Despite fears that the landslide election victory of the right-wing BJP Party in India will cause trouble for the country's religious minorities, the head of a Christian mission agency working in the region has welcomed new Prime Minister Narendra Modi's commitment to eradicating violence against women.
Women are widely considered to be the secondary sex in India, where gender-based violence is endemic. It is common for women to face abuses such as dowry-related homicide, bride burning, slavery, trafficking and forced prostitution.
The Asian Centre for Human Rights reports that there is an average of over 4,800 child rape cases in India each year, with victims often being girls from lower-caste communities.
Several high-profile cases have made international news in the past month, most notably two young Dalit teenagers, at least one of whom was gang-raped, who were lynched near their home in Katra Shahadatgani, Budaun on 27 May. A police officer was implicated in their death.
Hundreds of people protested outside the office of the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in response to the latest attacks, and Modi has been forced to promise greater punishments for perpetrators, and increased protection for vulnerable women.
"The government will have a policy of zero tolerance for violence against women, and will strengthen the criminal justice system for its effective implementation," he told Indian parliament earlier this month.
"Respect for women, their security...should be the priority for all 1.2 billion people," he declared.
His words followed outrage aimed at two top government officials, one of whom said of rape: "Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong," while another commented that it can "happen accidentally".
BJP has been denounced as an "anti-dalit party" by the National Co-ordinator of the All Indian Christian Council Kumar Swamy, who also warned that there will be "increased sporadic, localised attacks in the Christian community" with the BJP in power.
Despite concerns that violence against women is not being taken seriously, however, the founder of Gospel for Asia – a Christian mission organisation – Dr KP Yohannan, says he is "encouraged" by Modi's re-energised stance.
"I am immensely grateful and happy to see how the prime minister has responded to these recent events and called the nation and government officials to do what they can to bring about change," he explained.
"We mourn deeply for the lives of these innocent girls, but we are encouraged by the stand the government is taking.
"As Christians, issues like the mistreatment of women around the globe should lead us to prayer, cause us to get involved and be part of the answer," Yohannan added.
"I'm reminded of the scene in Scripture where Jesus looks out onto the masses and was moved with compassion. As we learn more about what is happening, may we also be moved with the compassion to act."
Gospel for Asia has released a documentary entitled 'Veil of Tears' that uncovers the stories of oppressed women in India and can be used as a church or small-group resource.
To learn more or to sponsor a GFA missionary, click here.