This Thursday will see the results announced of India’s largest ever expression of democracy.
However, what might it mean for some of the minority religious groups in the country?
India’s Christians are expecting that in the probable event of the BJP’s victory in the general elections, the so-called anti-conversion laws that prevent people from converting to any religion from Hinduism will be implemented more rigorously and in more states than they are now. Already in states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where those laws are in force, the persecution of Christians is on the rise. Other hotspots include Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Since the BJP came to power in May 2014, Hindu nationalism, radical extremism and the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities have seen a conspicuous rise. The inaction of the state or national authorities contributed to the increased level of impunity of Hindu radicals, especially in the states where the BJP forms the local government.
Indian Christians have told UK Christian charity ‘Open Doors’ that the police often side with extremists by taking part in raids of Christian meetings, issuing threats to Christians, and refusing to register complaints reported by Christians. They also report that policemen are known for their brutality, beating and mistreating Christians who are in custody.
The nationalistic characteristics of the BJP stem from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) right-wing, Hindu nationalist paramilitary organisation which formed the BJP as its political wing. RSS is behind the promotion of the Hindutva ideology with the “To be Indian is to be Hindu” leading theme. In this narrative, where Hinduism is to be revered as a supreme religion, religious minorities, such as Christians and Muslims, are not Hindutva and are therefore foreigners. Worshippers from both religions have faced extreme persecution at the hands of extremists.
India is number 10 on the 2019 World Watch List, Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.
Sixty-four million Christians live in India, which is less than five per cent of the population. In a country with a total population of 1.3 billion, they make up a tiny minority.
In rural areas Christians are often very isolated. Christians in India face high levels of violence from extremists, with thousands of attacks taking place every year.
Pastor Kuldeep* was praying in the veranda of his house in rural India when someone appeared in the dark and hit him with an axe six times.
Pastor Kuldeep fell unconscious and lost a lot of blood. He was rushed to the hospital and barely survived. The scars are forever embedded in his hands.
“You have converted! You are against our gods!” his attackers said. Pastor Kuldeep had faced accusations like this before but the violent attack on him was unprecedented. Thirty years after his conversion from Hinduism to Christianity, Kuldeep says he does not feel safe. “India has certainly changed a lot,” he said.
Another pastor, Vikas*, has been receiving threats since he converted to Christianity 15 years ago. After undergoing biblical training, he started leading a ministry. Pastor Vikas said the persecution against his church became more severe in 2015 and was accompanied by police raids and accusations of forcibly converting others.
During the most recent raid in the spring of 2018, the police arrived using loudspeakers, which are normally used when they are in pursuit of a violent criminal.
“The police officers brought me to the local police station and put me in jail there. I was really sad when this happened. But I wasn’t discouraged and I kept on praying,” Pastor Vikas said.
Working through local partners, Open Doors secured the pastor’s release the next morning and provided a safe place for him and his family to move for their security.
If you’d like to know more about the work of Open Doors or support it’s work in India, visit: opendoorsuk.org
* names changed for security reasons