Having gained its independence from Britain in 1947, India is the world’s most ethnically diverse nation with 2,500 distinct people groups and more than 1.17 billion residents. India has more unreached individuals than any other nation with the caste system remaining the foundation of the country’s social order for centuries. Despite an affirmative-action policy, caste-based discrimination continues. Even with significant overpopulation, environmental degradation, extensive poverty and widespread corruption, rapid economic development is fuelling India’s rise on the world stage. The current administration emphasizes economic growth and social progress on issues, including caste and freedom of religion. However, millennia of oppression will take some time to overturn.
Though India’s constitution provides full religious freedom of worship and witness for all religions, there remains opposition. The rise of Hindutva extremism — “India is Hindu only” — resulted in a hate campaign against Muslims in the early 1990s and against Christians in the late 1990s, as followers of “foreign” religions. Because large numbers of Dalit groups (those having no caste) have turned away from Hinduism embraced Christianity, anti-conversion laws were passed in several of India’s state to “protect” India’s masses from being converted by fraudulent means. In reality, this law is merely a means of control, keeping the caste social order intact by Hindu extremists. Currently, six states have anti-conversion laws. Degrees of persecution depend on the strength of Hindutva groups from one state to the next.
Persecution of Christians is most intense in Orissa state. After a prominent Hindu swami was murdered in 2008 (most likely by Maoist guerrillas), Hindu extremists responded by venting their wrath against Christians. More than 120 Christians were murdered, hundreds of churches destroyed and around 52,000 Christians displaced from their homes. Harsh anti-conversion regulations have done little to placate Hindu extremists. In many districts, some threat remains for Christians to reconvert to Hinduism: leave their village or face death. (The Voice of the Martyrs 2012)