OVERVIEW: Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Hindu nationalist organization has seen a 20 percent increase in membership and an emboldened base aimed at further cementing India’s Hindu identity among its great diversity of languages, cultures and religions. Although Prime Minister Modi has publicly said his government will not tolerate religious discrimination, his actions prove otherwise. Vague policies such as anti-conversion laws (opposing the conversion of Hindus to other religions) have passed in several Indian states, and the push for a similar, federal law is gaining support. The state anti-conversion laws have long been used against pastors, church planters and evangelists. Conversely, reconversion ceremonies known as Ghar Wapsi, or “homecoming,” to return Indians to Hinduism have become increasingly common. Despite greater government restrictions on Christianity, the church is growing. The most growth is among those with Hindu backgrounds who have a deep spiritual hunger.
MAJOR RELIGIONS: About 80 percent of Indians are Hindu. India is also the birthplace of Buddhism and is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, comprising almost 170 million people. There are an estimated 30-70 million Christians in India but this is no more than a 5 percent minority group within India’s staggering population of nearly 1.4 billion.
PERSECUTOR: The main persecutors are Hindu extremist groups, local governments and nationalist Hindus who seek to “purify” India by making it entirely Hindu. (They view Christian converts as traitors to the homeland.)
WHAT IT MEANS TO FOLLOW CHRIST IN INDIA: RSS informants live in nearly every village and report on the activities of Christians, resulting in attacks and arrests. Christians in India are open and visible. When they are attacked, they often drop charges against their attackers to show forgiveness. Churches have been demolished and burned, worship gatherings have been disrupted, crosses in graveyards have been vandalized, Bibles and other Christian literature have been confiscated and burned, and more pastors are being beaten and jailed. Christians are often arrested and held for up to three weeks after being falsely accused of forcing Hindus to convert to Christianity. With assistance, they are usually able to post bail or show that the charges are unfounded.
ACCESS TO BIBLES: Even though India has one of the largest Bible societies in the world, VOM regularly finds rural Christians in persecuted areas that have never had access to Bibles. Bibles remain unaffordable for many Christians who suffer severe poverty in Hindu- and Muslim-controlled areas, and the large population, remoteness of some rural regions and widespread illiteracy continue to pose challenges for Bible distribution.
VOM WORK: VOM responds to instances of persecution and supports persecuted pastors and their families. We provide Bibles and other practical help to Christians living in some of the most hostile areas of India.