Christian Persecution in India

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
Since the end of British colonial rule and the partitioning of India (1947), Indian Christians have undergone an escalating series of attacks encouraged by the growth and rise to power of Hindu nationalism.

A Small Minority in a Very Large Country

In India, the predominate religion is Hinduism, followed by Islam and Christianity. In this country of over 1 billion people, there are substantial numbers of other religions, including Jainism and Sikhism. Christians represent about 2-3% of the population in India. In the Hindu faith, there exists the belief that there are many paths to god, which creates room for religious tolerance. There is no correct religion. However, attacks on minority religions continue. That is why it is important to understand the underlying causes for attacks on Christians in India.

The Rise of Hindu Nationalism

India has long been dominated by the Indian National Congress Party (NCP), which has ruled India for much of its independence from Britain. Realizing that India was not only predominately a Hindu state but also the largest Muslim country on Earth, the NCP fostered a relatively benign policy of tolerance to all castes, the groups within India's former social system, and all religions as well. After the upheaval of the Indian independence (1947), where millions of Muslims fled to Pakistan and many Hindus migrated into India, and the violence of the first Indo-Pakistan War (1947-1948), the Indian government has usually tried to maintain a policy of non-interference in the affairs of minority religions in India. As long as these religions did not appear to be converting Hindus, there was usually a hands-off approach to religious co-existence.

Partition of India, 1947. East Pakistan, with support from India, left Pakistan and became Bangladesh in 1971.
Partition of India

That has changed as the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has gained momentum, coming to power in the Indian government in 2003 and 2014. Since then, attacks on Christians have risen dramatically. The group represents a movement to return to traditional Indian values, not unlike the religious right in the United States. The BJP's mantra of Hindus first and the protection of Hinduism has encouraged attacks on Christians from both Hindus and Muslims.

These attacks have included burning Christian churches and Bibles, attacking and vandalizing Catholic-run schools and Christian cemeteries, attacking Christian tourists, raping nuns and even killings. In a particularly gruesome attack, an Australian missionary was burnt to death along with his two minor-aged children. The attacks are not limited to rural areas but have occurred in New Delhi, the Indian capital, and Mumbai, India's economic center, as well.

These attacks, in part, are based on a legacy of British control in India that is still resented by Hindus today. Both Hindus and Muslims believe Christians are attempting to proselytize, or convert people to their religion. Under the British, and especially during the Victorian period, British colonialists believed it was their mission to not only bring civilization to its colonies but to bring them to the Christian God as well.

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