RLPB 506. India: Christian Crisis in North India
— by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
By the end of 2018, it seemed India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might struggle to retain a majority in parliament. Unemployment had risen to its highest rate since 1972 (year of earliest comparable data) and the BJP had lost power in the key states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan; the scent of disillusionment was in the air. But if Modi is anything, he is a brilliant campaigner and the BJP knows how to win an election. Not only did Narendra Modi out-campaign the arrogant and lack-lustre Congress Party at every turn but, more critically, the BJP ran a subversive campaign of mass manipulation through social media, unprecedented in its sophistication. After analysing all available data, the BJP covertly (not using its own name) ‘microtargeted’ individuals and groups with custom messages delivered primarily through Facebook and WhatsApp. As former BJP data analyst Shivam Shankar Singh explains, ‘[the BJP’s] strategy is about creating a customised enemy for every group’, after which it posits the BJP as the solution. By this means, the BJP was able to lure even tribal non-Hindus/animists — who have traditionally allied with Christians against Hindu caste discrimination — into voting BJP so they might be saved from the supposed existential threat posed by supposedly predatory and hostile Christian conversions. To summarise: the BJP secured the political conversions required for victory by creating division and fuelling communalism, thus rending the fabric of society. The situation should be viewed as extremely serious.
The latest report from Morning Star News (MSN, 10 June) details a string of incidents in the tribal belt state of Chhattisgarh. On 30 March, eight Christian families in Dargahan village, Dhamtari District, were informed that they would be subjected to a crippling economic boycott. The Christians are not allowed to work in the village, not even on their own farms. They are also not allowed to travel out of the village for work; anyone who talks to them, sells to them or assists them in any way is fined. ‘We are treated as untouchables,’ Rajaram Nisad told MSN, ‘but we have not stopped gathering for worship on Sundays.’ On 6 April, Christian families in Pondum Village, Dantewada District, were told to leave the village or, ultimately, they will be killed. On 12 April, Christians in Darashiv Village, Champa District, were ordered to take part in a Satnami ritual and reconvert to their ancestral religion. Three Christian families succumbed to pressure, renounced Christ and returned to Satnami. Those who refused suffer persecution, including a crippling boycott. ‘The shopkeepers have been warned from selling us daily supplies,’ Yashoda Ratre (31, mother of three) told MSN. ‘We are ready to starve to death, but we will not leave Christ.’ [Yashoda Ratre’s story is a highlight of the MSN report.]
On 2 May, Christian families in Charama Village, Kanker District, were informed they would be subjected to an economic boycott purely because of their Christian faith. Since then, reports MSN, the Christians have not been able to buy even basic necessities. On 17 May, the Christians filed a case before the sub-divisional magistrate of Kanker District. A hearing is scheduled for Friday 14 June — please pray. On 23 May, in Bodiguda Village, Sukma District, a mob of around 150 non-Hindu tribal villagers tore down the homes of three Christian families, leaving 25 people homeless, including four infants. The working men fled to save their lives; the women and children now live under a tree. All their property, including all their food, has been destroyed. According to MSN, the Christians had simply refused to renounce Christ.
International Christian Concern (ICC) reports that, on 4 June, a mob of Hindu radicals attacked and bashed Christians Saggudas (35) and his wife Susheelia Devi in their home in Janakipur Village, Bihar State (north of Chhattisgarh). The couple had been under a boycott since converting to Christianity in May. Ten days before the attack they were denied access to the village water supply. To help the Saggudas, Christians from a neighboring village were fetching water for the Christian family. ‘I have been serving in this area since 2017 and there are three families who regularly attend church,’ Pastor Kumar told ICC. ‘However, these families constantly endure harassment and discrimination for following Jesus.’ Pastor Jacob Mani leads a small cottage church in Gopalgunj, Bihar. ‘There is a very rough road ahead for us’, he told ICC, ‘but we cannot run away from the pressure and threats. We have to find ways to adapt and survive … I know God is in control. He will lead us into the future. All of the cottage churches, including the one that I run, are under threat, but only time will reveal our destinies. For now, we are trusting God for His protection.’
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL
* break through the lies that have descended on India like a destructive frost, damaging relationships and destroying the fabric of society; may the Lord intervene through the miracle of warming Indian hearts so Indians will grow disillusioned with hatred and conflict and yearn for social inclusion and peace.
* awaken Indians to the fact that communal tensions are being stoked for political gain; may Indians reject this; may persecutors repent and may all suffering be redeemed for God’s glory.
* raise up righteous leaders in India in every field and at every level — leaders capable of taking India in a different direction, to the benefit of the Church and the nation.
* protect, sustain and bless his precious, faithful, suffering Church in India; may he provide all her needs — material and spiritual — and enable the believers to ‘shine like stars’ as they ‘hold out the word of life’ (from Philippians 2:14-16 ESV).
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN NORTH INDIA
India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) not only out-campaigned its rivals to win the election in a landslide, but also ran a sophisticated and subversive campaign of mass manipulation through social media. Analysing data, the BJP covertly (not using its own name) ‘microtargeted’ individuals and groups with custom messages delivered primarily through Facebook and WhatsApp. This strategy created a customised enemy for every group, then posited the BJP as the solution. Thus, to secure the political conversions required to win, the BJP divided communities and fuelled communal tensions. The result is escalating polarisation and persecution. This includes extreme violence and crippling boycotts, with Christians being denied access to life’s necessities such as food, water, work and housing. The situation is extremely serious. Please pray for India and its Christians.
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).