Watching the state funeral India provided for Mother Teresa, the world might have assumed Christians were tolerated in the world’s most populous democracy. But the adopted home of the woman many consider the last saint is increasingly a hostile place to its tiny minority of Christians.
In fact, even as much of the nation was mourning Mother Teresa, Hindu extremists labeled her a clever schemer who exploited the fears of the poor to proselytize for her faith. That was the line of the Hindu Council, a wing of India’s largest political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP.
“If Jesus were to come to see what she was doing, he would have approved,” said Balakrishna Naik, joint general secretary. “India has always been a tolerant society, and if religion comes from a person’s convictions that is all right. But using the garb of religion to appeal to a person’s disability or poverty in order to increase the number of Christian converts is a breach of human rights.”
In 1995, a Hindu holy woman by the name of Sadhvi Rithambara called Mother Teresa a “witch” and vowed to wipe out India’s Christians.
BJP leaders criticized the decision by India’s Prime Minister Inder K. Gujral to provide a full state funeral for the woman who pledged her life to the poorest of India’s population. They were particularly offended by the way he compared Mother Teresa to Mahatma Gandhi, describing them as “the two that showed India how to be good.”
More than 80 percent of India’s 900 million population is Hindu, while barely 2 percent is Christian. Hindu fundamentalism is on the rise, and some BJP leaders say India should be home to only Hindus. Violence against Christians, particularly missionaries, is increasing. Just three months ago, evangelist Mangal Pande was beaten to death while spreading the gospel in the state of Bihar.
This month, BJP introduced the “Freedom of Religion Bill” in the Maharashtra State Assembly. Despite its name, the proposed law would prohibit conversion and is aimed at Christians who are making significant gains among the Hindus’ “untouchable” caste. It calls for a prison term of up to two years for any attempt to convert a Hindu. Similar legislation has already passed in three other states.
Meanwhile, the National Voluntary Service is blaming the church for destabilizing northeastern India, according to the Compass news agency, which tracks religious rights issues. General Secretary H.V. Seshadri accused the church of “forcible proselytization, helping terrorism and armed insurrections, and adopting other means to reduce the Hindu population in that region.”
As if the threat from radical Hindus were not enough to contend with, Christians in India face another threat — one posed by Muslim extremists. Last month, more than 100 young Muslims attacked a school run by Christians in the southern city of Hyderabad, beating up the principal and his staff. They claimed that derogatory remarks had been made against the Prophet Mohammed in a Moral Science textbook.
The Muslim radicals scaled the walls of the high school, ransacked the office and attacked the principal, Father Dominic Savio. He was rescued by priests from the nearby church.
“We cannot tolerate blasphemy of prophet Mohammed because he is our faith,” said a spokesman for the attackers.
Though the textbook had been used in the school for nine years without complaint, the state government ordered its immediate removal from the school. Something is strange happening in India — and around the world. Christians are being persecuted for their faith on an unprecedented scale. It’s a spiritual war that Christians in the West are only now learning about.
Michael Horowitz, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, call Christians “the Jews of the 21st century.”
“It may be easier for me to see the eerie parallels between what is happening to Christian communities today and what happened to my people during much of Europe’s history,” he says.
He’s leading the effort to educate American Christians about the problem affecting Christians not only in India, but in China, other Asian nations and throughout much of the Muslim world. Though one major event in his effort was marked in thousands of services and sermons last Sunday, little media attention was given to the fact that Sept. 28 had been designated as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
Activities will continue for the next two months, culminating in “Persecution Sunday” on Nov. 16. For more information or to learn how to get involved, check “www.persecutedchurch.org” on the Internet or call 1-888-538-7772.)
If Christians don’t take action now, works like those of Mother Teresa will not only be difficult in the future, they will be illegal.