Christians pray as India goes to the polls

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As the world's second-most populous country prepares to vote, India's Christians will be joining together in prayer and fasting as they ask for God's guidance and protection in a nation that is increasingly hostile to their faith.

Priya Sharma (name changed for security reasons), who partners with Open Doors International, a global NGO network supporting persecuted Christians around the globe, says that many believers are fearful of the growing influence of Hindu-based nationalism across the country.

"Christians are concerned about the forthcoming elections," Priya, who provides victims of persecution with trauma counselling and other support, said.

"In the past ten years, while the Modi government have been at the helm, we have seen an uninterrupted decline in democratic and religious freedom, along with the simultaneous spread of Hindutva (radical Hindu nationalism) ideology."

With Hindutva radicals viewing minority religions such as Christianity and Islam as alien to the nation, and many calling for a "cleansing" of their country, Priya said that India's Christians are concerned at the prospect of the government securing another term.

"There has been constant fasting and chain prayers for these elections," Priya says. "If the BJP are re-elected for another term, it is feared that the 2024 elections would be the last general elections in the country. There might be a complete wipeout of democracy. Increased violence and persecution against religious minorities will also escalate."

Over the past decade, India has seen a marked increase in violent attacks on Christians, with mob violence on the rise in several states where Christians are frequently the victims of mass beatings and destruction of their homes and livelihoods. Women have been subjected to some of the most severe violence, facing so-called "honour" killings, acid throwing, and the sexual assault of young girls.

Christians also face the threat of the further erosion of their religious freedoms under a re-elected Modi government, with nationalist groups exerting growing pressure to see "anti-conversion" laws that are currently enforced in almost a third of India's 28 states entrenched in national law.

While proponents claim the purpose of the laws is to prevent attempts to convert people to another religion (from Hinduism) through "misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by fraudulent means", human rights advocates say that the laws often act as a pretext for persecution of minorities who are simply exercising their religious beliefs.

"The lack of proper definition of these terms makes the law ripe for abuses," Rinzen Baleng of Open Doors said. "These laws are being used to target minorities by vigilantes and fringe groups who now have a free pass to act with impunity."

India currently sits at number eleven on Open Doors' World Watch List, a ranking of the fifty nations across the globe where Christians face the greatest persecution and discrimination—seventeen places higher than in 2014.

Polling will take place over the next six weeks, with 968 million Indians eligible to cast their vote. Christians all over the world will be following the outcome of the election, and continuing to pray for the future safety of their brothers and sisters in India.