State elections draw near in India, spark anti-Christian sentiment

India (MNN) – On paper, Christians in India are allowed to practice their faith freely. In reality, there is growing opposition threatening to silence Christian activity on multiple levels. We’ve been focusing on India for many reasons recently—rising reports of persecution, the physical needs due to natural disasters, and the upcoming state and national elections.

Eight state elections will take place in 2018 with national elections following the next year. The proximity to the elections has been one cause in the uptick of violence against minorities.

Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs says, “It’s not your imagination. There has been a dramatic increase of persecution incidents in India since the ascension of Prime Minister Modi and his radical Hindu nationalist government. Government ministers have talked openly about making India a 100 percent Hindu nation where Christians and other minority religions are no longer welcome. And we have seen it move in that direction since he’s taken control.”

Nettleton is referencing Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi who is part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The values of both these groups support a Hindu-only nation.

But because every voter matters, Nettleton says he won’t be surprised to hear these values hushed when politicians speak to minority groups.

Prime Minister Modi (Photo courtesy of Speaker John Boehner via Flickr:

“You may see some public overtures towards minority groups—towards Muslims, towards Christians as all of the parties are trying to get to that 51 percent where they can take control. It will be interesting to see if any of that talk matches any action on the part of these government parties.”

As we mentioned last week, the current government has emboldened actors of anti-Christians sentiment. Just last month, a church in Karnataka, one of the states with elections next year, was robbed and vandalized. Today, most of the members of that church are too afraid to return.

The problem is that these actions very rarely find repercussion, as common as they are.

When PM Modi was elected, Nettleton remembers asking partners on the ground if India would move towards a nation-wide anti-conversion law.  They responded saying there was no need for such a law—the effects were already in place.

“If you attack a church, you’re not going to be held accountable. If you attack a Christian, you’re not going to be held accountable,” Nettleton says.

But perhaps even more disturbing is the growing surveillance network that is encouraging these actions to take place in even the most remote villages.

Nettleton describes,  “a national network watching for Christian movements, watching for evangelism efforts, literally going into villages and handing out a card with a phone number on it that says, ‘Hey, if you see anyone doing evangelism here, if you see anyone, you know, handing out Bibles here, call this phone number. We’ll take care of it.’

“So they literally are creating a national, radical Hindu network to watch for Christian activity, to watch for evangelism, to be able to respond directly at the village level. When you think about a country the size of India with the number of people there, that’s pretty mind-boggling.”

What we’re seeing is a crackdown on Christians on the individual level as well as on churches and ministries. It’s influencing Christians to keep a low profile so that they can continue their work.

“We know that radical Hindu groups watch social media,” Nettleton says. “They have targeted ministries based on social media posts, and so people just kind of go silent as far as, publicly, what they’re doing. But, they’re still there, they’re still loving India’s people, they’re still taking opportunities to share about Christ and share about salvation and peace.”

When the apostle Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, he spoke of the whole Body of Christ. Each member is dependent on the other. Because of this, he said to them:

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26, ESV)

This still holds true today. With this in mind, will you pray for your Indian brothers and sisters?

“We want to pray for the Christians who are there, we want to pray for their encouragement and boldness, even as they see the tide of government turning against them that they won’t give up and sort of go into a bunker mentality but that they will continue to share the Gospel and continue to be witnesses for Christ.”

And as these state elections approach, we need to pray for the leadership of India to respect the religious freedoms of all people.

Ask God to make the Gospel thrive in India. Pray for those who are under the bondage of false religions to find the healing, peace, and hope that is in Jesus.

Continue to pray for protection over the ministries in India, both foreign-based and local. Ask God to raise up strong and bold leaders in India to continue the Gospel work.

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