RLPB 496. INDIA: needing a breakthrough against Hindutva
— by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
India’s 2019 general election — in which some 900 million eligible voters will elect the 17th Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) — will be conducted in seven phases from 11 April to 19 May. The Lok Sabha has 543 elected seats, and the party or coalition that holds a 272-seat majority selects the prime minister. Votes will be collated and the results announced on 23 May.
As a polytheistic religion, Hinduism has never been especially hostile to Christianity, seeing Jesus as just another god among many. Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) on the other hand, is more political than religious. In seeking to unite Indians as Hindus it presents Christianity as foreign and a threat to national security and social cohesion. Wherever Hindu nationalism advances, communalism and violent persecution of Christians escalates.
The 2014 general election saw the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win a simple majority of seats in its own right, something extremely rare in India’s multi-party system where coalitions are the norm. Furthermore, the BJP managed to ‘break out of the Hindu heartland and secure votes from all quarters — geographic and socio-economic’. The popularity of BJP chief Narendra Modi was only part of the equation. The BJP’s economic pitch to improve the lot of poor Muslims and Christians was also surprisingly effective. But mostly, the BJP’s success was the culmination of decades of momentum generated by the near century-long, largely unchallenged, strategic advance of Hindutva ideology and forces. [See: ‘Hindutva!’ Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 July 2014.] Indeed, Hindutva’s advance has been so successful that the historically secular Indian National Congress party increasingly feels obliged to play the religion card too. The current campaign has seen Congress figureheads go to extraordinary lengths to present themselves as devout practising Hindus in the hope of reclaiming some Hindu votes.
As prime minister, Narendra Modi has advanced Hindutva by putting Hindutva ideologues in positions of influence in politics, education (including universities), research institutes, state-owned businesses and banks, as well as through the police, the army and the judiciary. Meanwhile, Hindutva is making headway through the tribal belt and even through north-east India by means of the Ekal Vidyalaya school network. Ekal Vidyalaya schools offer five years of free education and are affiliated with the Hindu nationalist Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and its parent body the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It is unsurprising therefore that they have been criticised for stoking communalism and spreading hatred, especially towards Christians. It is also unsurprising that they are targeting areas where Christianity has either long been established or is growing. Hindutva forces are also exploiting the issue of illegal mass immigration of Bengali Muslims to stoke a dangerous fire of Hindu nationalism in Assam, a fire which threatens to burn Christians as much as Muslims.
India’s southern Tamil Nadu state has long been a hub for Christian missionary training and sending. But in recent months a new trend has emerged: escalating Hindu nationalist violence against Christians. In addition to the incidents reported by Morning Star News[see RLPB 495 (27 March)], Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that, on Tuesday 19 March, a mob of Hindu Munnani (Hindu Front) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists attacked a prayer meeting being held in a private home. The believers were abused and assaulted before being dragged down the stairs and out onto the street where their Bibles and tracts were burned. On Sunday 24 March Pastor Allen Gobi was about to commence a prayer service in his Family of Jesus church (a member of the Synod of Pentecostal Churches) when the police arrived, shut down the service and escorted Pastor Gobi to the police station. There he was forced to sign a document acknowledging that he did not have permission to hold meetings on the premises. Local sources told CSW that the Hindu Munnani (Hindu Front) had submitted a petition to the police to take action against the church and that the complicity of state actors in disrupting prayer meetings is now a common pattern across the state. We must pray for a breakthrough against Hindu Nationalism.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT
* God will raise up voices of integrity and influence that will repudiate Hindu nationalism’s highly seductive narrative and present Indians with a better way.
* Jesus Christ will continue to build his Church in India, a Church which is growing, especially among the nation’s poor and long-oppressed Dalits (untouchables) and despite escalating persecution.
* the Holy Spirit will provide the Church with ‘wisdom and understanding’ for a strategy to reach the powerful and prosperous, highly resistant Brahmin caste (priestly caste, the highest caste in the Hindu world, and consequently the most resistant to egalitarian Christianity). ‘… may [you] be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding …’ (from Colossians 1:9-12). May the LORD effect a breakthrough.
* God himself will fight for India (Exodus 14:14) for the sake of his threatened, persecuted Church and for the sake of India’s many millions who desperately need to hear the Gospel.
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
INDIA NEEDS A BREAKTHROUGH AGAINST HINDU NATIONALISM
India’s 2019 general election will take place in seven phases from 11 April to 19 May. The new parliament will be announced on 23 May. The Hindu nationalist BJP has ruled with a simple majority for the past five years. Its electoral success is the culmination of decades of strategic advance by highly organised Hindu nationalist forces. Hindu nationalism exploits religion for political gain. It seeks to unite Indians as Hindus and is deeply hostile to Christianity, which it demonises as a threat to national security and social cohesion. Wherever Hindu nationalism advances, communalism and violent persecution of Christians escalates. Hindu nationalism is even making headway in areas where Christianity has long been established and/or growing. Please pray for the Church in India and for a breakthrough against Hindu nationalism.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).