Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 394 | Wed 15 Feb 2017
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INDIA: ‘I WILL NOT DENY CHRIST …’
Death in Jharkhand; elections in Uttar Pradesh by Elizabeth Kendal
According to the Hindu nationalist ideology of Hindutva, India is Hindustan, the land of the Hindus. Hindutva deems all non-Hindus are either corrupted or victims of forced conversion and insists they ‘return’ to the ‘Hindu mainstream’ for the sake of Mother India. In truth, Hindutva is pure politics! Once a means of arousing opposition to British colonial rule, it is now a means of drag-netting the majority Hindu vote to perpetuate the power, prosperity and privilege of the high-caste Hindu elite. To rally the Hindu majority, Hindutva groups such as the RSS (a paramilitary organisation founded in 1925) and the VHP (a cultural organisation founded in 1964) whip up communal hatred. Motivated by self-interest, the police and the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, founded in 1980) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, guarantee impunity. Decades of unchallenged Hindutva has created an environment in which everyone knows that Christians can be persecuted, robbed, raped, assaulted, falsely accused, dispossessed, tortured and killed with impunity.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India’s ‘Persecution Watch’ report for January 2017 details 18 verified incidents of targeted persecution involving physical violence, attacks on church properties, arrests for alleged ‘forceful conversions’ and intensive harassment and intimidation with serious consequences. One case in northern tribal-belt, BJP-ruled Jharkhand, resulted in a fatality. Ten years ago, ten tribal families in Kubuaa village, Palamu District, Jharkhand, left their traditional animist religion and converted to Christianity. In recent years, however, the persecution has been so severe that seven of the families have returned to the local Sarna Dharam religion.
One family standing firm in faith is the family of Bartu Urawn. In January, villagers tried to torture Bartu Urawn, the family head, into renouncing Christ. They bound Bartu’s and his wife’s hands behind their backs and put them in a frigid pond with their heads only just above water. All through the wintery night they taunted Bartu to renounce Christ. According to their son, Beneswar, who witnessed the assault, his father reiterated every time, ‘I will not deny Christ … I will continue to believe till my last breath.’ Pulled from the water at 10am the next day, the couple subsequently fell seriously ill. While his wife recovered, Bartu developed paralysis brought on by nerve damage caused by the freezing water and died on 20 January, aged 50. At that point, the villagers turned their attention to Beneswar, and the family fled. On 3 February the police – who had refused even to register the family’s complaint – got the family and the villagers together and made them sign a ‘peace agreement’. Whilst the Urawn family has returned home, they are living in fear of their lives.
Meanwhile, elections are presently under way in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. Known as the king-maker state, Uttar Pradesh (UP) is India’s largest state with a population of 218 million, including 138 million registered voters. UP is around 80 percent Hindu, 19 percent Muslim and one percent ‘other’, including some 360,000 Christians of various denominations. Dissected by the Ganges River, UP is a key destination for Hindu tourism and pilgrimage, with the city of Varanasi long regarded as Hinduism’s spiritual capital. Despite this, UP remains desperately impoverished and backward. Since the early 1990s, UP has been ruled by regional parties: the Dalit-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and, from 2012, the Samajwadi Party (SP) which has now forged an alliance with Congress. In the 2014 General Election, the Hindu nationalist BJP swept UP, winning 71 of the state’s 80 seats. Buoyed by this result, Hindutva groups have been campaigning hard across UP, causing persecution to escalate markedly. The BJP has not named a candidate for Chief Minister, hoping instead to ride to power on the back of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity and charisma. Final opinion polls indicate that the BJP could win a majority in UP, with the SP-Congress alliance close behind. Polling commenced on 11 February and will conclude on 11 March. BJP rule would be disastrous for the Christian minority in UP.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:
all the traumatised believers in Kubuaa village, in particular the grieving family of Christian martyr Bartu Urawn (50); may God our Heavenly Father provide comfort, peace and security. (From Isaiah 40:10,11 – ‘He will tend his flock like a shepherd …’)
India’s vulnerable, imperilled Church; may the Holy Spirit embolden the Church to reject the racism of caste and stand as one Body in Christian solidarity while loving her enemies and praying for those who persecute her. (Matthew 5:43-48)
God to intervene in Uttar Pradesh for the benefit of his vulnerable and imperilled people, and indeed for the sake of all the ‘harassed and helpless’ citizens of UP. (Matthew 9:35-38)
the Lord will raise up across India courageous men and women of reason and integrity who will lift up their voices against the racism and inequity of caste, the ideology and violence of Hindutva and the divisive and destructive nature of identity politics.