Category Archives: India

India – Fears of Worsening Tensions

One of the sadder entries in the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List – of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith – is that of India, which has risen into the top 20 for the very first time. It is at No. 17, compared to No. 21 in 2015 and No. 28 in the previous year.

My parents were old-fashioned Socialists, and I grew up in a household in which India was viewed as a diversely multicultural and enlightened democracy, a country that pointed the way to a bright (and Socialist) future of harmony for the entire world. Our family revered leaders such as Mahatma Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

We were not religious, but it even seemed to us – wrongly, it must be noted – that India was a wonderful melting pot where people of many faiths could live happily and peacefully together.

Indeed, Ghandi himself was greatly influenced by Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, which he once said, “went straight to my heart.” Though, when asked why he did not himself become a follower of the Christ whom he so much loved, he famously replied: “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It is just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

As for Nehru, he once told the Indian Parliament: “Christianity is as old in India as Christianity itself. Christianity found its roots in India before it went to countries like England, Portugal and Spain. Christianity is as much a religion of the Indian soil as any other religion in India.”

The atmosphere has changed dramatically in the ensuing decades. A new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was elected to power in 2014. He is a staunch Hindu nationalist, and has been accused of turning a blind eye to radical Hindu groups as they persecute Indians of other faiths.

According to Open Doors:

It has been a year [2015] of deafening silence from its Hindu extremist leader Narendra Modi, as attacks on churches and pastors climbed even higher than in 2014. Mobs can act with impunity, as Hindu extremism is deliberately stoked. Rev. Richard Howell of the Evangelical Fellowship of India said: “Political Hinduism has arrived and majoritarian persecution has begun….Every week there are three to four incidents of mobs attacking Christians.”

The International Christian Concern organization reports that there have been widespread reports of further attacks on Christians and churches this year, leading to worries that 2016 could be a worse period for India’s Christian community than 2015, which itself was the worst year on record for Christians in India’s independent history.

Such has been the rise in attacks on Christians that at the end of February a group of 34 US congressmen sent a letter to Prime Minister Modi, calling on him to condemn the persecution and to uphold the rule of law.

It is difficult to be optimistic. I fear a grim future for many Indian Christians, of worsening tensions and increased hostility.

But then, I was wrong in my idealistic youth, when I viewed India as a multicultural utopia. I hope and pray I am wrong now.

Bangladesh – Making News for the Wrong Reasons

Cricket is little known outside countries that were once part of the British Empire. Yet in some of those places, and particularly on the Indian sub-continent, it enjoys immense popularity. In India itself it is by far the most popular sport, and here in Australia our national team attracts a large and enthusiastic following.

So it was big news in early October when Cricket Australia announced that it had abandoned plans for a short series of test matches in Bangladesh, because of security concerns.

In the words of an official statement: “Following the most recent information from Australian Government agencies and our own security advisors, we have decided that, regrettably, we have no alternative but to postpone the tour.”

Unofficially, cricket executives were more blunt – they had received intelligence that Islamic State terrorists were becoming more active in Bangladesh, with foreigners a particular target. Now our national soccer team, the Socceroos, must decide what to do about its World Cup qualifying match in the country that is scheduled for November.

Sadly, this also has implications for Christians.

Until recently Bangladesh has not featured greatly in the concerns of Christians who follow the pains of the persecuted church. Yes, it is ranked at Number 43 in the latest Open Doors World Watch List of the countries where Christians face most persecution.

But even Open Doors conceded: “Bangladesh continues to be a secular country, and its constitution gives freedom to all religions to practice their own faith. The country does not have blasphemy laws or an anti-conversion bill.” It thus stands in contrast to Pakistan, with which it was once joined as a single nation.

But unfortunately, it shares one particular characteristic with Pakistan – a rise in extremist Islam. Open Doors has noted that radical Islamic groups have been pushing the government to modify the constitution, including demands for Sharia Islamic law.

On October 5th three men attacked a local Christian pastor and tried to slit his throat. He survived, and police have arrested a member of an Islamic political party in connection with the attack.

There have also been some recent attacks on foreigners in the country, with Islamic State claiming responsibility.

Bangladesh is not a country that is often in the news. I am guessing that it seldom features in the prayers of most Christians. It would be terribly sad if all this were to change because of the rise of Islamic extremism.

The Heavenly Neighbor from Hell

What would you – a devout Christian – do if your next-door neighbor erected a 20-foot statue of an Indian god in his backyard, as an object of worship?

Would you complain to your neighbor? To the local authorities? Would you consult a lawyer? Or would you decide that nothing can be done, and so do nothing?

This is the predicament facing a man in Auckland, New Zealand (formerly my home town).

