“The Christian percentage of the Indian populace has grown by a staggering 150 per cent. In other words, India now has more Christians than any First World country aside from the United States and Russia according to Pew Research’s Religion & Public Life Project.” – Pawan Deshpande
Over the past month, Indian media has tirelessly covered and attacked the RSS for its plans to convert several thousand Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. The press hubbub was largely stirred up by parties in the Opposition such as the defeated Indian National Congress, West Bengal’s All India Trinamool Congress, and the Marxist parties, which criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though these reconversions were not sanctioned by a government entity. The media glare and politicisation of the events eventually put so much pressure on the RSS that it shelved its plans temporarily.
All along, the media and the Indian Left have thoroughly scrutinised the RSS for its self-proclaimed delusional ambitions to rid the nation of Christians as proclaimed by RSS pracharak Rajeshwar Singh, “Ek din in girijagharo ki deewarein bhi gir jayengi aur hamara desh sirf hinduon ka hoga” (One day these churches will crumble and our country will belong to the Hindus alone). But the dialogue on this drive has completely ignored the unbridled conversion of Hindus to Christianity in the past few decades.
Quantifying the enormous scale of conversions to Christianity in India is difficult because the means of doing so have been secretive, as the media has largely failed to cover this issue, and because the previous government took steps to conceal India’s current religious demography.
Every decade, the Government of India conducts a national census inquiring the populace about many details such as their age, household conditions, access to utilities, literacy level, ownership of vehicles, children and many other aspects of their lives. Among these questions is a question about their religious affiliation. The last official Indian census to publish statistics about the nation’s religious demography was in 2001. At that time, 2.34 per cent of the nation’s population were reported to be Christians; 14 years have passed since the survey, and many Christians and Hindus alike estimate that this percentage has greatly increased in the intervening years.
The problem is that there are no official numbers to verify these claims. Though the census was re-conducted in 2011, the government, in an unprecedented manner, deliberately chose not to publish the census data for this question without any explanation. Why would the government hide this information? Some credible observers presume that the numbers would be hard to swallow for India’s Hindu majority—it’s quite possible that Hindus may now consist of less than 80 per cent of the population in part due to a slightly higher Muslim fertility rate—“not too large to swamp India’s Hindu majority in the foreseeable future,” the linked analysis says—in conjunction with conversions of Hindus to Christianity, the rate of which is unknown.
Fearing a political backlash from Hindu voters in the 2014 elections, the then ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, known for cashing in on classic vote-bank politics and crude minorityism, likely felt that the truth of India’s religious demography was best kept secret.
With no official census figures, the next best source of data to ascertain the current Christian percentage of India is Christian missionary organisations. One of the most well regarded missionary almanacs for missionaries, Operation World—launched as a reference book and prayer guide by Patrick Johnstone and continued by Jason Mandryk and regarded by most evangelicals as the definitive volume of prayer information about the world—published that as of 2010, 5.84 per cent of India was Christian equating to 71 million adherents.
Unlike the previous government of India, evangelicals are quite proud of this as stated by Dick McClain, president and CEO of The Mission Society: “With more than 71 million claiming Christianity, India is now the eighth largest Christian nation in the world.”
If true, then, in less than a decade, the Christian percentage of the Indian populace has grown by a staggering 150 per cent. In other words, India now has more Christians than any First World country aside from the United States and Russia according to Pew Research’s Religion & Public Life Project.
India’s Muslim population as a percentage has largely grown as a result of a higher fertility rate and by undocumented cross-national immigration from Bangladesh. On the other hand, India’s Christian population has had trouble sustaining its numbers through reproduction alone. At times, the Christian fertility rate in India has plunged so much that in 2009, the churches in Mizoram and Kerala incentivized their communities to have at least four children per family. If India’s Christian population cannot grow by virtue of fertility rates, has there been massive immigration of Christians to India? No. But read on.
In 2001, according to official census data, three states in the northeast of India, namely Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya, were majority Christian. It is unknown which other states are now Christian majority, and whether Christians grew at the expense of Hindus alone, though that is very likely as Muslims and followers of other faiths are rarely reported to embrace Christianity.
In 2014, a blog post in The New York Times speculated that another north-eastern Indian state, Arunachal Pradesh, was likely home to a Christian majority, having gone from 1 per cent Christian population in the 1971 census to a 18.7 per cent in 2001. The report estimated that hundreds of thousands of inhabitants in the state had adopted Christianity in the past decade allured by promises of faith healers, and benefits administered through Christian institutions such as free healthcare and education. But Arunachal Pradesh, with a total statewide headcount of 1.2 million, alone cannot explain the large growth in India’s Christian population.
