A ministry working with the persecuted church is calling on Christians around the world to pray for fellow believers in India as the country begins its nationwide parliamentary elections Thursday.
With the start of the election, which is the largest in the democratic world and will span four weeks, religious minorities are fearful that political parties will intimidate and coerce them into voting for candidates they do not want to support or force them to stay home.
The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) estimates that as many as 70,000 Christians, who would normally vote for opposition political candidates, may be affected by Hindu extremist political parties in a way that would allow them to go unchallenged.
In response to the threat of unfair elections, Christian leaders across India have called on all political parties in India to guarantee safety for religious minorities, ensure their participation in the elections, defend freedom of religion and bring to justice those who discriminate against Christian minorities.
"India is a democracy, but unfortunately in practice the law is being restricted in its application in favor of the Hindu majority – 80 percent of the population – and to the disadvantage of minorities such as Christians and Muslims," said Abhishek Singh, director of Open Doors in India.
Singh described the violence against Christians as "quite great" and noted that not a day passes without there being two or three attacks against Christians somewhere in India. The police, he said, are under the influence of Hindus so in many cases they do not act to protect religious minorities, and when they do act, it is with leniency towards Hindus.
"The violence against Christians is not the random work of a few break-away gangs," Singh said. "There is a close-knit network of Hindu fundamentalist organizations. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is nothing other than the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the umbrella organization which promotes the ideal of a national state for Hindus."
Christians in India are particularly afraid during this year's elections because of the extraordinary violence against believers over the past nine months. Following the death of a Hindu fundamentalist leader, mobs of extremists have brutally attacked Christians in the eastern state of Orissa and elsewhere in India.
At least 60 Christians have been killed – although some Indian leaders say hundreds have died – 18,000, wounded; 252 churches, razed or destroyed; 5,031 Christian homes, burned; and more than 50,000 Christians, displaced in Orissa alone since August.
Hindu extremists accuse Christians of being behind the murder of their leader, even though Maoist rebels have publicly stated that they are the perpetrators of the assassination. Hindu assailants also justify their attacks by accusing Christian missionaries of using bribery or coercion to convert poor Indians, mostly the lower-caste Dalits, to Christianity.
"Unfortunately, 2008 saw the worst kind of regression in our society as the church in India experienced a wave of violence and persecution unprecedented since the origin of Christianity in India 2,000 years ago," said Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians.
The Indian government has deployed six million civil and security personnel to ensure that the elections take place in an orderly manner, according to Agence France-Presse.
Open Doors, which works with partner organizations in India to help the displaced Christians with basic food supplies and medicines, listed India at No. 22 this year on its World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most severe persecution. India jumped eight spots since last year when it was listed at No. 30.
Christians are asked to pray for:
• officials in the government ignoring persecution of Christians will be replaced by officials who support and protect religious freedom
• the freedom and liberty of the church and missionaries in India to share the Gospel and disciple believers
• God would move in the culture to remove the caste system and create equal opportunities and rights for all people
On the Web: http://www.opendoorsusa.org