Christianity in India
With 1.3 billion citizens, India is the second most populous country in the world. However, only 2.3% of this population identify as Christian. Although Christianity has a longstanding history in India, dating all the way back to 52 AD when it is believed that the apostle Thomas arrived in India to spread the gospel, it is not a widely accepted religious practice. In fact, the persecutions of Christians in India continue to rise rapidly.
Here are some facts about Christians in India:
- Indians that convert to Christianity become part of the lowest caste, the Dalits.
- Many Indian Christians still practice cultural Hindu customs, such as the sacred protection of cows.
- The primary force of persecution in India is Hindu nationalism, which stems from the belief that India belongs to Hinduism and anyone that does not follow that belief does not belong. Christianity is viewed as an alien religion.
The History of Religious Conflict in India
Conflict between India’s most prevalent religion, Hinduism, began shortly after the European missionary influence arrived in India and were particularly successful in the conversion of the lower-caste Indians, specifically the Dalits, or Untouchables. Hindus view this conversion as a bribery, i.e. the lowest-caste group of India’s has been mistreated and shunned by cultural Indian society but can find refuge in the Christian faith. Since India has gained their freedom from Britain in 1947, the redirection on Hindu nationalism began.
This view coupled with the long-standing belief that any religion outside of Hinduism is alien and counteractive to Hindu practices has led to increasing persecution. Here is the breakdown of religious groups in India:
- It is estimated that 80.5% of India’s population is Hindu
- It is estimated that 13.4% of India’s population is Muslim
- It is estimated that 2.3% of India’s population is Christian.
The Government and Religion
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS was founded nearly 100 years ago as an effort to celebrate and strengthen Hindu customs and practices. When Indians won their freedom from British rule in 1947, they established a pluralistic democracy based on secular principles, embracing their diversity. But the RSS’ goal is to redefine India according to its majority Hindu faith. The group is now made up of nearly 5 million men and boys. Many members of the government have even been members of the RSS since their childhoods. The current ruling majority of India’s political system are members of a Hindu Nationalist Party. They have been in command since 2014 and work closely with the RSS. This gives the RSS freedom to discourage, many times violently, the practice of religions outside of Hinduism. It is their shared goal to make India a 100% Hindu state by this year.
What does this mean for Christians in India? Well, it puts their faith to the test. Here in America, many of us didn’t grow up worrying about our safety if we believed something different from the majority. I’ve sat in church every Sunday morning for my whole life, and I have never once felt unsafe. That’s not the reality for Indian Christians. It is a sacrifice for them to profess their faith in God. It’s Biblical. They risk comfort, safety, and even their lives to praise God. As the RSS gains momentum under the Hindu Nationalists rule, it is likely that persecution of Christians will continue to rise.
Visit Set Free to keep up with Christianity in India.