Biggest elections in the world next month in India

(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/SamuelRaj)

(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/SamuelRaj)

India (MNN) — There’s a revival in India, although not the kind you might think.

According to persecution watchdog groups, Hinduism is experiencing a revival in India, but with that, religious intolerance is on the rise. Todd Nettleton, a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA, agrees, especially with election season under full swing.  “Elections are a time, obviously, when emotions are running high, particularly with some of the Hindu nationalist ideology that is espoused by some of the parties involved. It CAN be a time where we see increased persecution, not only for Christians, but for Muslims and for other religious minorities in India, as well.”

The Election Commission of India announced that the vote will begin on April 7 and continue on nine separate dates until May 12, with results expected to be announced on May 16. By virtue of the size of India and its population, the vote will be the world’s largest, with 814 million eligible voters set to choose 543 members of the lower house of Parliament, possibly making this vote the most consequential since 1977.

Although the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys a lead in the popular opinion polls, some analysts think no party is expected to win an outright majority in Parliament. Nettleton says, “The election of the BJP, which holds to sort of a ‘Hindu-only’ ideology for India, would be a bad signal for our Christian brothers and sisters there. They are very concerned about what a [Narendra] Modi government would do, what policies they would put in place with regard to religious freedom.”

(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)

(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)

“Anti-conversion laws” have been adopted in five states and are frequently used as a pretext to disrupt church services and harass Christians. Pastors are frequently beaten up or killed, church buildings are destroyed, and converts forced to flee their homes. Still, the church is growing, particularly among the lower castes.

India claims a secular government and says there is religious freedom within its borders. However, the 2008 pogrom in Orissa State suggests slow justice, if any is to be had. Christian Solidary Worldwide released a briefing last week detailing situations of ongoing concern in the run up to elections.

Focusing on Odisha (formerly Orissa), Karnataka, and Rajasthan states, it describes communal violence and the pattern of impunity afterwards. It argues the need for vigilance to avert possible future outbreaks of violence. It also highlights the statutory discrimination against Christian and Muslim Dalits, anti-conversion legislation, and censorship under blasphemy laws.

Nettleton says the findings pose a serious question: “How serious is the government about protecting religious minorities? One of the things that’s pointed out in the [CSW] briefing is the pressure that’s brought to bear on human rights groups that even report on religious freedom violations.”

Instead, Nettleton notes that the pattern is the government finding fault with the research. “Sometimes the messenger is blamed, as opposed to dealing with the issue of Christians or other religious minorities being persecuted, so the thing that we watch is to see what the government’s position really is.”

(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)

(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)

At the cusp of so much potential, it’s important to note that the Church in India is still growing, especially among the lower castes.  To that end, “Pray for the election process: pray for it to go forward peacefully. Pray for leaders to be put into place that will honor God. I think secondly, we can pray for our Christian brothers and sisters. They know that there is persecution, so we need to pray that they’ll remain faithful and that they’ll remain encouraged.”