In the Name of the Divine

"I am very worried about the upcoming election," said a colleague this morning in daily worship. "Let us pray that a party wins that will establish a truly secular government, so that the rights of minorities are protected." I am not accustomed to hearing Christians praying for a "secular" government, but then, I have not been living in India for very long.

Living as a religious minority in a country whose majority religion—here it is Hinduism—includes people publicly agitating to run the country by their own religious principles is an eye-opener for a Christian from the United States. Classical Hinduism is a religion under severe stress. Like all religions it faces the eroding tides of modernism, but additionally it is burdened by linkage to India’s caste system, which holds millions of lower-caste people in desperate poverty. Outlawed in the 1950s, the caste system lives on in the hearts of many. For decades, low-caste Hindus have been converting to Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism for a way out, causing mounting concern for Hindu leaders. A radical fringe has turned aggressive, calling for India to be declared a Hindu nation.

Muslims and Christians are worried, for in recent years this radical "Hindutva" movement has expanded in numbers and in aggressiveness towards religious minorities. In the last 18 months, local goons in the "Hindu belt" have burned churches and mosques, raped Catholic nuns, and murdered several individuals, both Christians and Muslims. In decades past, Muslims bore the brunt of such attacks, but recently Christians have been the main target. Indian human rights groups reported more than 90 attacks against Christians in 1998.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2000
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