Today is the Indian Republic Day – when 1.2 billion people celebrate the nation’s emergence as a secular republic, free from the shackles of colonial rule. The term ‘secular’, in the Indian context does not mean secular atheism, as in the west – rather it implies a freedom of religion and conscience. All citizens were guaranteed the right to ‘profess, practise and propagate’ any religion they chose.
So Christians – though few in number, at only 2% of the population – were not to be silenced, marginalised or oppressed. Granted the freedom and space to thrive, this small community has been able to contribute way beyond its numbers in the areas of healthcare and education. And though we have no official figures, numbers are being added daily to the church.
Indeed, India has a long history of tolerance toward Christians. According to tradition, the apostle St. Thomas established Christianity on the Malabar coast in 52 AD – and the church continues to this day having weathered several storms in its long history. The Mughal emperor Akbar was known to have granted special privileges to the Armenian Christians in his empire.
But all has not been well in recent decades. Although India has enjoyed significant economic growth since the nineties, millions remain in poverty. Corruption and mismanagement have crippled India’s ability to rise on the global stage. With the increase in popularity of hardline Hindu groups and Muslim extremism, the church has been attacked in many parts of India. Anti-conversion laws are being passed in many states to restrict the spread of Christianity. Groups of Christians living in extreme poverty are being threatened, or else lured with money to renounce their faith.
Yet the light of the gospel continues to grow and bring hope to millions.
“Father, today we pray for India. We humbly ask for a revival to sweep this vast nation. May the light of Jesus remove all darkness. Deliver India from idolatry and false religion, from greed and corruption, from war and terrorism, from famine and natural disasters. Fill the poor with good things and grant the leaders wisdom. We thank You for the wonderful works You will perform in this land. May all glory be to the name of Jesus, now and forevermore.”