BACKGROUND: India has a growing economy and a great diversity of languages, cultures and religions. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Hindu nationalist organization has seen a 20-percent increase in membership and an emboldened base aimed at further cementing India’s Hindu identity. India has the second largest population in the world, after China, with 1.2 billion people.
MAJOR RELIGIONS: About 80 percent of Indians are Hindu. India is also the birthplace of Buddhism and is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, almost 170 million people.
PERSECUTOR: The main persecutors are Hindu extremist groups, local governments, and nationalist Hindus, who view converts as betraying the Hindu homeland.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CHRISTIAN IN INDIA: An estimated 27 million Christians live in India, making up 2.2 percent of the population. RSS informants live in nearly every village and report on the activities of Christians, resulting in attacks and arrests. Christians in India are open and visible.
When they are attacked, they often drop charges against their attackers to show forgiveness. Although Prime Minister Modi has publicly said his government will not tolerate religious discrimination, his actions prove otherwise. Vague policies such as anti-conversion laws (opposing the conversion of Hindus to other religions) have passed in several Indian states, and the push for a similar, federal law is gaining support. The state anti-conversion laws have long been used against pastors, church planters and evangelists. Conversely, reconversion ceremonies known as Ghar Wapsi, or “Homecoming,” to return Indians to Hinduism have become increasingly common. Churches have been demolished and burned, worship gatherings have been disrupted, crosses in graveyards have been vandalized, Bibles and other Christian literature have been confiscated and burned, and more pastors are being beaten and jailed. Despite greater government restrictions on Christianity, the church is growing. The most growth is among those with Hindu backgrounds who have a deep spiritual hunger. Seven Christian men in Odisha (formerly Orissa) are in prison for life after being falsely accused of murdering a Hindu priest, whose murder sparked massive communal violence. Christians are often arrested and held for periods of up to 15 days after being accused of forcing Hindus to convert to Christianity. After a couple of weeks, they are usually able to post bail or show that the charges are unfounded.
ACCESS TO BIBLES: India has the largest Bible Society in the world. They print and distribute throughout the country. However, Bibles remain unaffordable for many Christians. In addition, the large population and remoteness of some rural regions hinder access for many people.
VOM WORK: VOM provides hundreds of thousands of Bibles each year, supports front-line workers and responds to instances of persecution, with special focus on widows and the families of Christians imprisoned for their faith and witness.