with freedom to manage its religious affairs and to own, acquire and administer property for religious or charitable purposes.
Christian Persecution is not a myth but a fact in India. India's constitution guarantees freedom of religion to minorities. Out of a population of over a billion, Christians make up only 2.3%. In some parts of India, Christians form even a smaller minority, such as the state of Gujarat where they form less than 1% of the population. Christians in this region are often the lower castes, 'the Dalits', or illiterate tribal people. Tensions have always existed between the dominant Hindu majority and the other religious minorities, especially in the northern states.
For many years Hindu extremists concentrated their attacks on the Muslim minority. Recently, however, Christians have become the focus for the extremists' wrath. In 1997, 27 attacks on Christians and Christian institutions were reported. The number jumped to 86 the following year. One hundred twenty incidents were documented in 1999, and 216 in 2000. And in just the first three months of 2001, 37 incidents were filed and the cases have been increasing steadily till date.
There are various stages of Christian persecution in India. Firstly it all starts with Disinformation against Christians, before the attack on Churches in Dang district of Gujarat in 1998 there were pamphlets and newsletters circulating against the "Anti-National" Christians which ultimately culminated in several Churches being attacked and burnt. Disinformation starts most often in Media and Vernacular Media in particular. Rumors, Lies and Misinterpretations make the lives of Christians more and more difficult in India even today.
The Second stage of Persecution is Discrimination. Christians for long have faced Social discrimination in India. In his essay 'We. Our Nationhood Defined' written in 1938, Golwalkar, the father of the RSS, expounded his views on the minority 'problem':
"The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture i.e. of the Hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race; or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment - not even citizen's rights."
The third stage of Persecution is the Persecution emerging in either Mob Violence or Religious Extremism. This is the result of the previous two stages. In India it is not hard to witness Mob violence against Christians whose only fault is that they are Christians. Freedom of Conscience is getting more endangered by the day and Disinformation is doing its own harm among the masses and creating discrimination. Christians are labeled the 'Second East India Company' and one group has insisted upon the immediate expulsion of all Christian missionaries.
Hindu Fundamentalists have come out openly against the Christians and the Muslims and consider them as threat to the country and to the unity of the country. The small communities of Christian evangelicals working mainly in the rural areas are often the targets of organized religious oppression. Those creating the anti-Christian attitudes use the public platform and sometimes influence of the Local Leaders to rouse the villagers to violence, and this has often resulted in damage or physical injury. There are frequent reports that Christians have been attacked or have been killed.
Over the years there have been successful attempts in India to introduce legislatures (Freedom of Religion Bill) in the states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and recently Rajasthan not to mention the new Madhya Pradesh bill which is far stricter and calls for more severe penalty. These control and hinder free exercise of conscience and are in nature contrary to the constitutional freedom given to the individual to adopt and practice a religion of one's choice.
WHY THE ATTACKS?
The reason for the attacks on Christians are many, to say just a few of them:
1. Dignity to the downtrodden and the Dalits: The Gospel of Jesus Christ breaks down the traditional caste system enlarging the thinking, sharpening minds and giving self-respect to the Dalits and this is not acceptable to the advocates of the Brahmanical caste system where everyone is accepted if they choose to be under the subjection to the Brahmins.
2. Influence of the missionaries on the culture and changes: The missionaries attempted to remove ills such as child marriage, Sati (burning of widows), infanticide and caste. Since social injustice was against God's will, the missionaries were called upon to fight it, irrespective of whether or not by so doing people would become Christians. This was again intolerable to the people who were advocates of the evil systems.
3. On theological grounds: The Christians in India have also been questioned on their faith. Most common is the argument against the Christians belief that says that Jesus Christ is the only way and that has been a stumbling block for many. The fundamentalists have asked Christians to compromise on this point and this too is one of the major reasons for the attacks. Also the way the Christians selflessly serve the poor acts as a stumbling block to many. The only competition that they have to their so-called social service is the Christian service which is selfless, and that the Hindutva forces are not willing to tolerate.
What the Church must do now?
Quoting Rev. Richard Howell of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, "The Church in India even in the midst of persecution must continue its God given ministry of reconciliation. Compassion and not communalism is the mission of the Church. Compassion expresses an attitude of complete willingness to use all means, time strength, to help others. It transcends all national, racial and caste barriers. Compassion brought Jesus from Heaven to the humble manger to be His rebel creation to love and care. To the unclean he made clean, to the defenseless he empowered. To the exhausted he fed. For human life he died. He is the exemplar of servant hood the Lord divine. It is his mission we follow."