Though an official headcount for India’s Christian percentage is unobtainable at this time, the 2010 Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) of the Indian government does offer clues on how well funded—and large scale—missionary organisations are. The FCRA was created for the Indian government to ensure that funding of Indian NGOs from foreign entities is ethical and used for good ends. For example, the act seeks to filter out funding to NGOs that indulge in activities to manipulate the country’s political system, corrupt the government, or work against nation’s interests, such as engaging in religious conversion through inducement or force.
Though well-intentioned, the FCRA does not really do its job as revealed in their annual report. Missionary organisations that engage in predatory proselytising, including conditioning of aid distributions, compose the majority of the list of the largest recipients and donors out of all NGOs in India. According to the 2011-2012 report, seven of the top 15 Indian foreign-funded NGOs are missionary Christian organisations that received a total of Rs 879 crore that year:
– World Vision Of India
– Believers Church India
– Indian Society Of Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints
– Caruna Bal Vikas
– Gospel For Asia
– Compassion East India
– Missionaries of Charity
On the other side of the money trail, seven missionary Christian organisations are in the top 15 list having provided a total of Rs 512 crore:
– Compassion International
– The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints
– General Conference of Seventh Day Adventists
– WORT & TAT Allgemeine Missions Geselischaft
– Christian Foundation for Children and Aging
– Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst
The top 15 is followed by a long trail of other churches and ministries infusing billions of dollars of funds for converting Indians to Christianity.
Taking a chapter from the playbook of Christian missionaries, the modus operandi that the RSS has adopted for reconversions has been through economic enticements rather than genuine spiritual attraction. For example, Sufia Begum, a 76-year-old former Muslim who converted to Hinduism, explained her true reason for the change of faith, “The RSS people assured us that they will provide us better place to live, better food and schooling for my grandsons. I don’t mind change of religion, as religion doesn’t give us food to eat.”
Similarly, in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, aid workers from Gospel For Asia and the Believers Church, transported hundreds of villagers of Akkaraipettai in Tamil Nadu, India, to a location six miles away. Away from the oversight of government officials, the aid workers distributed disaster relief supplies such as sleeping mats, plates, saris, 55-pound bags of rice and a book of Biblical verses that condemned alcohol and abortion. The missionaries also established an orphanage housing 108 primarily Hindu children, again outside of government oversight, and taught the orphans to recite Christian prayers six times per day.
To better protect the vulnerable victims of these conversion wars, several Indian states have proposed or even passed “Anti-Conversion Laws”. Rather than preventing conversion of faith outright, these laws typically require an individual to register with the government when they seek to change religions, enabling the government to ensure that the conversion is not being made under duress or through enticements. These laws extend the common concept of religious freedom to also encompass the right to freedom from religious intrusion and exploitation.
While many Hindu organisations support such legislation, many Christian organisations which benefit from such unethical practices have protested against these laws, claiming that they impinge on one’s freedom to adopt a new faith. Under pressure from evangelical Christian groups, such laws have drawn scrutiny from governmental bodies outside of India such as the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
The RSS, Indian leftist parties and the Indian press are all guilty of portraying the ghar wapsi event as the harbinger of the eradication of minorities in India as evidenced by rhetorical statements by Rajeshwar Singh, the RSS organiser of the recent ghar wapsi, such as “Just wait and watch. 31 December 2021 is the last for Christianity and Islam in this country”.
Rather than using ghar wapsi as yet another obvious opportunity to criticise the RSS and the Modi government, the event should instead be used to force a larger, urgent and direly needed discussion regarding the ethics and practice of predatory proselytization that continues to endanger India’s religious harmony and pluralistic ethos. – Swaraja, 14 January 2015
» Pawan Deshpande is on the Executive Council of the Hindu American Foundation, and a CEO of a software company based in Boston, Massachusetts.
- Ghar Wapsi: Counterattack from Hinduism – Virendra Parekh
- Re-conversion to Hinduism was approved by Acharyas in Udupi in 1964-65 – Daijiworld Media
- Conversion is what Christians and Muslims do; what VHP does is not conversion: Jugal Kishore – Nistula Hebbar & Anurag Tripathi