His Hindu neighbour commissioned in China a giant statue of the god Shiva, shipped it to Auckland and, having obtained local council approval, has just erected it on his property. Asked why, he told the New Zealand Herald: “Do you need a reason to pray? I don’t think so.”

According to the newspaper report:

But neighbour Bryce Watts, a Catholic, said the marble statue was “bizarre” and “offensive”.

“Religiously and culturally it’s a bit insensitive to us and I can’t believe they’re able to do this. Part of our property looks at it and it’s part of a religion we don’t agree with,” he said.

“I don’t see why we should have it poked down our throats in such a big way.”

… “I’ve been to the council and asked about it and evidently it was within their rights to do it…It’s 10 metres [32 feet] from our boundary which is within the rules where you can build a building. It’s like, ‘bad luck, if you don’t like it, it’s your problem’. I find it really hard to believe in this day and age that this can happen.”

Really? Welcome to the multi-cultural 21st century. In this day and age it seems that just about anything can happen.

Though I too wouldn’t want a 20-foot Indian god statue next door, looming over my property. I would feel there was something spiritually menacing about it.

When we lived in Japan we visited some friends whose home overlooked a Buddhist temple and its cemetery. I was not then a Christian, and remarked to my wife that in fast-paced, frenetic Tokyo living next to a cemetery must be pleasant – so quiet and tranquil.

My wife shivered and said there was no way she would live next to a cemetery.

But back to that statue. Maybe the neighbor, a Catholic, should erect his own massive Virgin Mary. Or perhaps he should take an interest in his neighbor’s religion, and then invite the neighbor to a church service. Who knows where that would lead? Or should he simply move out?

I’m not sure what’s best. What do you think?

How Bad Is Persecution In India?

By Martin Roth

Reports that India had 131 instances of attacks on Christians last year caused me to wonder if there might not be an element of under-reporting here. Yes, India is a democracy with, apparently, a growing number of Christians. Yet the Open Doors World Watch List ranks it 31st – moderate persecution, between Tunisia and Myanmar – in its listing of the countries where Christians face most hardships in practising their faith.

Christians in India face opposition from militant Hindu adherents of the Hindutva movement, from Communists and from Islamists.

So I was not surprised by this week’s Morning Star News headline: “Under-Reporting Obscures Martyrdom of Christians in India.” According to the report:

Four Christians in India died for their faith last year, but incomplete information obscured the anti-Christian hostility in three of the deaths, sources said. In Tamil Nadu and West Bengal states where the killings took place, area Christians assert that the murders were rooted in opposition to Christianity; specifically, radical Hindus viewing Christianity as a threat to Hinduism and Indian nationalism as a unified identify. In three of the four deaths, however, under-reporting obscured the acts or motives of the attackers.

We are only one month into the new year, and already we have instances of the continuing persecution of Indian Christians.

*  In Andhra Pradesh, Hindutva militants attacked a group of Christians at a birthday party and arranged for the arrest of a pastor.

* Also in Andhra Pradesh, Hindutva militants attacked worshippers at a church service.

* Hindutva militants in Chhattisgarh have destroyed a Christian cemetary wall.

* Government authorities have demolished a church in Hyderabad.

* In the village of Tamsai, near New Delhi, Christians have several times been attacked by Hindu militants.

Open Doors has this sad conclusion on India: “It is very likely that persecution will increase in 2013 and in the run-up to the 2014 elections.”

Accepting Jesus Leads To Attacks In India

By Martin Roth

A famous quote attributed to Indian peace activist Mahatma Gandhi is, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Whether he actually said this is disputed. What is not disputed is that Christians in India today are sometimes victims of persecution, generally from the country’s Hindu majority.

This week Gandhi’s great-grandson, Tushar Gandhi, helped launch a report on the persecution of Christians in India during 2012.

At least 131 instances of violence against Christians were reported in 2012, claims a report released in Mumbai Monday.

Delhi-based Evangelical Fellowship of India and former chairperson of Maharashtra State Minorities Commission Abraham Mathai have compiled the report.

…”Tribals have been attacked each time they decided to accept Christianity,” Mathai told the media. 

…”Conversion cannot be a reason for anyone to be attacked. Everyone can choose and practice own religion,” he said. Tribal areas in Thane district have seen several attacks in the past few years after locals opted for Christianity.

“The tribal belt that borders Gujarat has several Hindu organisations working closely with the tribal community. Most of the accused who have attacked the tribals and torched several churches are from these organisations. However, police have failed to make any arrest,” Mathai claimed.

Last month, Tamsai village in Palghar witnessed attacks on tribals who organised prayer meetings in the village. Similar cases were reported in Mokhada taluka of Thane district.