We serve Christians around the world whose brave faith in Jesus means they are, beaten, threatened, imprisoned, tortured, falsely accused, disowned and hated.

INDIA: WHY ARE CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED?

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India ranks at 11 on the World Watch List 2024, listing the countries where Christians face the most persecution for their faith. In this interview, Open Doors local partner, Priya Sharma*, explains how and why Christians face persecution in many parts of India, how they’re responding, and what Open Doors partners are doing to help our Indian brothers and sisters.

What forms does persecution take in India?

Persecution can be violent. Christians experience physical violence, assault, abduction, attacks on church gatherings, vandalism, forced church closures and even death.

But persecution can also be more subtle and pressure-filled. Believers can face false accusations of forceful religious conversions, hate speech, social ostracisation – this is particularly damaging for Christians in rural areas who depend on community resources like well water to provide for their basic needs.

Believers can also experience mental abuse, public demonstrations and even be subject to a programme called ‘Ghar Wapsi’ (Hindi for ‘homecoming’), aimed at ‘reconverting’ former Hindus to Hinduism.

In general, physical violence, false accusations of forceful conversion and churches being closed down are the main forms of persecution.

Are there particular regions of the country that see more persecution than others?

Persecution is prevalent in all the states of India, but the states with highest incidents of persecutions are Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Manipur, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

What are the primary reasons why Christians face different levels of persecution or pressure in different areas?

Most persecution incidents take place in the states where the government is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which follows Hindu nationalist ideologies. The current elections could change which parties have power, across the country and in different regions, and that could impact persecution from authorities.

Are there differences to how Christians are treated depending on their background?

For the religious extremists, it does not matter if you are a tribal Christian or Christian from another caste; what matters is that you have accepted a ‘foreign’ religion and a ‘foreign’ God. Hindu extremists believe India is for Hindus and there is no place for other religions.

Persecution happens to everyone, however, converts from Hinduism can also suffer additional pressure. In general, the moment someone becomes a Christian and leaves Hinduism, their lifestyle changes. They avoid idol worship, Hindu rituals and stop going to the temple; they also do not donate for local festivals. This triggers the Hindu extremists, creating a rise in persecution. Persecution can also increase if you are engaged in sharing your faith to people who are not Christians.

Where do you see hope in the church in India at the moment?

Though there is persecution, the church in India is also growing immensely. House churches are rapidly springing up amidst persecution. Christians are growing in their faith and people are accepting Christ. I also see that established churches and house churches are coming together and all denominations are standing united against persecution. I hope and trust that there would be a united fight against the persecution in India. I also hope to see a revival taking place in India and that the Christians can have freedom of practising their faith freely.

How do Open Doors partners support the church in India?

Open Doors has been working through partners to support Indian believers for more than 20 years, offering persecution survival training, income-generation projects, relief aid, counselling, presence ministry and community projects.

Our programmes aim to ‘strengthen what remains’, going back to the original vision from Revelation 3:2 that Brother Andrew had when he started Open Doors. Our vision is that every church will be prepared for persecution and we join in praying that there will be freedom of religion and places to worship freely.

What do the support and prayers of Christians in the UK and Ireland mean to Indian believers?

The Indian church needs prayer and support from Christians worldwide; the support helps the church in India to know they are not alone in this battle of faith and the Body of Christ is united through prayer and support.

It encourages Indian Christians to stand tall and face oppression, knowing that an army of prayer warriors is backing them up. It gives a message that when a part of the church is suffering, the other part of the church can stand as a backbone for the suffering part through their prayer, presence and support.

PRAY NOW...
1

Priya Sharma says, “The main prayer of the church is to have a safe place to gather and worship and freedom of religion. Also, they pray for the nation to know Christ and His love.” Lord God, I join my sister in asking for this freedom and for Your name to be known and worshipped throughout India. Amen.

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