Tuesday, September 2, 2014

RLPB 276. India: persecution, poverty and inequity

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 276 | Wed 03 Sep 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

RLPB 270 (23 July 2014) reported that, on the advice of Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) agitators from the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), more than 50 villages in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region had used Section 129 (G) of the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Act to ban all non-Hindu religious practice. This denial of religious liberty has resulted in a sharp rise in persecution, with Christians being assaulted, denied access to food rations and water, and even driven from their villages. John Dayal of the All India Christian Council (AICC) reported on 22 August that, despite concerted advocacy, there has been no response from either the state or federal government. Furthermore, Dayal says that the threat of purging Christians from villages has spread from Chhattisgarh to Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. If impunity persists, then so will this trend.

Further to this, Hindu nationalists are ramping up their conversion or 'ghar wapsi' (homecoming) campaigns, especially in Uttar Pradesh ahead of by-elections to be held on 13 September. This is nothing other than religious conversion for political gain. On 26 August seventy-two former-Valmikis re-converted to Hinduism after being Christians since 1995. [Valmikis are Dalits ('Untouchables') who venerate the Sanskrit poet Valmiki.] A purification ceremony was held for them inside a Seventh Day Adventist church in Asroi, in Aligarh district. [Aligarh city is just 140 km south-east of New Delhi.] Hindu nationalists had seized the church the night before, removing its cross and installing a portrait of the Hindu deity Shiva. While the re-conversion ceremony naturally upset local Christians, the seizure of the church and its conversion into a Hindu temple sent tensions soaring. To ease tensions, the district administration stepped in and removed the Shiva poster to 'a safe place', and the church's belongings -- i.e. 'a cupboard, Christmas-lights and a single copy of the Bible' -- 'to a locker'. By 30 August eleven Hindu fundamentalists from various Hindutva groups had been arrested on charges of desecrating a Christian church.

When Hindus attempted to seize a church in the village of Hasayan in neighbouring Hathras district on 28 August, police stepped in to prevent it. Unable to seize the church (belonging to the Church of North India [CNI]) the Hindus conducted the ghar wapsi in a private residence, restoring 15 Christians to the Hindu fold. A local Hindu nationalist leader, Rajeshwar Singh, said the Dharam Jagran Vivad (DJV) was planning to hold a major ghar wapsi event on Christmas Day. 'It will be a big event,' he said, 'targeting almost 1000 Christians.' Another DJV member, Khem Chandra, commented that while the church building 'belongs to the missionaries ... the ground on which it stands belongs to Hindustan. We will not compromise on our dharti (earth).' The DJV intends to erect a temple on the site.

Whilst many re-conversions are forced, even violent, many are not. In India, when a Dalit converts to Christianity they lose their Scheduled Caste (SC) status, along with the government benefits and affirmative action the SC status affords.
photo: July 2010 rally 
Consequently, many Dalit Christians (and Muslims) are condemned to crippling poverty. For though the government no longer views the Christians as Dalits, everyone else does because caste is deeply ingrained in India's Hindu culture. Accordingly the systematic discrimination continues but without the government compensation. If the convert fails to grow in faith as a disciple of Jesus Christ, or if they feel the Church has let them down -- maybe by abandoning them to their poverty -- the economic benefits of re-conversion can be very alluring. 

India is the second-largest missionary-sending nation in the world (second only to US) with some 83,000 missionaries (according to Operation World), most of them working cross-culturally within India. However, India is an enormous mission field with immense needs. If converts are to grow and endure, they will need strong faith, literacy and vocational skills equally in great measure. Of course, India needs to end its systemic discrimination -- something Dalit Christians have been fighting for in the Supreme Court for nearly a decade now. Sadly, equity is even more remote now the BJP is in power for, as a Hindutva party, the BJP is ideologically committed to religious apartheid. So 'Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.' (Matthew 9:38 NIV)

'Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?' (James 2:15-16 NIV)


* raise up and powerfully equip Christian strategists who will know how to help India's seriously disadvantaged Dalit Christians.

* awaken and sharpen the consciences of all those (local and international) who have influence in India such as diplomats, ambassadors, politicians, journalists, educators and celebrities, as well as those who are leaders in business and industry; may they speak out against inequity and speak up for the voiceless poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9); may he magnify their voices and bring cultural change to India.

* challenge the 21st Century Church about its market-mindset that pursues measurable 'results' for the purpose of attracting donors; may she  instead appreciate the more important long-term daily 'plod' of simple obedience and faithful service that moves beyond conversions to fostering discipleship and facilitating endurance.

* send out more workers throughout the enormous and needy mission field that is India.


On 26 August seventy-two Dalit ('Untouchable') Christians in Uttar Pradesh were re-converted to Hinduism inside an SDA church in Asroi that had been seized and turned into a Hindu Temple. The police have stepped in to ease sectarian tensions. On 28 August police prevented Hindu nationalists seizing a church in nearby Hasayan. The ceremony of re-conversion of 15 Christians into Hinduism then had to take place in a private home. The government gives the Dalits benefits and affirmative action to alleviate their poverty, but when they convert to Christianity the benefits stop. Discrimination against them as Dalits continues, only without the benefits. The missionaries of Hindutva are exploiting this to lure desperately poor Dalit Christians back into the Hindu fold. Please pray for India and for the Indian Church.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).