Has Christianity Failed in India?

Today’s post is unusual, in that I am mainly presenting the ideas of another person (with his consent!).

When I work on Global/World Christianity, I have a special interest in India, not least as the setting of one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, probably dating to the late first century. Today, its forty million-plus Christians represent a very substantial group, which rarely receives the international recognition it deserves. In describing the issues they currently face, I will be drawing on an important piece by Kerala-based writer Jesudas Athyal.

Since its foundation in 1948, India has in theory been a secular republic, although dominated numerically by Hindus. Over the past decade, extremist Hindu groups have pressed hard on the nation’s minorities, Muslim and Sikh as well as Christian, creating a serious threat to human rights. At the worst end of the spectrum, far-Right militias have undertaken repeated violence against Muslims, usually on the pretense that they were maltreating cows. Some of the Hindu extremist parties and movements advocating such actions are genuinely frightening, and can be described by the much-over-used term “fascist.”

One part of that anti-minority campaign has been a systematic attempt to undermine the legitimacy of all non-Hindu groups, stressing that these are foreign religions, that their adherents were converted from Hinduism by force or fraud – however long ago. The far Right seeks, however impractically, to “reconvert” those supposed defectors back to their Hindu home, to create a uniform and pure Hindu nation.

Recently, a controversy developed when writer Dilip Mandal argued that “Christianity is a Failed Project in India,” so that rightist Hindu groups like the RSS and the VHP should not even waste their time worrying about it. In an important riposte that you can read here, Jesudas Athyal argued to the contrary that “Christianity Hasn’t Failed In India. Conversion Isn’t Its Only Goal.” Obviously, he is not saying that the extremists should view Christians as a real threat and attack them accordingly (!), but is rather trying to set the historical and political record straight.

Please read his article for yourself, but he makes several key points about the scale and nature of actual Christian successes. These include points about the actual number of believers, which is much higher than is claimed in official statistics. In religious terms, I have myself described the Indian national census as “one of the world’s great works of creative fiction.” In many parts of the country, it is all but impossible for poorer people to get themselves registered as anything but a Hindu, whatever evidence they produce.

But Athyal makes many other points about how Christians live in these settings, and how for instance many maintain multiple religious identities. If you are a lower caste Christian believer, you might even choose not to declare yourself publicly to be a Christian in order to benefit from the nation’s “affirmative action” policies for such groups. In such a desperately poor society, official favors can make a huge difference to one’s livelihood.

He also has useful comments on the historical development of India’s Christianity, and its missionary heritage.

So, please read, and ask yourself why Western governments don’t spend more time challenging religious violence and persecution in India. At the least, we need to be aware of it.

 



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