News India | 01 April 2024

10 things Christians should know about India's 2024 elections

 

 
Show: true / Country: India / India

On April 19, elections will begin in India. The voting process is an enormous undertaking, by far the largest democratic election in the world.

And yet this election also has significant implications for Christians, who are a minority group in India. For the last decade, Christians have come under increased pressure thanks to a rise in Hindu nationalism that has, in turn, meant a rise in attacks on converts from Hinduism, suspicion against religious minorities for not being “truly Indian” and a jump in false accusations of forced conversion. As the huge vote for India’s lower house of parliament begins, here are 10 things you need to know about the Indian election, how it will impact Christians—and how you can pray:

1. It’s huge.
In fact, the 2024 election is set to be the largest democratic election in human history, with 960 million eligible voters. That’s almost 10% of the global population.In 2019, the last time there was a national election, nearly 615 million people cast a ballot.

2. India has a parliamentary system.
India’s government is similar to the United Kingdom’s, in that the elections decide who will sit in the lower house of parliament, called the Lok Sabha or House of the People in India. There are 543 seats, and a Prime Minister is elected from among the people who win those seats.

3. The election takes a long time.
Because so many people vote and India is such a huge country, the election itself will take nearly six weeks, lasting from April 19-June 1. Additionally, India’s election laws are designed to make voting as feasible as possible no matter where a person lives—the Election Commission of India is required to ensure that a voting station is available within 2 km (1.2 miles) of every voter. That means even if someone lives in a remote village in the Himalayas, election workers will carry a voting machine to a nearby location.

4. The primary opponents in this year’s race are the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the India National Congress (INC) parties. These two political parties (and their coalition partners) are the primary two that people will decide between. The BJP has had two straight elections of significant success, which means that the Prime Minister has been Narendra Modi since 2014. Broadly speaking, the INC is a centrist/center-left political party, and the BJP is a right-wing party with roots in Hindu nationalism.

5. The elections have significant consequences for Christians.
Because the ruling party in India has significant ties to Hindutva, the ideology that says Indian identity is tied to Hinduism, another victory in this year’s election could be continued difficulties for India’s religious minorities, including Christians. “These [elections] are very crucial, as this will decide the next five years,” says Priya Sharma*, an Open Doors partner in India. “If the current government stays in power, there are chances that India will undergo a complete transformation into a Hindu nationalist state. India will be absolutely intolerant to Christians and other religious minorities.”

6. The elections could continue a dangerous trend.
Since 2014, India has gone from No. 28 on the World Watch List to No. 11 on the most current list. That shows the extent to which India has squeezed its Christian minority. “In the past 10 years, Hindu extremists have openly threatened to eliminate Christianity and other minority religions in India,” Sharma says. “There have been open statements of hatred and threats against Christians. Pastors, leaders and lay Christians have been killed and attacked brutally in broad daylight and the accused are allowed to go free, without any punishment.”

7. One of the most significant issues for Christians is the rise of anti-conversion laws.
Anti-conversion laws are theoretically in place in 11 of 28 Indian states to ban forced conversion from one religion to another. But in reality, they have created an environment where conversion to a minority religion is dangerous, if not impossible. “Anti-conversion laws were introduced with the intention to stop forced conversion,” Sharma says. “Under Indian law, citizens are free to choose their religion. The intention of the law was to ban conversion by force and or by offering incentives to change faiths. But Hindu extremist groups misuse the laws. They falsely accuse pastors of offering incentives to people to convert to Christianity or say that church leaders force innocent people to become followers of Jesus. These extremists lodge false complaints at the police station, getting pastors arrested, enmeshed in legal battles and even sent to prison.”

8. There are fears that a win by the ruling party could lead to a national anti-conversion law.
“Anti-conversion laws already existed in six states before the BJP came into power in the national government, but since they formed their government, anti-conversion laws or bills have been imposed in five more states,” Sharma says. “There have even been several attempts to pass a national anti-conversion law. If the BJP wins the 2024 elections, there is a high chance of an anti-conversion law being introduced at the national level.”

9. A national anti-conversion law could have devastating consequences for Christians in India.
These laws are often used to attack converts from Hinduism, and any pastors who are seen as evangelizing to Hindus. In 2023, Open Doors partners report that more than 2,300 pastors, leaders and believers were falsely accused, arrested and/or detained for forceful conversion. If a national law passes, this could make things even more dangerous. “If the anti-conversion law is introduced at the national level, this will create huge turbulence for the Christian community,” Sharma says. “More Christians could be tortured, attacked, killed and forcefully reconverted back to Hinduism.”

10. Christians are not in despair—but are asking God for help.
Sharma says that the church in India is growing, despite the persecution. And he’s encouraged by growing unity among believers. “Most Christians only want to vote for a good government,” Sharma says. “Believers are arranging prayer chains, fasting and hosting prayer meetings for a moral, ethical and righteous government to come to power.”
 

Pray with Indian Christians as elections begin April 19:

  • Pray for a safe and just government.
  • Pray for honest and wise leaders to come to power.
  • Pray for a fair and just election process to take place.
  • Pray that the elected government would create a safe harbor for Christians and other religious minorities and that there would be the freedom to choose one’s own religion as well as the freedom and place to worship.

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