Written by Sherry
Thursday, 20 September 2007 09:01
Gashwin Gomes sent me this eye-opening article from yesterday's Wall Street Journal about the struggle of Dalits ("untouchables") in India who have secretly converted to Christianity or Islam but don't do so publicly because in their desperate poverty, they need the government assistance available only to Hindu Dalits.
MEDIPALLY, India -- Every Sunday, women and children gather to pray in a tiny, whitewashed church on the edge of this southern Indian village, sitting cross-legged on blue plastic sheets as they sing Christian hymns.
The men don't dare to come. "If they are seen in the church, the officials will be informed," says Vatipally Aharon, Medipally's Baptist pastor.
Almost all the Christians here -- and the overwhelming majority across India -- hail from the so-called Dalit community, the former "untouchables" relegated to the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy. Under India's constitution, Dalits are entitled to affirmative-action benefits, including 15% of all federal government jobs and admissions in government-funded universities. That provides the country's most downtrodden with a way to escape their traditional occupations such as emptying village latrines, burying cow carcasses, and tanning animal hides.
But there is a catch: Any Dalit caught abandoning Hinduism for Christianity or Islam loses these privileges, and can be fired from jobs gained under the quota. The rules are enforced by vigilant local officials who keep a close eye on villagers' comings and goings.
The plight of India's secret converts, ignored for decades, is now at the forefront of national politics. Partly driving the change is Indian Christians' new partnership with Islam, a religion frequently at odds with Christianity elsewhere in the world.
Read the rest at Gashwin's blog (the Wall Street Journal is available only to subscribers) As Gashwin points out:
It's well written, and thrusts into the spotlight yet again the harsh realities of Dalits all over India, a reality that the Western-educated urban elites are, I feel, completely clueless about.
Gashwin was startled by the article's mention that there might be as many as "25 million secret Christians" in India but this has been common knowledge around evangelical missionary circles for years.
According to the World Christian Database there are approximately
23 million "secret" Christians in India, that is Indians of either Hindu or Muslim background who baptized and active in Christian communities but have not changed their "official" religious status because of the economic consequences. In addition, there are also
25 million Independent/Apostolic Christians,
19.2 million Protestants,
19.8 million Catholics,
3 million Orthodox(obviously, I've rounded off the figures)
total: 65 million Christians or approximately 6% of the total Indian population.
A small percentage but three times the figure (2%) commonly quoted.
In addition, there is an even more surprising development: What are known as
NBBC's: Non-Baptized Believers in Christ. David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, estimates that there are 15 million NBBC's in the Hindu and Muslim worlds - usually for reasons of persecution.
Personal faith in Christ of some kind without access to baptism. Of course, NBBC's have always existed through Christian history but globalization is ensuring that their number is becoming ever larger. Imagine: fifteen million underground catechumens.
Pray for them and for the secret Christians of India as they seek Christ(because he first sought them!)in a very difficult time and place.