Dispatches From Global Evangelism: Multiple Faces of India by Brian Stiller

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Two dramatically divergent pictures of India appear in this country of astounding complexity, variety, and opportunity. The first is that in 2017 the government of India forced Compassion International to shut down its services to 145,000 children, lay off its 580 staff, and turn off its annual funding of $50 million.

On the flip side, there are remarkable movements towards faith. Miracles of healings and release from controlling spirits fuel these amazing people—movements of faith, resulting in Hindus coming to Christ. Many of these converts call themselves “Christ-ward” believers—that is, their worship and faith is in Christ, but they continue to live within their Hindu culture.

Religious Nationalism

Why such opposite and contradictory movements? Why would a country with much of its population living in poverty turn down service to its children, an issue concerning not only Compassion International, but other evangelical and Roman Catholic charities? Charging that funds from the West are used for conversion purposes, the government said the money is no longer wanted. It is estimated there are two million non-profit groups working in India.

This didn’t happen overnight. Hindutva—Hindu nationalism, literally “Hindu essence”—is growing and has been building strength for decades. It is now hand in glove with the ruling Hindu nationalist party, the BJP. Hindutva is an ideology that “seeks to create a Hindu rashtra (nation) by redefining ‘Indianness’ on the basis of religion and culture,” thus moving India towards becoming a Hindu nation, as noted by missiologist Prabhu Singh.

These Hindu nationalists view attacks against other faiths as their way to protect themselves from what they consider outside invaders, even though Christian witness has been circulating in India for 2,000 years.

You can observe the power of the Hindutva movement by the activity of its ideological stormtroopers called the RSS or the “National Volunteer Organization.” Made up of volunteers – Swayamsevak – RSS has 50,000 Shakhas or branches, a kind of Sunday school with group meetings every morning of the week.

Their goal? To transform India into “one culture, one nation, one religion.” The challenge they face is the diversity of India and the essential pluralism of Hinduism which by nature is respectful of multi gods. Faced with this, religious nationalists target those they consider obstacles to their vision including Muslims, Christians, Communists and Dalits, all—in their eyes—enemies of Hindutva.

This religious nationalism is accompanied by its own notion of what is divine, a form of fascism. As a senior leader told me, a Hindutva follower can’t say “God bless India” for there is no point to say “God bless god.” With one’s culture, nation, and religion as a god, there is no place for transcendence. It’s not surprising that a popular book today in India, I was told, is Mein Kampf.

A Land of Richness and Poverty

Colonized by England, India lurched into its current form of democracy in the mid 20th century (1947) as part of the land was wrenched from its holdings, resulting in what became Pakistan and later Bangladesh (1972).

Millions were killed and displaced as Pakistan and Bangladesh, largely Muslim, were born in violence. Even today, these new countries created by partition and its aftereffects, and living alongside each other, are often characterized by feuds fueled by national, religious, and cultural animosity.

Not to be forgotten is that India’s democracy is recent. Under the British, their cultural and political elites accepted the British form, and then, as any country will do, once the British left, created democracy in their own image.

India is a massive and complex culture, in a country with land mass less than half that of Australia, yet with its 1.3 billion population to equal that of China. India’s 36 states and territories are each different by way of histories, cultural makeups, languages, and class structures.

Peculiar to India is the caste system which defines people and their roles. It is more than just about untouchables or Dalits, it is a religious vision of life that gives high privilege to a small percentage of the people. The Brahmin caste or the “head,” priests and academics, make up five percent. Then comes the warrior caste, Kshatryia who rule and protect society. Next is the Vaishya caste, made up of merchants and landowners who oversee commerce and agriculture.

About 30 percent are OBC, officially called Other Backward Castes. The Sudra class is made up of peasants, farmers, and unskilled workers, those who do manual labor for the top three castes.

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Source: Christianity Today