India: Religious minorities face more difficulties

India celebrates its 73rd Independence Day today. The worrying question in the minds of many in India today is if Independence is merely a thought and a word. Dissention and strife in the name of caste and communities, race and religion divide the country deeply today.

Churches in India, across denominations, are gathering for a day of prayer on August 18th in what are worrying times for the country’s religious minorities.

It is the third time the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) has organized the event on the Sunday that is closest to India’s Independence Day, 15 August.

“The state of our nation and the challenges it faces, stirs us to look to the face of the Almighty God and to pray for His unceasing blessings on India,” said Rev. Vijayesh Lal, EFI’s General Secretary.

The prayer day comes at a time of heightened anxiety about the future of Kashmir, a disputed area bordering India, Pakistan and China. Earlier this month, India’s BJP-controlled government canceled Kashmir’s protected status, which had allowed it to govern itself to some degree and had been enshrined in India’s constitution.

The BJP-led government, with a Hindu-nationalist agenda, has now revoked the article in the constitution dealing with Kashmir’s autonomy, sending the state into lockdown and leaving the Kashmiri people in great uncertainty about their future. Christians in Kashmir are concerned for what could be the outcome of this decision in the days to come.

A majority of the Christians in Kashmir are from a Muslim background, and are already experiencing severe pressure from their community.

‘Called to pray’

Meanwhile, media reports suggest the Indian government is considering proposing an anti-conversion bill before parliament with the aim to prevent any kind of religious conversion nationally [Zee News].

India's constitution guarantees freedom of religion and for the bill to pass, a two-thirds majority in parliament is needed. However, eight of India's states already have such a law in place and it has been used to marginalize religious communities. Violence against Christians in these states “is significantly more prominent” than in states without an anti-conversion bill, according to an OD report, "We are Indians too".

Last year more than 30,000 local churches joined in praying for the country, its leaders and citizens.

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